Driving through Bordeaux areas like Médoc and Saint Emilion you would be forgiven for not thinking about golf courses as there cannot be much doubt as to what is of paramount interest here; it is of course wine.
Only an avid golfer would harbour ideas of playing golf in such environments. And to be truthful, there are not an abundance of good non-private golf course alternatives. Those three that are available do however make diversions from vineyard visits definitely worthwhile.
We had the good fortune of visiting all three in July 2018, with a special anticipation about the new kid on the block; The Grand Saint-Emilionnais Golf Club. As the name implies this course is to be found in the vicinity of the exceedingly charming medieval village of Saint Emilion, some 30 kilometers east of the City of Bordeaux.
Before I proceed, however, let me state the importance of giving the city of Bordeaux its due when in the area. Not doing so would be committing a felony towards yourself and towards the land. The old part of the city is so full of history, historical sites, museums, galleries, shops and super restaurants that it could easily devour your whole vacation period. And you would have no regrets that it did. That is, of course, unless you are a golf nerd, as some of us are.
Grand Saint-Emilionnais Golf Club the new pride of Bordeaux
The family name Mourgue D’Algue is well known in wide golfing circles. Pater familias, Gaêtan, is the grand old man in French golf with some 30 titles to his name, though always as an amateur. He also founded the annual European Tour event Trophé Lancôme as well as starting up the European golf «bibles», the Peugeot Golf Guide and Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses. Both managed by the family during their existence until only a few years ago.
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Matriarc, Cecilia, is Swedish by birth and many times Swedish amateur champion before marrying Gêtan. Then becoming a French citizen, only to add another 45 titles to her CV. Now in her seventies she still plays golf at scores we others can just forget about. No wonder then that their three children and grandchildren all are scratch players.
Their daughter, Kristel, played on the LET for a few years in the 1990s. When she left the tour and got married, she joined the family business of aforementioned publications. And than later in running the Saint-Emilionnais Golf Club. Her brother, André, worked with major golf course developers in the US before moving back to France. He claims to have halved his game against Tiger Woods in a 1990 France/California competition match. His wife, PHillipine, has also had an illustrious golf career of her own.
So this family knows the golf business. Monsieur Gaêtan Mourgue D’Algue has also for years been involved with developing other golf facilities in France.. And presumably long harboured the ambition of having a golf course that he could call his own.
A former Bordeaux hunting estate
In the early years of 2000 the family acquired a site outside of the famed village of Saint Emilion , a former hunting estate that was now abandoned. The entire 100 acre area is surrounded by vines.
What next? You look at alternative course designers that hold the same ideas as you. After a visit to Bandon Dunes, on the coast of Oregon, Gaêtan and Cecilia found what they were looking for. Here they experienced the work of the famed course designer, Tom Doak, and fell for it. Mr. Doak had until then mainly worked in the US and later in Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand where he has created some of the most spectacular golf courses to be found in the world of golf. Among them Cape Kidnappers and Barnbougle Dunes.
Monsieur Gaêtan was not after creating anything dramatic, however. His site did not call for that. Nor did he look for the creation of the much misused designation of Championship Course. Hi did nok have the ambition of hosting large tournaments. He wanted a course playable for golfers of all abilities, sound and easy routing in natural surroundings. This he got. Whilst the site originally consisted of dense wood of mostly pine and birch trees the course now stands out as a cross of forest and parkland layout. Many trees were consciously removed to open up for visibility between the fairways and to ease playability. There are still enough trees to go around in more than one sense however.
Grand Saint-Emilionnais opened in full late 2016, but has already made its mark on the international golfing scene. This new course was recently ranked «5th best golf course in France» by Golf Digest and «4th best in France» by Golf Club Atlas. Which is quite some recognition for Tom Doak’s work.
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Our group had the fortune of being joined by daughter Kristel during our round. Kristel, having been involved in the project since Mr, Doak first visited the site. She’s a fountain of knowledge about Mr, Doak’s design philosophy. How the stream running through the property was integrated in the design, why Mr, Doak favours short-cropped approach areas for players to be able to also roll the ball onto the green, much like a proper links course design feature. She is by no means hiding her admiration for Mr, Doak.
Another prominent feature of the course is the scarcity of bunkers. There are only 32 of them throughout the course, and none at all on holes 2, 9 and 17. Kristel’s favorite is the short hole 8, a par 4 meassureing a mere 271 meters. It is a typical risk/reward hole, somewhat uphill with a slight doglegged approach. She put her drive perfectly within 30 meters to the green. My tee shot was shorter right. But with a perfect approach I had only a 1 meter put for birdie, whilst hers was double that. Of course I missed my put and she made hers …
Restored farm buildings
The only buildings in sight while at the course are basically the restored farm buildings. Now housing restaurant, pro shop and dressing rooms, built on the remnants of Chateau de Gaufre. Next to these, some new facilities for overnight stays have been erected. These buildings you see only on the 1st hole, and when you are back on the 17th tee and up the 18th fairway.Which ends immediately in front of the clubhouse. From there you will also glimpse the medieval church tower in the nearest village named Gardegan perched on a hill top in the distance.
The course is completely surrounded by vineyards (what else?). Teeing off on the 15th and 17th you literally stand amongst the vines, so as not to forget where you are. Having observed Kristels play for a few holes, and been suitably impressed, I had to ask if she thought she could still qualify for the Ladies European Tour. Her answer was in the affirmative. Her mother and two teenage children played in the group behind and their ball striking was also a joy to behold. A golfing family indeed.
The other two accessible golf courses in Bordeaux are to be found a short distance to the north of the city of Bordeaux, Golf de Medoc Resort, which have 2 x 18 hole courses on its property. The Chateau course is designed by the American architect Bill Coore and is generally considered the better of the two. Vignes, the other one is however not far behind in quality, and maybe even more fun to play. Both fairly open, flat and easy to walk. Grand St Emilionnais and Golf de Medoc cooperate in what they call Bordeaux Signature Golf Pass offering golfers considerable cost benefits when visiting and playing both sites.