When a private promoter decided to build a golf course just outside the small French village of Bossey, a mere 10 kilometres south of downtown Geneva, Switzerland, some people wondered how this would work out. After all, Bossey is riding a narrow stretch of pretty hilly land at the foot of the Salève Mountain (also known as the “Balcony of Geneva”), which appears as a 500-metre high cliff that dominates the village. Also, the land for the project was mostly the property of two real estate societies, but these were based in Switzerland, which created an interesting problem for French would-be shareholders at a time when a strict foreign exchange control system had been instituted in France. Furthermore, much of it was protected as forestland, and a lot was in a no-build zone. Finally, it was necessary to buy out tens of small landowners in order to amass enough acreage.
Still, the promoter was undaunted, and called for offers for the planning and development of the course. In 1982, Robert Trent Jones Junior was looking for an entry into the European market, and seized the opportunity. The resulting layout, which opened in 1985, is a surprising, exhilarating and at times frustrating combination of elevation changes, slanted fairways, large, deep and contoured bunkers, sloping and fast greens, sneaky lakes, towering Salève cliffs and wide open views of Geneva and its lake with the French Jura mountains as a backdrop.
The design won Robert Trent Jones Jnr. many accolades, and jump-started a successful golf design business around the continent for his organisation.
Today, the Bossey Golf & Country Club course is still a challenge for every visitor, and probably for the members as well. There is not one level hole on the course. Most will take the player down, up, or a combination of both. The one exception has a very sideways slanted fairway. The connecting paths between the holes can be breath stealers too. Although the course is not particularly long at 5,890 metres from the tips, the RTJII design certainly ups the ante.
Bossey is a dual-nationality golf club, it belongs to both the Swiss and French golf federations, and while it is located in France, the majority of its members come from nearby Switzerland. It is definitely a private venue, with close to 1,000 members, but access for green fee players is possible but limited to weekdays, so plan ahead and accordingly. Don’t be afraid to call, though, the welcome is very warm and personable, wherever you come from.
The access to this golf club is through a winding uphill road through the village of Bossey, facing the very steep and very high Salève mountain just south of Geneva. Just when you start wondering about where you might end up, you find the clubhouse, a very dignified manor house dating back to the end of the 17th century. The welcome at the secretariat is warm and friendly. Armed with your par book and your clubs, you proceed to the starter’s hut around the pond encircling the 18th green, and warm up on the extensive putting green. This is your first test: these greens are fast, very fast.
Then you look for the first tee, and find that it is tucked on a hillside platform looking at… well, nothing much in sight except a hill top! Indeed, the first shot of your day is blind, and the first hole of the course is index 3. You are immediately thrown into the thick of things. Assuming you are long enough off the tee to reach the top of the hill without falling into the deep bunkers on the right of the fairway, you discover the green, some 130 meters away from what is now a downhill, slanted left lie. The putting surface is sandwiched between the abrupt hillside on the right and a sharp slope inevitably dropping into a lake on the left. So much for building up confidence at the onset of the round!
This first hole is really a pretty good representative of the whole course. Robert Trent Jones Jr. has used every trick in his bag to toughen a design which has only one (relative) weakness: its total length, since it is less than 6,000 meters long from the back tees. The first time visitor soon realizes that pitfalls have been set up in many shapes and forms on this course. First, there is not one hole that is flat, even the 3rd, a par-four where the tee and the green are level… but the fairway dips to the left. Second, going from one green to the next tee is sometimes more tiring than spanning the hole itself (check the climb to the second tee!). Third, there are many bunkers on this course, 84 total, and although they are not as tortuous in design as many bearing the signature of Robert Trent Jones Jr., they are deep and the sand is kept very soft. Fourth, water hazards come in play on five holes. Fifth, the greens are devilish: they are fast, but more importantly the many steep slopes ensure that you will not have a straight putt anywhere you can remember. Sixth, most of the course runs through a nice, “welcoming” forest, and some of the holes, like the par-four 7th (index 1), offer only a narrow landing area between trees. Seventh, any hole that looks short on the map compared to “standards” will include sharp changes in elevation: the 1st, but also the 2nd, 5th… and so on. Find ways to conserve your energy until the end!
Lastly, the par-threes are never benign. The shortest one is the 4th hole, at 155 meters from the tips; the others are all over 180 meters long, and there is really nothing between the tee and the green for your ball to land safely on. In fact, Bossey’s signature hole is a par-three, the 14th “La Carrière” (The Quarry). An apt name: except for a narrow path on the left along the trees, the whole space between the tee and the green, 200 meters away, is littered with boulders of various shapes and sizes which first will bounce your ball around, maybe out of bounds, and second will make your second shot very dangerous to your clubs, your wrists and your score if you get stuck in this minefield.
Your saving graces: some magnificent views from the course toward the Salève cliff or over the Geneva valley and lake; the forest makes the perspectives on many holes most pleasant; and the 18th hole is a downhill par-four, where the approach shot is to a flattish (yes!) green advancing into a small lake, bordered by magnificent chestnut trees and further decorated by two fountains gushing from the lake’s surface, and a third just behind the lake springing from a charming stone basin.
You made it back to the clubhouse. If this is your first time visit, there will probably be plenty of opportunities to rue your shots or blame the tricky course you have just played. But if you are a true grit golfer, you will want to return as soon as possible to learn how to master this Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation, even if it takes more than a few attempts!