Built in the 17th century for the Maréchal de Créqui, the magnificent Château du Champ-de-Bataille castle and its formal gardens lie between the small villages of Le Neubourg and Sainte-Opportune-du-Bosc in the Eure department of Normandy.
The golf course in the southeast portion of the property is a Robin Nelson design, built in conjunction with landscape architects Thierry Huau and Herve Rosset, with fairways carved through dense woodland when the estate was developed in the late 1980s.
Measuring just over 6,000 metres and playing to a par of 72, the course is set in an out-and-back fashion which only allows golfers to return to the clubhouse after playing the 18th. Highlight holes include the water-laden par three 5th and tough par four 13th.
The Peugeot Golf Guide describes the course as follows in this edited extract:
“This hilly course is a beautiful stroll through the woods, where some magnificent trees leave enough room for decently-sized fairways. The bland first and last holes, originally inspired by French-style gardens, have been replaced by a couple of holes designed by J.M. Rossi.”
If the name of the club, which translates to ‘battlefield’, was an indication of what to expect at this tranquil, densely wooded golfcourse, I was in for a stern challenge. Thus, I’m very happy to announce that no humans were harmed during the making of this golf course review. Although quite hilly, it was a very relaxed stroll through forest-, park- and heathland. It was originally co-designed by a garden architect, but in this case it has not lead to bad golf course architecture. The bones of the course, so to speak, are solidly constructed as the course has a quality out and back routing, plenty of variation and a quality piece of land with interesting natural features and a couple of very good standout holes. Walks between greens and tees are also limited in length and the club has a classic feel.
Standout holes were the par 4 3rd, par 5 4th, par 3 12th, par 4 13th, par 4 15th and par 3 17th. These were all strategically interesting, aesthetically pleasing holes with a natural, classic feel and exciting features. A joy to play and they would not be out of place on courses held in much higher esteem.
Although the fairways were scruffy around the edges and the greens very soft, the course seemed to be looked after quite well. The turf was good for golf when I played early september, but in places the soil was mostly clay instead of sand and therefore the conditions may vary during the season.
A rigourous but tasteful renovation by a good architect with feel for forested sites would really benefit the course and could eventually propel it well in the top 40 of the French rankings. Three main improvement areas would in my opinion be:
1. Tree management – the forest is dense with not just trees but also ferns and other voluminous foliage. This should be tidied up at least a little further from the playing corridors from strategic point of view, and maybe even more from an aesthetic point of view. See for example the picture of the signature 17th hole, a very spectacular par 3 over a canyon. I’m not much of a photographer so it’s not flattering picture, but please note that there is a hidden bunker left behind the foliage. This stuff happens quite often at Champ de Bataille – there is a beautiful hole with a beautiful sight line that is blocked by trees. Another example that comes to mind is the par 4 13th.
2. Bunkering - If we’re being critical – and we are - I did not like the style of bunkers at all, as I found them uninspiring, and often shallow and soulless. They do not complement the classic, natural features and feel of the holes and would benefit from a more inspiring look.
3. A few holes lack, definition. The 18th for example, is a big letdown and you have no clue where to hit your drive.
All criticism aside, in my opinion, the recipe is there for a significant leap up the French rankings as Champ de Bataille can definitely be compared favourably to many a higher ranked course in France. Top 60, maybe higher would already be a fair ranking.