Fontainebleau is one of the largest and most beautiful French forests and, lying close by, is one of France's most charming and longest established golf clubs - Fontainebleau. This area is steeped in history and royal association and the course is sited within an ancient walled boundary, which adds to the historic ambiance.
The course was originally designed in 1909 by Julien Chantepie, one of the early professionals at La Boulie. Tom Simpson was then engaged to modify this layout ten years later. Since that time, the course has undergone a number of changes, most notably at the hands of Fred W. Hawtree in the late 1950s. Nevertheless, the shape and personality of the course retains many of Simpson's early features.
Fontainebleau is not particularly long, measuring 6,074 metres from the back tees, but the greens are small and well guarded. Players will need to think their way round and leave nothing to chance. With small targets to aim at, a good short game is an important advantage.
There is a distinct feeling of England at Fontainebleau, where the fairways wind their way through a rich forest of beech, oak and pine. Keep your eyes peeled for the deer, which are occasionally spotted bolting from the flight of a wayward drive.
The soil at Fontainebleau is wonderfully sandy and well drained, and the many sandstone rocks that are part of the area's natural geology are cleverly integrated into the course. Of particular note is the par five 12th, where large sweeping white rocks block part of the fairway, like white waves on a green ocean. The presence of the thick pine forest means that there is little rough, a bonus, you may think, but the uncomfortable proximity of the dense trees lining each fairway provides its own significant hazard. The semi-blind approach shot to the flat green on the 15th comes in for criticism, but the remaining holes at Fontainebleau more than make up for it. In fact, given the tricky nature of most of the greens here, a dull flat one makes a nice change.
Fontainebleau is invariably ranked in the Europe's top 20 golf courses and it really is well worth a visit. The area, within easy reach of Paris, is full of historic interest and any golf trip can be combined with some memorable sightseeing. The Chateau at Fontainebleau is an absolute treat for enthusiasts of 16th century architecture, history and art.
The Ile de France region has more golf courses than anywhere else in the country but they don't come much better than the delightful Golf de Fontainebleau.
It was immediately obvious to me that this is a world-class course. I think even before stepping onto the first tee, but definitely then. The way the holes around the clubhouse are shaped and how the fairways are framed just smells of the renaissance era of golf architecture in the 1920s. I'm not going to claim that I would have recognized it as specifically Tom Simpson's work, but there's no way you could place it too far away from him. Some of the bunkering definitely shows his influence.
There's a spectacular hill full of boulders in a corner of the property and the first three holes play right over and around it. After that the scenery changes to a Surrey-like heathland style as the course plays in an expansive loop along the borders of the stone-walled property and back to the beautiful clubhouse. The second nine make good use of the hill again, especially aggressive players will get their chance to play with the boulders. Make sure to climb to the very top of the hill (best accessed from tee 12) to enjoy one of the great views of the game.
Interestingly, even though the hill plays such a large part in the routing, Fontainebleau is by no means a hilly course. But there are many undulations and some downright linksy rolls in the fairways, so the third dimension is ever-present. There's even a controversial blind shot to the 15th green, which is worthy of Simpson's notorious 15th at Cruden Bay. Great fun all around - but what of the conditioning? Well, I don't know how it could be more appropriate for a historic course. Firm and fast conditions in March, true-rolling, devilishly breaking and frantically paced greens, perfect bunkers - the lot.
Some people don't like the trees and speak of narrowness. Well, I agree that from the back tees you need to be a very good player, but seriously, do you really belong back there? Play from the members' tee and you have no chutes, all bunkers are fully visible, no overhanging limbs near the greens and the undergrowth is cleared in those few places, where you could conceivably miss one of the generous fairways. Frankly, I don't see how you should lose a ball there. Nevertheless, it is certainly true that this is a tree-lined course and it might look better with a few hundred taken out. It certainly wouldn't hurt to get rid of the shadows cast upon some fairways - although the fescue they are introducing is coming along just fine. And there is none of the sameness that ordinary woodland courses have - all but one or two holes are very distinctive.
I think this is a course like a lot of woodland courses that gains its reputation from its past rather than where it actually is in the current scheme of things.
It is a very nice course and a really good day out, considering it was built a million years ago its a gem based on things back then, but being honest it lags way behind what the current game offers. If you go expecting amazing you will be disappointed, if you expecting average you will be pleasantly surprised. Think woburn but with a few holes that are memorable rather than all the same. Definitely better than average but without doubt not worth its place as the 3rd best course in France.
We played this course during the Ryder Cup weekend. A truly magical place. I can only imagine the Ryder Cup was hosted at Le Golf National as it had the facilities to absorb such a major event. I would recommend a trip to Paris only for the purpose of playing this club. Notwithstanding the course itself, you were made to feel welcomed by the staff, the starter and its members as you embarked on a special round of golf. One of the best golfing experiences of my life.
Fontainebleau is generally regarded as one of the top 5 courses in France, and top 10 or so in Europe. It is a special course.
Dating from 1909, the course as we know it now was largely the work of Tom Simpson, and is set in Fontainebleau forest, near the town. Tom Simpson came to fame with a body of work that includes some of the best in France in Chantilly and Morfontaine, the funky Cruden Bay in Scotland, and work on Muirfield, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Ballybunion amongst others.
Fontainebleau's narrow fairways are bordered by pines, silver birches, wild cherries, beeches and centenary oaks. Also dense outcrops of broom, lilacs, ferns and other thick undergrowth make straying from the straight and narrow a real headache.
Located in what was the ancient imperial hunting ground, you have to shoot straight to hit the targets at Fontainebleau. The terrain is unexpectedly undulating with a number of very elevated tees. And the sand base makes the course playable year round. The biggest surprise for me was the rocky outcrops that came in to play a number of times during the round – most obviously on the par 5 12th "signature" hole.
Other than the rocks the course has the look and feel of some of the famous London heathland courses – particularly Swinley Forest. The course is in great shape, but not highly manicured – it just has a comfortable class to it.
I loved this course - I loved the heathland feel, the soft colours of the myriad of shrubs and trees and undergrowth surrounding you, and the challenge of the course itself.
The long tee shot on 15 out of the longest, narrowest "chute" I can remember was a real challenge. And I loved the run of holes from 14 through to 17 which to me were the cream of a pretty nice crop.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I wasn’t quite prepared for the topography at Fontainbleau. Even sitting in front of the charming old clubhouse, there’s no real hint of the roller coaster ride that lies ahead – mainly due to the trees screening the course beyond the 9th and 18th fairways. Now that arboreal canopy is something of a worry but more of that later in this review.
The short par four opener gives due notice of what lies ahead for much of the round with a rolling, tree-lined hole, three cross bunkers set into a ridge in the fairway and a green nestled into the foot of a small hill with huge rocks at the back threatening to tumble down onto the putting surface at any moment – talk about thrilling golfing terrain!
After a semi-blind par three at the second hole, you’re then standing on a very elevated tee box at the 3rd, waiting to fire a tee shot down and over a long heathery carry onto the fairway… and so it continues in unrelenting fashion, with hardly a pause for breath until the short par four 9th – with one of the wider fairways on the card – brings us back to the clubhouse at the halfway stage.
The back nine, if anything, is an even wilder trip across an undulating landscape with the par five 12th one of the most memorable holes you’ll ever play, avoiding first a set of three cross bunkers and then a large collection of boulders that lie strewn in front of a green that sits at the base of yet another hill – it’s bizarre but brilliant at the same time.
It wasn’t my favourite hole, right enough, as that accolade goes to the par three 14th, which plays slightly downhill to a 2-tiered, back to front sloping green with a bunker-studded ridge running fifty yards in front of the putting surface to fool you into thinking the hole is shorter than it really is – it’s one of the best par threes I’ve ever come across, as a matter of fact.
The 18th is actually a relative disappointment because it’s the weakest of the final four holes, all of which are par fours, but after what’s gone before during the round, it’s probably best to be let down gently at the last before returning to normality in the clubhouse.
I loved the course routing, the fairways were in great condition with some lovely areas of heather flanking the holes and the greens were nicely contoured without being too flat or too turbulent. The trees are a definite issue that could/should be addressed. All in all, Fontainebleau is all you might expect of a top course with a very high European ranking.
Other reviewers have mentioned the trees and I have to agree with the assertion that some proper pruning needs to take place to let in light and air to improve the agronomy and allow the remaining trees to flourish. I don’t know how much control the club has over this matter as the course lies within a protected area but surely somebody in authority has to do something about the situation sooner rather than later.
FB is a very interesting golf course built on a terrific piece of land. The whole place just eludes charm. The clubhouse is grand and imposing and the changing rooms are old school. The practice putting green is vast and sits in front of the club house. The short game area is tidy and located between the 1st and 18th fairways. The range is short (I could comfortably hit the back fence with a 4 iron, so you can’t hit woods) and a little rough around the edges.
The course is fantastic, its cut into the forest on a particularly rocky piece of the terrain so there are many boulders on the course that only add to the intrigue of the course and help make some of the holes standout even more.
FB is a tough test of golf. It is long in places. Many of the greens have multiple tiers and are very undulating, so if you get on the wrong side of the green or on the wrong tier, three putting is very easy (or in my case four putting). Overall the course is fair as it does throw a few shorter par 4s at you, to help you pick up those lost shots.
The conditioning was generally good. I had read some negative reports about this in the run up to my visit so I was apprehensive about what would greet me. I was pleasantly surprised; the course was generally quite green (setting aside the first hole) which came as a surprise given the unprecedented hot weather. The greens were excellent, not super quick (which was a relief) but they ran very true. The tee boxes were very mixed and a couple could use some tender love and care. The course is well bunkered (they are strategically well placed, I should know given that I found myself in quite a few fairway bunkers) but they did contain a lot of stones (this really annoys me, I should only have to worry about getting out of the bunker and not whether I am going to take a chunk out of my 56 degree wedge as a result), however as previously mentioned this is a rocky course so this is possibly unavoidable.
When on holiday and playing an expensive course I like to make a day of it and try to experience the whole package, so my wife joined me for a drink and some lunch after my round. The club house staff were excellent, very attentive and chatty and the food was of an extremely high quality (I suppose it is France after all) and the steak tartare is a treat (beats the cheese and pickle sandwich served up in most UK and Ireland club houses!).
I have given the course five balls and I think with a little investment in the right areas this course could be a five and half ball course.
If in the area this course is not to be missed and although expensive, it is a great day out.
I am sure that this was once a great golf course and deserving of its elevated ranking – sadly it is not now.
As with many historic courses, the passing of time has changed the feel and look of the course and taken away that which made of them great. I love the routing / design but the trees have been allowed to encroach to the detriment of the both the playability and aesthetics. In some cases the tress have obscured a substantial part of the fairways, bunkers and some of the heather outcrops. It is with a heavy heart I write this as I love the old school feel and undoubted charm of the club and hope that it is purely economics that have deterred the necessary tree thinning rather than a series of misguided committees. This is a salutary lesson for clubs everywhere that trees need to be controlled in real time rather than being allowed to intervene over many years to such an extent that the task to clear becomes a disruptive and financially prohibitive exercise. The membership must look enviously at the work achieved at Morfontaine which surely has contributed to its newly acquired status of no 1
The topography (elevation changes and rocky outcrops) is stunning which makes the encroachment of downright ugly foliage even more egregious. This has manifested most significantly at the par 3 2nd, which is just a wonderful hole (if you could see it from the tee).
There are some wonderful holes including the first which is a short par 4 where the green sits below a gorgeous rocky hill with trees on top. Other superb holes include:- the 4th (strong dogleg left to right par 4), the 5th, (a short par 4 with well constructed heather areas and bunker complexes and a well protected sloping green), the 10th (a long and beautiful par 3), the 12th (a short par 5, which seemingly uniquely has the fairway ceasing at 100 yards from the green and replaced by a waste area and a scattering of rocks and boulders).
This is course that should be nowhere near the top 10 in Continental Europe. I have not played much in Europe but can suggest the following courses are more worthy - Les Bordes, Troia, West Cliffs, Praia Del Rey, Medoc Chateau, Oitavos, Vilamoura Old and Monte Rei. Sadly and frustratingly, Fontainebleu, could be better than all of them !
Played this course in May 2017, and this is one of the best courses I have ever played. The most understated club, with the entrance through two large green door marked "golf", but then you arrive at a beautiful clubhouse. The course is a very tight track through the forest, but it was in wonderful condition. It was not manicured as some can be, but the fairways and particularly the greens were tremendous, with the rest of the course just being allowed to be natural. I believe this is close to the no.1 spot in France and it is thoroughly deserved. Definitely one to return to.
If you like your heathland gems full of trees you will love this course. Personally, that would be one of my only concerns here at Fontainebleau. I would say the routing is really awesome but they need to remove a couple thousand trees to attempt to bring back some of the openness that the course enjoyed when originally designed. Opening things up will increase pliability and provide ample air and light in order to greatly improve conditioning of the fairways and greens.
The back 9 contains one hole after another where a perfect drive is required from the back tees to extremely narrow tree-lined alleys. Several of these holes are longer than 400 meters adding to the challenge and serving some very intimidating tee shots. The standout in this respect would be the long par 4 15th which doglegs to the left. A long and perfectly straight drive leaves a blind approach between 180 – 220 meters, a tough test for even the very best players.
The short par 4 17th is an excellent drivable par 4 that is a stronger hole from the medal tees due to how the trees on the left have taken over the realistic line to the green from the back tees that would encourage longer players to go for it. The 18th is not a bad hole however, a touch anticlimactic given how strong the stretch of holes on the back 9 are.
The other notable comment would be that there seems to be some inconsistence in the bunker shapes and it’s hard to imagine that much is left from the original Simpson design as many were out of character. Out of all the French courses we played I would certainly say Fontainebleau has the most potential for improvement with a couple of seasons of intense maintenance work. It really is raw as mentioned and has a fantastic routing, it’s just been overtaken by nature.