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 by Tom Simpson and opened for play in 1909. Since then, the course has undergone a number of changes, most notably at the hands of Fred Hawtree in the late 1950s. Nevertheless, the shape and personality of the course retains many of Simpson's original 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.
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.