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.
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.
Fontainebleau definitely deserves its high ranking in the French list as it is a really wonderful setup. We visited in a pretty wet spell of weather in early May but the course had drained magnificently and the greens were as true as you will find. The lovely thing about this course is you don't have to muscle it around to get satisfaction. It's not a brute but keeping it in play and placement are the key. Your score will generally be made around the greens with fascinating run-offs and great bunkering. If I had one criticism it would be that 3 of the 4 par 3s had a similar rather long yardage of 180+ yards from the whites. The same can't be said of the par 5s though which had a delightful variety. I found previous criticism of the par 4 9th a little harsh. I actually thought it was a great dogleg, helped by the 6 footer knocked in for birdie of course. All in all Fontainebleau was a really great golf experience. It is authentic. You can smell the history of the place. The course is a testament to a great creation from years ago, there is nothing that feels manufactured or contrived - no cart paths, no artificial lakes, no tricked up nonsense. I had been worried about what I had read elsewhere about the encroachment of the trees from the tees but found no issues, the conditioning was magnificent. Of those other courses in the top 10 I have played in France it knocks the socks off of the National and Saint Germain - for reasons which will be apparent from my reviews of those. The other course I have played is the Chateau at Terre Banche which is definitely another wonderful setup, but it is so hard to compare the two given you are comparing a Four Seasons resort versus a historical icon. They both get 5 stars but if I could play one tomorrow then Fontainebleau gets the nod.