The Mourgue d’Algue family has had a big say in the growth of golf within France. Gaëtan established the Trophée Lancôme in 1970 and ran it at Golf de Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche for more than 30 years.
He also published the biennial Peugeot Golf Guide book, listing the top 1000 golf courses in Europe, before expanding the coverage in 2010 with the production of the Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses book.
Gaëtan and his son André spent time a great deal of time searching for a suitable property that could be developed for golf and they eventually acquired a 250-acre estate close to Saint Emilion, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the wine producing countryside near Bordeaux.
Once the required planning permits had been obtained, Tom Doak was called in to design his first 18-hole layout in Continental Europe and he wasted no time draping the course across a gently rolling landscape in his own minimalistic style, with fairways routed in a simple out and back fashion.
Feature holes include short par fours at holes 2, 7 and 8 and the 194-metre par three 9th, where the green sits behind a lake. The inward half plays almost 300 metres longer than the front nine as it contains three par fives, two of which are played back-to-back at the 15th and 16th.
Some apartments have been built in a small hamlet close to the clubhouse and these are available for golfers who choose to stay and play. Ideally located, with views out across the course and the surrounding vineyards, this accommodation allows visitors the opportunity to remain on site for a relaxing break in a beautiful setting.
Everything about the golf club is so wonderfully understated, from the simple sign on the roadside to the changing rooms and clubhouse, the charming staff and to the way the course sits in harmony with the landscape. The Mourgue d'Algue family chose the perfect partner in Tom Doak to design his first course on mainland Europe. Nature provided the canvas and Doak applied his magic with regards to the strategy.
The course starts off as all courses should with a wide, accommodating fairway but you soon come to understand where you can miss and where you cannot miss when it comes to the greens...
The green complexes are a feature of this course, as with all Doak courses, a throwback to the golden age and prior when courses were protected by the greens. It would be easy to talk about all the holes but I loved in particular the collection of par 3's, from the short downhill 3rd where you can't be short but beware if you don't hit the right quadrant of the green. The 9th is also downhill but plays up to 225 yards if the flag is at the back but there is plenty of room to run the ball up. The 12th resembles a redan with a large bunker from left that looks like it fronts the green but is actually 50 yards short. The wise play is to bring the ball in from the right. The 14th is 150 yards with a green that resembles the old Sitwell Park green, updated for today's modern green speeds. I could spend hours chipping and putting around this green!
To summarize, a course one must play if you're in the area, and play multiple times as I'm sure the course changes dramatically every time the pins change. If only I lived closer...
It’s a beautiful setting for a golf course, deep in the wine growing region of Bordeaux. Driving along, with vineyards on either side of the narrow roads leading to the property, you’d never guess in a million years there was a golf course just around the next corner.
It’s a rather understated affair, as intended by the owners, who hired the master of minimalism, Tom Doak, to lay out the holes in complete sympathy with the landscape. If you come here looking for something flash and visually stimulating then you’ll be rather disappointed.
Bunkering has been kept to a bare minimum, with only about a dozen hazards on each nine. Fairways are wide, with several blind or semi-blind tee shots or approach shots to be played, which was a bit of a surprise, but if you’re routing the course across rolling terrain then you’re bound to have one or two holes like that.
The big feature on this course is the greens.
My notes for the downhill par three 3rd hole state: “wild green with four quadrants” – which doesn’t really do justice to properly describing a putting surface regarded by the architect in the course guide notes as “one of the most difficult we’ve ever built”.
The last time I had as much fun putting on a golf course was playing the 9-hole Vallière at Morfontaine and there are quite a few holes here where the greens are as outrageously contoured as Tom Simpson’s Parisian masterpiece.
The uphill par three 14th has the largest green on the course and it too is multi-tiered and benched into a hillside as at the 3rd. I just wonder if any of the putting surfaces at Crystal Downs, Tom Doak’s home club in Michigan, are as extravagantly shaped as this one?
Those two par threes are epic but there are other terrific holes here, including the short par four 8th (where an enormous false front protects the raised green), the left doglegged 11th (with beautiful sculpted bunkers to the right side of the fairway as it drops down to the green), and the longest hole on the card, the par five 15th, which has its front-to-back sloping green back dropped by a vineyard.
I was privileged to play with Kristel Mourgue d’Algue – still a very fine player and one of the most knowledgeable women I’ve ever come across in the golf business – and she was able to point out lots of subtle little things during our round that I’d have otherwise missed.
I was also introduced to her mother and father before we played and managed a quick word with her brother André as we walked off the eighteenth green – can there be a more unassuming family operating within the industry nowadays, I ask myself?
The golf facility is in its infancy and there are still other items of infrastructure to be attended to but I’m sure as the course matures these other things will fall into place at Grand Saint-Emilionnais.
Only played once on recent trip (June 2018) but disappointed not to have played more. Beautiful course, that would be a test and playable for any standard, whole place had a bit of class about it and very relaxed. Nice walk and course you could play every day. Solid courses at Medoc but felt this was a step above, albeit a more modern style of golf course with width off the tee and multiple ways to play around the green.
Having played Tom Doak’s Pacific Dunes in Oregon many times, I was excited to play Grand Saint-Emilionnais. On non-golf vacation with my wife, I did not have my golf shoes or clubs. Playing with a borrowed set, I still had a phenomenal time. The Mourgue d’Algue Family could not have been more hospitable.
I was provided with a course layout guide, but never even had to refer to it. There is wonderful signage on the course and the vistas are incredible. Even without a range finder, the colored fairway markers were sufficient. Each tee shot has you hitting to a wide fairway, but Doak gives you a very good indication of where best to hit your tee shot by using strategically placed bunkers or trees. With the exception of the par 3’s, most of the sloping greens are very small, with well-defined sections. Approach shots need to be hit from the correct side of the fairway to give you the best chance of hitting the greens. Many greens, including holes 2 and 3 have creeks fronting or alongside the sloping putting surfaces, requiring you to miss on the correct side of the hole.
There is a wonderful collection of par 5 holes. Many are reachable in two, but you could find yourself with an awkward chip if you short-side yourself. If played as a three shot hole, a strategically placed second shot is required. I really enjoyed the strategy required on the 561 meter, par 5 15th. With large mounds guarding the entrance to the green, place your second shot on the extreme right hand side of the fairway for the best approach.
The short par 4’s, requiring pinpoint approach shots, are really challenging. If you are really good from 80-100 yards away, you can score on this memorable course. There are six holes of about 360 meters or less, but all are fun. The others are mostly mid-length, but play a bit uphill or downhill. Many move slightly one way or the other, so if you like working the ball, you will never be bored.
The par 3’s offer a nice variety. Two are mid-length. The 9th hole, playing downhill over a lake, is almost 200 meters. From off the green, consider a bump and run shot. The wonderful 12th, plays 225 meters in length, uphill with a yawning bunker protecting the left side. From a tight lie, short of the green, bumping the ball with a 5 wood or hybrid is the perfect shot, especially to a front pin.
This gorgeous golf course is very playable for a middle handicap golfer, but if you play to a single digit, you will really enjoy the variety of shots required to put you in a position for birdie. The putting surfaces are a bit slow right now, but as the course matures, like the fine wines in the area, it will get even better with age.
Donn Levine, San Francisco, CA
Author, “Outwit the Yips”
I have mixed feelings about this course, and surely not as enthusiastic as the previous reviewer. Surroundings are very nice, a great feeling of isolation. As for the course, few obstacles from the tee, but well placed. Fairways wide enough. The greens have a good variety of size but their shape is borderline silly in places, at least for the first timer. Some of the greens decently only have 2-3 pin positions. I also thought they didn't look good, although they putted ok (despite variation of speed across the 18 greens). Then there are the numerous blind tee shots which is odd on such a new course. And the elevated greens, which I have never liked. Probably the type of course that needs to be played more than once, I didn't enjoy all of it on that first visit....
It’s always a special thing to play a newly designed course. It gets even more special when it’s a Tom Doak course.
And even more when playing with the course owner who during the 18 holes keeps giving you the insight of how the course was designed, the inner secrets of working with Doak, the subtleties of creating a course over a 10 year period.
As a golf enthusiast this was an amazing experience.
As a golf traditionalist I was playing with Andre Mourgue d’Algue, France’s most prized golfing family, and a scratch golfer himself.
The course opened in late 2015 and I went to play the course December 27th 2016. So needless to say, it probably not the best period – a new course during the winter period. But the opportunity arose …
The course itself :
I was never the 100% Doak enthusiast … that is until now. What he has done at St Emilion is fantastic. Simple as that !
It’s a course which is playable at all levels, with very traditional Bordeaux area scenery (vines and forest), using the natural contours and subtle shaping to create something that looks as though it’s been here for a long time. The greens may be a bit too undulated, but I suppose the family is knowledgeable enough not to get the greens that fast that it would be a problem.
The tradition of golf :
Andre’s vision for the course, is to get back to a rather minimalist English golf tradition. Play the course as it is ... The tee boxes are next to the greens ... The driving is rather large and it starts to get tricky on the approach to the green ... Play the bump and run or putt from the fringe on most greens… nothing too fancy, but at the end of the day, you have played a great course in a very special environment, with a 13th century church that one can use as for direction on the attack to the green on 16th, Montaigne’s Mansion on 15th, the Saint Emilion vines on 5th…
The one thing I love about the course : most tee boxes open up the course to see 2-3 other holes, but once on the fairway, you are on that hole and see nothing else, which strengthens your focus but at the same enables you to get a feel for this unique place… a bit like Augusta.
This course will climb the rankings as the course settles in in the coming months, and as golf connaisseurs/rankers discover the course … that’s a given !