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.
Date: July 10, 2019