Golf de Joyenval lies less than hour’s drive west of Paris city centre and this 36-hole golf facility, designed in the early 1990s by Robert Trent Jones, is set within the Forêt de Marly, a former hunting grounds of French kings.
The fairways on the Retz course are laid out around the famous Désert de Retz garden, built at the end of the 18th century by the aristocrat François Nicolas Henri Racine de Monville to comprise around twenty structures, half of which still survive.
These buildings include a summer house, an ice house, an obelisk, a colonnaded temple, an open-air theatre, a ruined Gothic Chapel and a Chinese pavilion.
Holes 4 and 5 weave through the forest and the Ru de Buzot meanders through the property, forming a number of natural water hazards throughout the round. The par three 11th, rated stroke index 2 on the card, is the signature hole on the Retz, played over a small lake to a contoured green.
According to the Peugeot Golf Guide, “there are a few top-notch holes between forest and plain, parkland and garden, obviously looking very American in their openness and toughness… very scenic and less strategic than Marly, Retz is perhaps less demanding for the average golfer.”
After a morning round on the Marly then lunch in the clubhouse, it was time to take on the Retz – which one long-standing club official told me was their 18-hole course of first choice at Joyenval. There’s not much of a difference in the overall yardage between both courses but I can understand why the more intimate Retz might be chosen over its higher ranked sibling.
The opening six holes and last two occupy much the same ground as the majority of holes on the Marly, but once you go through a little archway entrance before the 7th tee, you’re transported into a very secluded, almost secret golfing hideaway, which is wonderfully atmospheric.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to see any of the remaining buildings in the 18th-century Désert de Retz landscape garden – including an obelisk and colonnaded temple – as they lie on higher ground to the left of the 7th ,8th and 9th holes but the golf is so engrossing you don’t really feel you’re missing out on too much anyway.
The front nine holes are all very pleasant but the action steps up a couple of gears at the par three 11th, situated at the furthest point from the clubhouse. It’s a beautiful drop shot hole which plays across a dammed portion of the little Ru de Buzot burn to an angled green that’s fortified at the back by three bunkers to catch those who over hit their tee shot across the water hazard.
The burn winds its serpentine way from the lake down the middle of the following hole, a short par four played to a lovely raised green, before emptying into the small lake that fronts the beautiful par three 15th hole then continuing down the right side of the fairway on the par five 16th.
All too soon, we must leave the magical Désert de Retz environment, emerging from the tunnel in the estate wall back to golfing reality and the final two par four holes which play slightly uphill back to the clubhouse. In no way should the Retz be underestimated because, by way of complementing a more highly-regarded course on the same property, it does a magnificent job.