Nestled in the small village of La Chaussée-d'Ivry in the largely agricultural department of Eure-et-Loir, Le Golf Parc Robert Hersant lives on and thrives in the 21st century, long after the passing of its creator, the larger than life media magnate Robert Hersant
The club’s website terms the original owner as “a specialist in excess and botany enthusiast” who planted around 15,000 trees to create what amounts to an arboretum populated with species from all over the world, including Redwoods from Oregon and Gingko Biloba from Japan.
American architect Ron Fream assisted Robert Hersant with the course design and they certainly took their inspiration from America – Florida in particular – as many of the fairways on a very flat property are routed around large expanses of water.
Measuring 6,301 yards from the back tees, the course plays to a par of 72, with holes arranged as retuning nines.
The star of the show here is undoubtedly the 436-metre 4th on the longer front nine. After teeing off over water, players then turn left and head towards an island green that’s flanked by sand to the right and left of the putting surface – even a bogey will feel like a birdie at this stroke index 1 hole.
We contacted Ron Fream about this project and he very kindly replied with the following:
“It started with a telegram to my Los Gatos office in California: ‘Please come to Paris to discuss golf,’ signed R. Hersant. I was already involved in other golf design projects across France in the early 1980s and I made the trip to Paris, coordinating other site visits.
I met Mr Hersant, who was a very imposing individual. It turned out his family had spent a holiday on a yacht in the Mediterranean and one port of call was Port El Kantaoui in Tunisa, where he’d played the recently opened 18-hole course that my Golfplan firm had designed.
He wanted to create a small golf facility at his weekend residence at the historic village of Ivry-la-Bataille. Mr Hersant had been building a magnificent country retreat on the property and an architect had been scouring local farms and villages for authentic building materials.
The residence – with a full side of sliding glass walls facing south to catch the sun – looked out on a small pond that had been excavated to produce enough fill for other areas on the property. The golf facility was to be several holes of modest length around or near the pond.
Ken Rowe, a British man who had settled in France and had worked with our golf design team in France, Portugal and Tunisia, relocated to the estate to guide construction.
Mr Hersant arrived mostly late on a Friday afternoons before dinner time, exiting his big chauffeured Mercedes then and going into the residence to change into baggy shirt and wool pants tucked into wellington rubber boots to inspect works.
We would discuss what to do next and often we would get new directions as he was constantly negotiating with adjacent farmers to secure more land. It turned out Mr Hersant was using the golf construction and landscape activities as a form of stress relief.
As more land parcels were added, golf holes would be redesigned, adding additional metres to an originally shorter hole. We had to tear out good works from last season, shift a green or bunker, add tees and adapt to unanticipated land-holding expansion.
What was most remarkable was Mr Hersant’s focus on the landscape plantings. The site was open pasture but trucks would arrive from tree nursery plantations with hundreds of liquid ambar, ginkos and maples, to be stored on site to keep the landscape crew busy.
Thirty mature giant redwood trees were delivered, each more than 10 meters high. What I later discovered was the Walt Disney company (where I was working on the 27-hole Disneyland Paris course) tried to buy the redwoods just as Mr Hersant made this purchase.
The golf facility did get used by Mr Hersant and VIP guests but his love of the horticulture was foremost. Unfortunately, Ken Rowe died of a heart attack in the guest apartment, not long after Mr Hersant also passed away and our involvement terminated with his death.
It’s clear that subsequent actions by family members continued to add property and expand the golf facility which we never had space to do while Mr Hersant was alive. The horticultural plantings around the property were exceptional and continue to influence the golf experience.”