The Loire Valley has many a romantic pseudonym, including the Valley of the Kings and the Garden of France. It’s certainly an enchanted and historical region with its vineyards and chateaux. Set in the middle of this Renaissance is the beauty and the beast that is Les Bordes.
Les Bordes was the brainchild of Baron Marcel Bich (the man behind Bic pens) and his friend Yoshiaki Sakurai. Together they committed to paper (presumably by biro) the wooded masterpiece that is consistently ranked as one of the Europe’s greatest courses.
Designed by Texan, Robert von Hagge, on a day when he was at his most wickedly creative. Les Bordes opened for play in 1986 and it’s a supreme challenge. The likeable Jean Van de Velde holds the current course record of 71 (one under par) so don’t visit Les Bordes expecting to play to handicap, this monster layout stretches to 7,062 yards from the tips. It really is as difficult as its reputation suggests.
La Sologne occupies an area of approximately 1,500 sq kilometres and the region offers tranquil walks around lakes and woodland and von Hagge has utilised some of Sologne’s lakes to dramatic effect with island greens and water coming into play on no less than twelve holes.
Les Bordes has a slight American feel to it, both in terms of design and conditioning but there is no doubting that you are in France. There is more style here on this tournament condition layout than just about any other course in France. And what’s most impressive is that visitors can actually stay and play here these days… what sheer unadulterated delight.
Gil Hanse fashioned a new 18-hole course to the west of the existing 18-hole von Hagge layout, which officially opened in July 2021. Playing corridors were previously carved through the trees for a second course when the original course (now called the Old) was constructed, but the latest design (named the New) pays scant regard to what was done before.
By the time I teed off at the Old Course, paired last moment with two fine French gentlemen, I’d had a few moments to process my initial findings of the New Course played in the morning, reliving it over the delightful ‘Gil’s Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich’ on brioche bread on the elegant terrace overlooking a lake followed by the first fairway and next tot hat the practice green and a glimpse of the 18th green. Gil Hanse apparently is a man of many talents and even managed to make his mark in the french kitchen. I bet Doak, Coore & Crenshaw or even Alister Mackenzie could not say the same about themselves.
A man of refined manners and tastes himself, Robert von Hagge must have been over the moon to be handed the opportunity to build his masterpiece at Les Bordes, given an unlimited budget, which he famously still ‘somehow managed to exceed’.
That’s one of many cool stories and urban legends surrounding Les Bordes. A person who knows them all happened to be in my flight and it made my round that much more memorable. It was staff member Michel, who is not only a walking Les Bordes encyclopedia with an impressive 29 years of employment, but also displays an amazing short game with just one arm.
The first couple of holes of the Old Course, I was still in awe with the quality and experiece of the New course. Because everything is relative, to be honest i was not too impressed with the first couple of holes of the Old Course. This is where I’ll promise to stop comparing these utterly different golfcourses that have little in common, except their exclusivity and their tranquility. So let me just get it together and start again.
The 1st hole is nice but I came prepared regarding the island green. To quote David Davis: it is indeed ‘relatively unique’ but the sand is flat and lies only about 30cm below the green the green and the green as well. Unless you hit a duckhook, big slice or a $H4NK and leave, you’ll have an easy bunkershot to one of the flatter greens. It’s not that challenging but that is quite welcome given what’s to come.
the 3rd hole is where things start to get serious with one of the best and most characteristic holes on the course, followed by a lovely little one shotter with a small green guarded by water in front and on the right of it.
The entire course is basically a shaping masterclass. It is a statement what can be done with an unlimited budget. Everything is constructed and has matured so well that it blends in with nature in almost spiritual harmony, as described comprehensively in BB’s review. Plenty of features were arguably overdone and it might not be everybody’s taste, but it certainly is easy on the eye. Minimalism was never the objective here and Von Hagge was not your guy for any of that. So all in all, there are some bunkers one wouldn’t have missed in terms of strategic interest - or where 2 would have been sufficient instead of 7 - but they were probably not intended to be there in the first place, other than for the purpose of providing definition to the holes and green complexes, to create and enhance beauty and increase the intimidation levels and force the player into making dumb choices. That’s also a more than justified purpose.
I can’t help but write down the analogy of Von Hagge as a cosmetic surgeon of golf courses, squirting some botox and applying some fillers here and there to make sure that the Old Course would redefine the modern beauty ideal of golf. And then he couldn’t resist to use photoshop for some last tweaks. What’s impressive is that it stayed within the boundaries of elegance, but the operations also inevitably caused some questionably-formed unnatural humps and mounds.
‘Pete Dye’ like bunkers of TPC Sawgrass proportions can be found at 6, 12 and 17. They’re penal in the sense that they penalize wayward shots, but not in the sense that it’s hard to hit from them. I especially liked the one at 6, which is very much visible on the teeshot as it walks parallel to the fairway for what must be about 100 meters long until the green. That side of the fairway ends abruptly where the bunker starts 150 cm sharply down the surface of the fairway. You’re not dead from there but your view of the elevated green will be compromised and all you can see is sand until the green.
The raised and tilted fairways featured on some of the holes actually reminded me a bit of the turns in a NASCAR track, best demonstrated on the par 4 11th. The teeshot is played to an elevated fairway. The right side has a sharp edge that you do not want to be on the wrong side of, but the left of the fairway is lower and slopes towards the water, which guards the left side of the hole all the way to the shallow but wide green, which slopes back to front and requires a forced carry over water. Be conservative from the tee and you’ll have a difficult second which poses another dilemma. But you’ll feel even more stupid if you’re too greedy off the tee. That my friends, is Les Bordes in a nutshell!
Is the course really that difficult? Yes it is. but neither is it impossible to score well. You just need to have a very good day of ballstriking, be patient, extremely disciplined and not let the fact that you’re having a good round at Les Bordes (!!!) in your head. That’s so much more difficult because the build-up of the course is just so good. Hole after hole, you are bullied, tempted, rewarded, impressed, stimulated, intimidated and challenged. It feels like you’re working towards a climax – which ultimately is the feeling of accomplishment and a cold beer (or champagne if you care to fit in).
The course demands respect and very good golf from begin to end. It will reward you for sticking to your game plan and the ability to recover from disappointment and heartbreak you will inevitably face at some point during the round. In that respect, I found it to be truly unique and I haven’t experienced this anywhere else. Maybe at Von Hagges other creation Golf National, but that lacks the mesmerizing aura of Les Bordes. I doubt any other place doesn’t.
It’s one thing to design and maintain a difficult course, but it’s endlessly more difficult to make it playable nonetheless. There’s plenty of relief and opportunity to be found throughout the layout, but it’s easy to fall in their traps:
- The course is not that long for modern standards:
The par 3s are pretty short and the par 5s are all reachable (but beware);
- Some holes look more intimidating than they actually are. There might be room to miss where you don’t expect it from the tee;
- There are few relief holes which are relatively gentle (1, 5, 10 and 15). They’re wider, have no water coming into play significantly and might be shaped favourably to keep your ball on the course;
- Good shots will usually be rewarded.
Les Bordes Old provides a continuous challenge not letting loose for the entire round. There’s something in the air which makes it welcoming and intimidating at the same time. It’s the strange course of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It may be beautiful and inviting but it will bite you and you are fully aware it can and will happen any moment. But when it does, you know you can only blame yourself.
If you can recall the opening credits to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, then fast forward 30 years, and that’s how this William felt arriving at the entrance gates. I’d gotten into one wrong flight, and my Mom got scared, so sent me to... Les Bordes to get a better golfing education.
Truth be told they were so welcoming it was mildly disarming. Maybe they’d mistaken me for someone else. Not necessarily a reaction I’d expected at, if not the Augusta National of French golf, then perhaps the Pine Valley. You see, one other preconception I had was that this haute bourgeoisie member of French golf might actually be a Euro comparison for the New Jersey golfing aristocrats. After all, Les Bordes is a course, whilst difficult to access, is also renowned for its difficulty and nerve wracking demands of hitting from Island to Island. Apparently the original remit was for a design to test the very best French players.
And so it transpired that the course was very... playable. Much to my relief because I’d only brought 26 balls with me. This happy fact is patently due to definite changes brought to bear upon the holes - primarily reducing the rough so that you can now find your ball. A good friend who played it 10 years ago had painted a very different picture (proud of the fact his name was on their honours board for breaking 80 off the back tees). How I only lost one ball will remain a mystery though. There is a premium on tee shot placement to give the easier approach, but if often felt about the second shot to me. The greens - and missing in the right spots near them - was a big test.
A final preconception was that the course would be pure target golf, yet this also wasn’t the case. There was some roll on the fairways - for better or worse in my case - and it was only really hitting up to back to front greens where my ball might sit next to it’s pitch mark and make me feel, momentarily, like a stalwart of the PGA Tour.
The most striking element of Les Bordes is the setting - how the course sits so easily within its forest sanctuary. You of course know it’s not been just carved out of the woods, yet it belongs. It brought to mind those stunning Mayan ruins uncovered in Central America - you know it’s the work of man, yet it somehow fits in and enhances the natural beauty. I’ve not seen anything quite like it and it’s must have been a fine balancing act to pull it off. Perhaps the nearest thing I’ve witnessed is Loch Lomond Golf Club. Either way, it’s a meaningful riposte to the fashion of minimalism in golf design (and those who would have all golf courses looking the same).
Having said this, not many courses could choose to be like Les Bordes. They don’t have the land or the money. The construction here is consequently very good and not heavy handed. The presentation/conditioning is the best I’ve seen so far. Neither are ostentatious. The routing is excellent (as it should be considering the lack of restrictions) - with only one switchback feeling awkward. It’s a real journey of 2 anti-clockwise loops that explore the forest, where each hole is revealed to you on the tee box. From memory, 2 of the Par 3’s Parky in the same direction, if you want to be a Fussy Fred about it. The framing on each tee shot is almost perfect and let’s you choose your spots. And then there’s the tranquility. It’s so quiet you can hear a pin. Or a ball drop. You enjoy birdsong throughout your round. Billionaire’s Golf. Why isn’t this in any of the seminal architectural texts?
Of course, ignoring the idyllic setting, the other side to this argument is that’s it’s quiet because it’s very private. And it is a shame that most golfers will not experience this course. US golfers tend to accept this. British golfers don’t. Both likely understand it. It is what it is.
Several aspects of the course are already excellent but what about the actual golf holes? A few that stick in my mind:
Hole 1: A gentle-ish handshake dogleg right, with a striking green surrounded by a single encircling bunker. It’s a great start because most golfers should get a chance at hitting this green in regulation. But I am not most golfers and it took 3 shots. This was perhaps the only hole where the mounding (on the left) feels a little unnatural - a minor shame to have it on the first hole as it’s not really present on the rest of the course.
Hole 3: Fantastic 369 yard Par 4. You must drive as close to the fairway bunkers as you dare in order to get the best angle in. The angled green is a picture postcard and is the first time you notice how well the course sits with the forest.
Hole 4: Great little short hole where you are introduced to the water front first time (it won’t be the last). Almost an island green, but with a bail out area left. I aimed for the middle and pushed it right, where coincidentally the pin was on the day. My ball settled 4 feet away from the pin (and water). My playing partner may at this point have thought me a maverick talent - until I missed the tricky putt.
Hole 7: Dogleg left Par 5 where on consecutive strokes you need to choose how much water to involve in your ball’s fate. Billy, don’t be a hero. Good players may go for it in 2, but my heart rate was up, and I was very satisfied with my concentration & execution to get on in regulation with 3 good shots.
Hole 8: Stunning Par 3. You don’t always get strategy on a short hole - it can be a case of ignoring intimidation & distraction, enjoying the view, and then hitting the middle of the green. One of the more memorable Par 3’s I can recall playing.
Hole 14: Meandering 534 yard Par 5 where the landing area for the second shot is hidden if you go up the left side as I did. An Island green where I’d like to see someone get on in 2 shots. I nervously pitched on in 4 and bit the holes’s hand off for the bogey it offered up.
Hole 17: Another pretty dogleg right Par 4 where left off the tee - this time threatening a walk in the woods - gives the best angle to attack the thin sliver of a green that runs away from you left to right. It’s also protected by a huge bunker running along the right side, so the second shot is progressively difficult depending on the flag location on the day.
Hole 18: It wouldn’t be Les Bordes if it didn’t finish with a water carry. This Par 4 has an interesting 2 tiered green that I didn’t notice on the approach shot. Ensured I finished with a 3 putt bogey and left me wanting to play the hole again.
As mentioned above, the greens are the real test at Les Bordes. They have a fair bit of contouring and come in all shapes and sizes. And as you might expect, they are quick (by European standards). The water also cannot be ignored and requires significant concentration. But if you don’t get too Marvel Avengers about it, you can humbly plot your way around. The variety of holes matches the variety of greens, and good players will have fun with the various shots demanded of them. For me it simply ensures a better experience.
I’ve not played enough courses in France, but if considering rankings, this can’t be far off a World Top 100 spot? I imagine courses in the 80-150 range are splitting hairs to some extent and Les Bordes is at home amongst them. A course ranked 6th in Europe has to be in the conversation. That’s for others to decide though. My own rudimentary ranking system is a display case on my desk with 30 logo balls from my favourite golf courses. Les Bordes as a golf course has made the cut (relegating Walton Heath Old - which was admittedly on borrowed time because of that opening hole). In truth it probably rivals De Pan as the best non-links I’ve played. It also inspires me to visit other Robert von Hagge courses, to see if this is a one-off or if he had something.
They are also investing in a second track here, designed by Gil Hanse, which is almost complete. This should appease the minimalists and those who like big name designers (guilty). And of course it may be even better than this one (I didn’t get the feeling these guys here settle for the concept of a “second course”). Good news then for the members and twice as many reasons for everyone else to be envious.
I came in here expecting to feel like a social imposter who would have his game exposed, but both were far from the truth. The staff were as welcoming as the course. Yes, I had feared it might dish out the Royal Treatment (i.e. Louis XVI) but instead I felt like Napoleon. But as well as I felt my round went, you are often just one moment away from Waterloo on the course. I could play Les Bordes every day without being beaten or bored into submission. A huge treat for the lucky few who get to tee it up here.
Un must tout simplement. Mon meilleur souvenir golfique en 30 ans.
Le parcours est très beau, difficile, varié, bien entretenu.
L'architecte Robert Von-Hagge est de loin mon préféré.
I was lucky enough to play Les Bordes last month with a friend who is a member. What a special place! The course conditioning is on par with the very best in the world and miles ahead of any other course I have played in Europe, including GB&I. Every hole is truly memorable and we found the course to be quite playable despite the water. Apparently the rough has been softened to make the course less difficult and I thought the result was fantastic. All around amazing place with a beautiful, world class, fun course. The rest of the facilities, including the clubhouse and cottages, were being renovated and Gil Hanse is in the middle of building a second course on site which is due for completion early next year. If you ever have the chance to experience Les Bordes, jump on it!
We played Les Borde in June 2018 and all I can say it was out of this world. I have been lucky enough to play many fantastic courses all over the world and I have to say this is my favourite, my golfing world hit a new high on this course. No... it wasn't because I played well.. infact I played pretty poorly on the well anticipated day , its just that the place is so magical that it tops my charts. I wont spoil it too much for anyone but I would wholeheartedly say that at least 16 of the 18 holes would make a "signature hole" on most courses on the planet. Every hole has clearly had a mass of thought and design put into it and if I am ever lucky enough to play it again, I will be more aware of some places not to go and some that you can. As regards getting to play it.... well good luck, it took a lot of favour pulling in on my part but we got there in the end. On another note same as a few other reviewers we played Les Aisses the day before which was a total surprise as it doesn't seem to have amazing reviews, however that was also and definitely worth a visit, not as good as les Borde but as good as most courses I have played. If you manage to play Les Borde you will love it , trust me
I last played at Les Bordes almost eleven years ago (so a lot has happened since those relatively carefree, innocent days when I was still in my late forties) and I never thought I’d get the chance to come back but the opportunity arose for a return visit a couple of months ago so it just goes to show that you never know how things will turn out for you in golfing circles.
There’s still the same low-key vibe to the clubhouse and the pro shop and there’s no big statement 1st tee box or large 18th green sited next to these buildings for onlookers to put pressure on those beginning or finishing their round – instead, the start and end points are positioned a discreet distance away, allowing golfers to get on with their match in peace and quiet.
Once you’re out on the course, you feel as though you have the place to yourself (you probably do, actually!) with the tree-lined fairways rarely offering a glimpse of any hole other than the one you’re currently playing. It’s such a peaceful place to play golf, set within a large forest that keeps the outside world at bay.
Be prepared to encounter water hazards (especially at three of the four short holes) and sand (I’d forgotten about the large waste bunker that runs along the right of the 6th before cutting across in front of the green) as you progress along this unique golfing journey – one that’s quite a walk if you choose to go on foot.
The course was playing very long because of the rain that had fallen in the previous few days but lush parkland golf is the name of the game at Les Bordes anyway so you should never expect too much by way of fairway roll here because of how the course is set up. Not for nothing is there a board in the clubhouse listing the names of those who have broken 80 (including Top 100’s Fergal O’Leary) when playing a course designed and maintained to test the very best of elite players.
I didn’t think it was proper to have so many elevated fairways and greens when I was last here but, the more that I now think about it now, if that’s what’s necessary to enable golfers to play above the surrounding water table in such a natural environment then really we should be admiring what is, in effect, a marvel of engineering within the beautiful Sologne region.
I do hope the club can find a way to open up the course for green fee play, even if it’s on the limited basis of several times a week, because interested golfers should be able to discover just how good the layout is. Not only that, having Les Bordes acting as a magnet to attract visiting golfers might also have a spin off benefit for other golf facilities in the vicinity, like the much under-rated Les Aisses.
It would seem the LB have relaxed their playing protocols as 3 of us played 10 days ago (although the application process and vetting is thorough). 2 of the group had played there previously, albeit many years ago. We also played Les Aisses (it is my review below yours !) and loved it. LB remains a truly wonderful golfing experience. The isolation is almost cathartic !. The course is magnificent (none of us were keen on the par 3, 16th). David O
In the middle of the Sologne forest, plenty of lakes and superb shaping. Very challenging course from the back tees. A must play course but difficult to access...
The experience is very unique with its lovely clubhouse that fits perfectly in the French countryside. The cottages where we stayed were perfect and very understated, reminiscent of Dismal River Nebraska. The service was impeccable as you might expect at such a high-end members club. They even went as far as to keep the kitchen staff there until our arrival which was on the later side. Pre dinner drinks in front of a huge fireplace in the bar area and then we relocated to the dining area and in front of another. Not often you can talk about a truly unbelievable dining experience at a golf club. Les Bordes does French cuisine justice!
The course is really set up on a huge piece of land and even though the 4 of us are diehard walkers even we were advised to take the carts. Really it’s needed as there are some pretty long distances between holes. As already mentioned the course is not at all forgiving, it’s long and there are hazards everywhere. It also has its share of island greens. Nearly all par 3’s are over water and several of the other holes border water. Perhaps a bit too much for my liking but there really isn’t any poor holes on the course.
The 1st hole has an island green surrounded by sand which is relatively unique. No two holes are the same but there are a few characteristics like the water that you see very often. I will admit to not being the biggest fan of parkland golf as compared to true links golf or firm and fast heathland but Les Bordes is really an excellent design that will really challenge the best the golfers and I’m sure that’s what it was made for.
If you can break 80 from their back tees your name goes up on a board of names to have accomplished this. In short, they pride themselves on having a tough course where not a blade of grass is out of place. It’s an American experience in the heart of France.
The greens are the simply fantastic as well and certainly the fastest rolling greens and most perfectly manicured I’ve ever seen in Europe. Even a step above the likes of Queenwood and that says a lot. At just over 7,000 yards the course was playing very soft and thus also very long. If you ever have the opportunity to go experience Les Bordes then jump on it. Don’t expect classic golf, it’s modern parkland target golf arguably at its best.
The are 5 tees available, black, white, yellow, blue and red, we elected for the white tees, total length for the whites being 6023 metres, long enough for us. The first hole is right out side the club house, just over the small lake, it is a straight forward par 4, with an island green, within a huge bunker, a great starting hole. As we tee'd up a group of deer ran across the fairway around 250 yards away, this set the scene for a wonderful day. Every hole is stunning, with fantastic features on every hole, huge grass mounds, carries over water, tall grasses lining fairways, raised fairways, elevated greens, monuments, amazing bunkers (I found a few of them) there are also several island greens. It is difficult to pick my favourite holes as all 18 are special, however my top four were: Hole 7 - short par 5 where you have to cross the lake three times to get to the green. Hole 13 - par 3, with 150 m carry over the lake to a small sloping green. Hole 14 - another par 5, where your 3rd shot is to a perfect island green. Hole 18 - the final hole, and they have saved the best to last. 377m long par 4, where you carry water with your tee shot to the fairway,then either lay up with a wedge, or go for the green with a long iron or fairway wood. If you are short with your approach you end up in the water, if you are long your in the rear bunker. The green has a ridge running down the middle, which makes putting a real challenge. I lost many balls, we had a very heavy shower that soaked us, it was tough, but I would happily play Les Bordes every day for the rest of my life. I do hope I get invited back again!