The 2018 Ryder Cup layout was the last of ten courses that I visited on a recent trip to France. It’s also the 10th Ryder Cup course that I’ve played on this side of the Atlantic and the only modern era Ryder Cup course other than the PGA Centenary in Gleneagles where I’ve teed it up. I’ve not been to The Belfry, Valderrama, K Club or Celtic Manor but I pretty much knew what to expect at Golf National from what I’d seen on the television and reading reviews already posted on this website.
Funnily enough, this was the third Robert von Hagge course that I played during my week-long travels, though I understand the late Texan architect’s collaboration in the design is being seriously downplayed these days, which is a bit of a low blow. Why Hubert Chesneau would want to be known as the exclusive architect with von Hagge relegated to “consultant” is beyond me – you only have to look at the opening and closing holes to see that von Hagge’s technical expertise was utilized to the full.
L’Albatros is where the French Open is played nowadays and it’s a testing track for top professionals – the scorecard indicates it has a hefty 155 slope from the back markers and mere 141 from the regular gents tees – never mind the ordinary amateur who tackles this iconic layout. Water comes into play at more than half the holes on the card so, unless you think you’ll have the round of your life, you’re advised to bring a few extra golf balls in your bag as they might well be needed.
Drainage and irrigation lines were redone in 2015/16 to avoid a repeat of the waterlogging at Celtic Manor in 2010 when they had to extend proceedings to the Monday, all the bunkers have been rebuilt and a couple of greens re-laid to allow extra pin positions. Factor in twelve kilometres of new paths and many more kilometres of cables for media and you can understand why it’s cost a reputed 7.5 million euros to prepare for the upcoming Ryder Cup matches.
To be honest, I feared the worse when teeing it up at the first two holes as they’re sited on either side of a small lake so water’s the dominant theme with both greens perched right next to the wooden buttressed hazard – somehow I managed a net par-birdie start and I was on my way with a spring in my step!
The fairways then move away from water for a while but the thick rough lining the fairways is just as penal and lost balls in the tall grass at holes 3 and 4 had me feeling a little less chirpy. There’s a definite linksy feel to the holes in the middle of the front nine, culminating in an all-or-nothing tee shot onto the green from an elevated “dune” position on the par three 8th.
The run from 10 to 14 was the best stretch of the course for me. It starts with a par four that rises and narrows as it reaches the green then ends with a par five that swings left and uphill again to a raised green that sits behind an enormous bunker with a grass island in the middle. Mention must also be made of the 13th (rated stroke index 3) which requires a brave approach across water to a green flanked by trees – it’s one of the best holes on the course, in fact.
The aquatic theme returns for three of the last four holes, with water to the right of the fairway on the 15th and 16th and to the left of the 18th. With huge grass mounding behind the greens on these holes, it’s a very spectator-friendly part of the course, allowing thousands to watch the conclusion of tournaments, though the line of trees screening the new hotel behind the 15th look out of place and could probably do with being thinned out if not removed.
Aérodrome de Toussus-le-Noble sits immediately to the southeast of the property and only the occasional small turboprop aircraft was taking off or landing when I played next door on a quiet Sunday morning but I have a feeling the airfield will be a lot livelier next month with maybe a few private jets flying in the great and the good who’ll be attending the Ryder Cup when Europe and the USA go head to head on L’Albatros.
Date: August 01, 2018