Michel Gayon established his design company in 1983 and he’s had a hand in over fifty golf projects since then, with most of his architectural effort carried out in his native France, though his work on the Old and New courses at Gloria in Turkey certainly helped to raise his international profile around the start of the new millennium.
The 27-hole development at Sablé-Solesmes was unveiled in 1991 and it arrived at a time when Gayon was at his most productive, having just completed courses in different parts of the country at L’Ailette (near Reims), La Domangere (close to Nantes) and at Esery, located less than ten miles from the city centre of Geneva in Switzerland.
The brief at Sablé-Solesmes was to create a golf course “of the very highest quality, carefully planned down to the smallest detail, where excellence and a strong golfing challenge would go hand in hand with pleasure and serenity” and there can be little doubt that the architect satisfied this demanding mandate with some distinction.
The nines of La Forêt and La Rivière combine to form the championship course at Sablé-Solesmes. Not that the third nine, La Cascade (which is named after the small stream that tumbles over a waterfall on its way to the nearby River Sarthe) should be easily dismissed as it complements the other two circuits rather well.
La Forêt borders the Forêt de Pincé and its fairways wend their way round a flattish landscape, routed around stands of birch, elm and ash trees. The par five 3rd is a particularly strong hole, with a long, narrow fairway that doglegs slightly right to a large, well-protected green.La Rivière nine is shorter and a little more undulating, with water coming into play at five of the holes. The 174-metre par three 3rd is the feature hole on this circuit, played from an elevated tee position to a peninsula green that’s also surrounded by a long, narrow sand trap.
I was part of a group of 4 looking for a game whilst travelling en route from Paris National to St Malo. Our local club pro (Sebastian at the Royal Jersey) had suggested SS as a fun, no frills course.
There are 3 loops of 9 and we played the Riviere and Foret 9s. As the name suggests, water was a prominent feature on the River 9, no where more so than the par 5, 4th hole which required a 200 yard carry off the tee from the backs. Although there were 2 short par 4s on this 9, water was in play. The 2 par 5s were genuine 3 shotters and the 2 par 3s were 3 to 5 irons. There was also a par 4 of approximately 450 yards !
The Forest 9 was our favourite 9 which included 2 magnificent par 5s that would not have looked out of place on more heralded courses. There was also a 210 yard par 3 and 4 par 4s between 380 and 410 yards.
Although the course had a bit of a “scruffy” look it did not affect the playability. The greens were magnificent, very smooth and good pace and among the best Ive putted on. It was also terrific value - Euro 146 for 2 green fees and a buggy.
In summary, SS is a solid course, which was more than enough challenge for 4 single figure handicap golfers.
I just played this course in a championship, having played some of the best golf I can possibly think of. we had a 2 club wind, very fast green and thankfully very little rough. I'm a 4 hcp, played fantastic and shot 1 over. the average score on the last day was probably around 80 - with about 40 players having handicaps of 2 or better. Why am I mentioning this ? to say that this is a very hard golf course. the fairways are very narrow, green are usually large but in reality are like a three leaf clover ... so they are not that big. so strategy is of the essence and knowing the course will help. the back nine has a lot of water and one can lose a lot of golf balls. The important thing here is to play the right tees for your level. my opinion about this course is mixed. a great test of golf from the back tees and in championship conditions, but I am not sure that on a regular basis the maintenance is sufficient, in which case it becomes an slightly above average course.