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.
On every 8-10 course trip I make there’s usually at least one course that will show up as a pleasant and unexpected surprise and on my recent visit to France, this was it. The first of eight courses played over a 5-day period, Sable-Solesmes was meant to be no more than a break in the journey from Paris to Saint-Malo (like the previous reviewer) but what an agreeable golfing pit stop it turned out to be.
The Forêt and Rivière nines comprise an imposing 18-hole layout, routed across a nicely undulating, lightly wooded landscape with a healthy smattering of water hazards to worry about. There’s also a rather unique distance marker system in place: small conical bushes placed either side of the fairway 135 meters from the green but these shrubs could do with being dug up and replaced with conventional stakes as they can be more than a little distracting!
There are two great 3-hole sequences on either nine and the first of these is at holes 3 to 5 on the Forêt, consisting of a long, wonderfully bunkered par five, a water and sand-protected par three, and a terrific par four which requires a carry across a small lake from the tee before the approach shot then has to avoid another pond to the left of the green.
Holes 2 to 4 on the Rivière nine were also out of the top drawer: the first of these is a long par four with a fabulously-shaped offset green; the second is a downhill par three played to a peninsula green; and the third hole is a par five that veers left over water, narrowing as it heads uphill to a benched green near the top of an incline.
Hole 6 on the Rivière is probably regarded as the signature hole on the property, featuring another peninsula green that’s cleverly bunkered at the back to prevent over aggressive shots getting wet. Looking back now at my photos, and double checking the overhead representation of the layout on google maps, really endorses my feelings that this is a well-designed track with a great routing.
On the downside, there were quite a few areas on some of the greens that were very bare and I don’t know if that’s a conditioning issue that has just arisen this year or whether it’s a long-term problem – whatever’s caused this putting surface predicament needs to be addressed quickly or casual green fee players will surely choose to go elsewhere.
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.