One of half a dozen French golf projects that Robert Trent Jones II has been involved in down the years, Saint Donat is a tree-lined parkland course that’s laid out over undulating terrain in two returning 9-hole circuits.
Water threatens at a number of holes and good bunkering and large putting surfaces go a long way to protect the overall par of 71. The back nine is quite a bit hillier than the outward half and golfers have to contend with several blind drives on these holes.Although it’s not quite in the same bracket as the private Trent Jones Snr course (Prince de Provence) that lies an hour’s drive to the southwest at Vidauban, the Saint Donat layout certainly holds its own in the Cannes area amongst courses like Robert von Hagge’s Royal Mougins and Cabel Robinson’s Grande Bastide.
I am a regular player in South East France and I figured only one review on this site, all the more dating back 6 years, does not do justice to such a great course as Saint Donat.
Let’s say it from the outset : Saint Donat is my favorite course in the region, and I have played it at least once a year for the last ten years. It may not have the grandiose and luxury setting of Terre Blanche, the original yet sometimes quirky layout of Barbaroux, the serenity and beautiful mountain background of Taulane, the great views of Monte Carlo, the feeling of tradition and the simplicity of Cannes-Mougins, the umbrella pines of Cannes Mandelieu Old Course, all great other courses nearby, but it beats them all in terms of compromise between quality of lay-out, value for money and proximity with Cannes and Nice, and it is by all standards a fun, varied and very well maintained course. And it plays long too, a 6031 meters par 71, which stands out in a region where a lot of courses a rather short.
This is an urban area (very close to Cannes) and the surroundings are not great. There is a highway running along one side of the course, high power pylons along the highway visible from a distance, and even a water treatment plant in one corner (that one you will hardly notice). But this being said, and contrary to what one might think, the site has a lot of potential. The grounds are quite hilly, run through by a small river (la Mourachonne, which will come in play in no less than 6 holes), and decorated by old buildings full of charms, farm ruins and even a old church or manor (at the back of the 10) which is a great enhancement to the beauty of the hole.
This potential needed the hand and vision of a great architect to be fully exploited, and it got it with Robert Trent Jones II, which repeated here the same kind of performance he achieved near Paris in Golf du Chateau de la Chouette, another one of my favorites, and a course which bears many similarities with Saint-Donat. There even was a time when Kyle Phillips claimed on his website that he worked on those two courses during his time with RTJ II (he has had enough credentials of his own for some time now), so the course has excellent patronage, and it shows.
Hole n°1 is a gentle start, more of a warm up. And it is a good idea, as my strong suggestion if you play in the summer is to play as early as possible and skip time at the driving range to avoid the crowds that will slow you down later in the day, as well as the summer heats. Hole n°2 offers a better glimpse of what comes next, with an uphill, slight dog leg right, with danger on the tee both on the left (river La Mourachonne) and on the right (thick bushes), but an opening up fairway further down.
Things really get serious on hole 3, which is both labelled as the hardest on the course and is certainly one of the most beautiful. A long par 3, well defended by river la Mourachonne on the right and thick trees on the left, which requires a do or die tee shot. Hole n°4 is another beauty, which will require you to cross the river twice, on a downhill tee shot and then on your second shot towards a slightly uphill green.
Things calm down a bit for the next three holes. The par 5 5th is a long, straight par 5 with death on the right and a risk-reward second shot where you are tempted to aim towards the green and a narrowing fairway. Holes 8 and 9 are two interesting dog leg left par 4s, the 8 requiring to lay up on your first shot and then attack the green for some distance, the 9 returning to the club house and being easier.
I find the back nine superior. Hole 10 is a beautiful short par 3 with a carry over water and the old church/manor in the background. Hole 11 is an uphill, straightforward par 5 to a well defended green with bunker to the left and trees to the right. After a short slightly uphill par 3, hole 13 is a short par 5, reachable in 2 with a downhill second shot to a long but narrow green (it plays as a par 4 for the club’s main tournaments). Hole 14 is an uphill par 4 with thick bushes on the right and a steep slope on the left that tilts towards the fairway.
Hole 15 is among my favorite par 5 and is a real beauty. It will take you down hill, with the tee box standing high above the fairway, have you cross La Mourachonne and aim toward an uphill green, with death on the left throughout the hole. A truly great hole.
Hole 16 is a beautiful downhill par 3 with the river running alongside, as well as rocks and trees. 17 is another flat par 4 where you will need to cross La Mourachonne twice, on your tee shot and on your attempt to the green. 18 is a great finishing hole, long par 4 playing slight dogleg right with water well in play on the second shot.
The course is always well maintained and in good conditions, especially the greens.
Be sure to play it if you come in the region.