Measuring 6,734 yards from the championship tees, Golf de Saint Germain is located to the west of Paris in the forest of Saint Germain. The club was originally founded in 1902 as Golf de l’Ermitage and their course was situated on the banks of the river Seine but in 1920 they moved to their present location when members grew tired of the river flooding their 18-hole layout.
St Germain is one of several French golf projects that Harry Colt was involved with in the early part of the 20th century, the others being Cannes Mandelieu, Chantaco, Saint Cloud, Granville (with Charles Alison) and Le Touquet (with J. H. Taylor).
The club has hosted the French Open nine times and it has been won at St Germain by golfers from eight different nations (with only Scotland providing multiple champions in the shape of George Duncan in 1927 and Sandy Lyle in 1981). The last winner here was Seve Ballesteros when he shot a course record 62 on his way to capturing the 1985 Open de France.
A delightful parkland course that flows through avenues of majestic trees, St Germain is a thinking golfer’s course where one must plot their way round the property, avoiding the strategically placed bunkers and steering clear of the trees that line every fairway and shelter every green.
Following a meeting of the Colt Association at Stoke Park and visits to Swinley Forest and Sunningdale at the end of the 1990s, the club assembled a small team to oversee the restoration of the course to its original design.
Superfluous trees and bushes were removed and putting surfaces reshaped and resized, with Colt’s trademark false fronts restored at many of the greens. Selective bunker removal was undertaken and over fifty greenside traps were renovated, returning green surrounds to their original appearance.
As Philippe Delaune, the St Germain President says, “If our club is lucky enough to possess a renowned architectural heritage, it is our duty to preserve its authenticity… The course can evolve but it must retain its original character”.
Golf de Saint Germain offer excellent practice facilities with a driving range, pitching and putting greens and an additional 9-hole layout so make use of them before tackling the main course!
The Grand Parcours course at Saint Germain lies within a big forest on pretty flat terrain so Harry Colt certainly had his work cut out back in the early 1920s to make the most of any land movement and maybe create a few of his own contours within the property. He also had a railway line running through the site so care had to be taken when routing holes on either side of the tracks, allowing golfers to cross back and forth a couple of times.
As the course lies within a densely wooded national forest, every hole is tree-lined but it’s apparent there’s been some work done in the past to manage the arboreal spread, though I’m sure more could be done on an ongoing basis to keep things in check. As it stands, most holes are played in splendid isolation, offering golfers as peaceful a game of golf as they could ever wish for.
The four par three holes are of a very high standard – I gave top marks to eight holes on the card in my notes and the four short holes were all included – and the first and last of these (the 5th and 17th, located at either end of the layout) were out of the very top drawer – that’s not to say the heavily bunkered 7th and 11th (which sit next to each other, facing in opposite directions) were in any way inferior; far from it, actually.
The two huge cross bunkers on the 5th look like the green is a lot closer than it really is, and the putting surface itself is severely sloped from the back, with a big false front. The 17th plays over a bracken-filled old sand quarry to a semi-blind green, calling for an all-carry heroic tee shot. In truth, each of the par threes required thrilling, all-or-nothing tee shots which is as good as it gets for me when playing a short hole.
The 10th is a visually stimulating hole, the four bunkers sculpted into the front of the raised green clearly visible from a long way out and this par four is in direct contrast to the 13th, which has no sand guarding a lie of the land green. Grass swales to the right of the putting surface on that hole are almost as good a defence as a bunker and some might argue they’re just as effective as any method of protecting par.
My host mentioned the par four 14th was listed in the Golf Magazine book “The World’s Greatest Golf Holes” and I’ve just checked that it’s there (under “St. Germaine Golf Club”) on page 355 – not that I doubted his word for a single second, of course – but I preferred the hole that followed, the par five 15th, where I was told Colt had dug out two sections of the fairway to use the spoil elsewhere on the course during construction.
No morning round on the Grand Parcours would be complete without a light lunch in the charming old clubhouse and this (as in the previous four days at Chantilly, Les Aisses, Fontainebleau and Morfontaine) was yet another highlight of a golf trip that was full of outstanding moments both on and off the various courses. Golf fans in Paris for the Ryder Cup next month should definitely have Saint Germain high on their play list if they plan to have a game whilst they’re in the capital.
We all love golf courses that we play well, but it would be such a shame to ignore those where one has just a decent round. After a 300 mile drive from Hertfordshire, my wife and I pulled up behind the wonderfully atmospheric club house (the changing rooms reek of history, just wonderful) and we were greeted by a genial secretary - “Take your time, here’s some tokens for the range, and tee off in your own time”.
We had the course to ourselves for the afternoon. What an absolute delight it was - so peaceful and in such great condition. The Colt stamp is everywhere and the Par 3s were exceptional. To be frank, there is not a weak hole as each tee presented a great vista and a need for precision. I have a love hate relationship with my driver and elected to use hybrids and a three Wood much of the time and it paid dividends for me. Had I putted well, I really would have scored very well but nothing will take away the memory of a great day’s golf.
Not as exciting as Les Bordes but a better course in many respects - not so tricked up. Best hole? Probably the 14th. Having played over 400 courses, St Germain is right up there with the very best. And, that comes from someone who thinks that inland courses cannot bear comparison with coastal links.
Played this in May 2017, and it is a wonderful course. It is quite flat, with most fairways fairly tight and tree lined, making this a tricky course, which was in fantastic condition. A lovely old clubhouse, and a generally quaint feel to the place made this a course to return to.
As this is my first course review, I will start with my home course: Golf de Saint Germain. As a course, this classic Harry Colt has hosted numerous French Opens, and every year hosts one major Amateur Event. Until the 80s the course was frequently referred to as an inland links. That was before the club installed its automatic watering system.
The course is known for its massive greens, which are its best defence. Four very tough and gorgeous par 3s remind the connoisseur that he is on a Colt Design. Located in the middle on an old Royal Forest, my guests are often amazed by the wide range of specimen trees, and on the 14th, one will be able to marvel at an oak tree dating from the XVII century.
As a club, Saint Germain is elite in the Paris area. That ensures that the course is always in great condition and apart from lunchtime at weekends, there is no need to reserve a tee time … and also …make sure to have lunch on the terrace overlooking the 9th green and 1st tee.
Now for my member’s tip: if at all possible, one should tee off at around 5-6 pm in June & July. As the sun sets on the fairways, the light, the shadows, the trees … the course’s beauty is magnified. Nature takes back its course: the deer come out, the rabbits run around the forest …great stuff !
Enjoy Saint Germain
I must admit that St. Germain was certainly one of the surprises on my last trip to France. I knew it was a classic Colt course but have to say given the relatively flat property Colt really hit a homerun in terms of the routing. There is a fair bit of shaping and earth moving that has been done, especially on most of the par 3’s, but they are really exceptional.
The routing of this course really flows wonderfully with very short green to tee walks. The maintenance is also notably superb, in fact, alongside Les Bordes, certainly the standout of the top courses in France. I would venture to say St. Germain is without a doubt among the very best members clubs in France where the utmost enjoyment is received by its membership as a whole from playing golf at their course.
This really can only be achieved when a course is playable for all levels and still presents enough challenge for the top players. This aspect was really in contrast in many ways from the courses we experienced at Les Bordes, Chantilly and Fontainebleau all of which were also excellent courses.
However, it was in particular the par 3’s that really stood out for me at St. Germain. It’s a surprisingly great day out on the links, and make sure to enjoy lunch or dinner in the restaurant as well… it’s equally as lovely as the course.
St Germain is one of the best “non-links” courses I have ever played. This is a typical Colt design with the finger shaped bunkers covered by sand all the way to the top, a very difficult feature to maintain for the green keepers. The course is situated in a beautiful and peaceful forest only 15 km from Paris. All the holes flow naturally one after the other, on both sides of an out of use railway.
Condition was second to none but the member I played with assured me it was only average to their standards. Truth be told, the will host the French Championships next week and I can only assume the condition will be even better then. Colt’s par 3s are always terrific and these make no exception. A par 4 stroke me even more; the 10th, only 330 meters long is one of the most beautiful I have seen anywhere. The course is not overly long (6131 meters) but is a great test nonetheless.
I don’t think one could ever get bored playing this course, which my playing partner confirmed. Members are very friendly and you are always welcome to get a green fee on week days. Despite its location, a real familial and countryside-like atmosphere reigns here. If you want to give yourself a treat, organize a 4-5 day trip to Paris where you would enjoy all the Capital’s cultural opportunities as well as rounds of golf at St Germain, Chantilly and Fontainebleau: you can’t regret it. A model golf club where everything was perfect from start to finish.
This was a truly tremendous course. As soon as you reach the club by car, you are instantly immersed in greatness, as you witness the grandeur that is the St. Germain Golf Club. A true parkland style course, it has an added dimension with the towering trees, providing a forest-like atmosphere. Though the course has a British feel (and why shouldn’t it, it’s designed by H.S. Colt himself), there is a French feel about the place as well.
From the perfect greens to the beautiful fairways and the well-kept bunkers, this course is kept in immaculate condition. As always with a Colt course, it is a stern test, if not a brute, and many a golfer is frustrated by the difficulty. Many a golf ball is lost to the towering fescue, which will penalize any golfer who hooks or slices a drive.
As always with a Colt masterpiece, the par 3’s are superb, and the seventh hole (the fifteenth handicap), though seemingly benign, can bare fangs with an off-target approach. The green is almost completely surrounded by bunkers, and is on a plateau, so a shot errant-left must clear a hill of about six feet in height. Once again, a terrific course that is truly a must-play, and remember: your score here will certainly not be to your handicap.