Established in 1895 by British expatriates who spent their winters in Saint-Raphaël escaping the colder climate at home, Golf et Tennis Club de Valescure started out with a 9-hole layout which Harry Colt and Hugh Alison extended to eighteen holes by 1910.
“Before hitting a ball into the first bunker it is necessary to get to St. Raphael by an intensely deliberate train that dawdles through glorious scenery;” said Bernard Darwin writing in The Times in 1913, reproduced in The Riviera Golf Courses. “On one side a ridiculously blue sea, on the other imposing red rocks dotted with fir trees. From St. Raphael station a motor drive of some three miles or so brings one to a pretty white wooden clubhouse and the course. It gives one a sensation of a great mountain valley. All round are the spiky, fairy-like summits of the Esterels, lower down on every side come clump upon clump of “umbrella” pines, and along the trough of this big, beautiful, quiet valley the golfer trundles his fussy ignominious little ball.”
Not much has changed course-wise in more than a hundred years since Darwin's visit. This hilly, tree-lined layout measures a very modest 5,160 metres from the back tees, playing to a par of 68, with only one par five on the scorecard at the 447-metre 3rd, where a wandering creek slashes diagonally across the fairway 100 metres short of the green, making this the toughest hole (stroke index 2) on the front nine.
With many of the fairways hemmed in by encroaching umbrella pines, accuracy is at a premium playing here. Only two of the par fours (at the 2nd and 10th) stretch to longer than 370 metres so length off the tee counts for little around here – it’s all about staying out of the trees, avoiding the fairway drainage ditches and playing good approach shots to the small greens.
“And (to cut the scenery and come to the golf) he has to trundle it at times unconscionably straight,” continued Darwin. “Once upon a time the place was all umbrella pines when it was not rock – and one green had been made by blasting the solid rock. Now there are glades leading this way and that through the trees, but Mr. Colt is not the man to be foolishly merciful. Mr. Tony Weller’s aphorism regarding “Vidth and Visdom” does not apply to golf architecture and this wisest of architects has made his glades decidedly narrow. In fact, the course looks in many ways like a blend of one or two of his creations at home – Swinley Forest, let us say, and St. George’s Hill – but all somewhat in miniature.”