Le Golf National

In 2018, the Ryder Cup will be held on the Albatros course at Le Golf National, in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, 20 miles to the west of Paris at Guyancourt, near Versailles.
This will mark an historic achievement for French golf and much careful planning has gone into the event so far: there is a huge amount of work to do before hosting what has become the world’s biggest golf tournament. Indeed, the infrastructure surrounding the golf course and the playing surfaces needs to be so substantial that at least five years of planning is required before any course could host such an event.
 
Le Golf National, was founded in September 1985 by the Committee of the FFG (the French Golf Federation) and its President, Claude-Roger Cartier. The course took three years to create – from July 1987 to October 1990 – and was opened with an exhibition match featuring legendary golfers Ray Floyd, Greg Norman, Jeff Sluman and Marc Farry.
 
The site, which covers 139 hectares (over 340 acres), was completely flat and featureless agricultural land, farmed since the days of Louis XIV and the Château de Versailles.
 
The Albatros course was designed by the architects Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge, with additional input from Pierre Thevenin. Some may think of inert importation as a new concept and mainly in the UK market, but Le Golf National was created as the spectacular golfing landscape that it is today from the importation of millions of tones of material. Over a period of three years 400 trucks per day transported 1.600.000 cubic metres of soil from building projects in Paris, which, together with the 600.000 m3 already excavated on site to create the water features, made up the general relief of the courses and their surroundings. This allowed the land to be modelled and to construct a golf stadium as a venue for the Open de France and various other national and international competitions - and one that can be kept open to all, all year round. The design team, therefore had ‘carte blanche’ to create a course which could move in any direction, and water features which initially could be placed anywhere to enhance the layout. 
 
New landscapes always take time to ‘bed-in’ and settle to their correct level, but the course opened to critical acclaim in 1990 and the following year held its first French Open. Sir Nick Faldo deemed his score of 71 “Tough but fair” after his opening round in the 1991 Open de France. The French Open had found its home. Other players from the European Tour also voiced their approval and The Albatros is now firmly established as one of the pros’ favourite courses on the European Tour.
 
So is this a good course for all golfers? That is an easy question – it is a beauty. 
 
The real feedback amongst most of the Tour players is that they really enjoy playing the course, and this is the same as amateur golfers, who return from afar to play the course – a sure sign of their approval. It is a great test - long and difficult, particularly from the back tees, but provides lots of fun and plenty of opportunity for mishaps with so much water in play, particularly on the closing holes.
 
We caught up with general manager Paul Armitage: 
“It is a real honour to be running the venue for the Ryder Cup. There is an enormous amount of work to do and I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic team: we are all dedicated to making sure the Ryder Cup goes off without any hitches and becomes a beacon for French golf for many years to come. We have had to bury thousands of metres of fibre-optic cable, electricity points and additional irrigation systems, along with importing substantial amounts of soil to create new undulations along some of the fairways, along with new viewing areas for the spectators. We have a tremendous team of 30 greenkeepers, and this will double to around sixty for the Ryder Cup. Golf in France is growing and the Ryder Cup can help to give added impetus to the growth of the game and get more French people playing. It is bound to be brilliant for golf tourism too.”
 
The event, which will be held at the end of September in 2018, can be affected by weather - in particular rain. With this in mind, the drainage system for the entire complex has been completely overhauled resulting in most of the playing surfaces now having a drain every metre.  It is almost impossible to stop it raining, but it is virtually impossible now for any water to linger on any of the playing surfaces at Le Golf National.
The course was closed for much of the winter so that the infrastructure work and additional landscaping could be completed. The course now has a new look to some of the holes, which will be tested properly at the French Open in early July.
The greenkeeping team have crammed into various projects of earthworks and renovations - that normally a course would have taken several years to undertake - into the last ten months, so it is particularly satisfying to see the progress on the course now that Spring has arrived. The course is still showing a few scars from the renovations, but these will hardly be visible by July and none of these works affect the playing areas.
The finish of the course is fierce, regardless of which set of tees you have elected to play. The 15th, 16th and 18th are all card wreckers, with deliciously wicked water hazards, beautifully framed with sleepers, enticing your ball to their watery depths. The venue is perfect for matchplay and certainly ideal for the 2018 Ryder Cup.
 
The hotel is soon to have a major overhaul. It has an art deco theme at present and the facelift, which is planned over the next twelve months, will make it a perfect match for the rest of the facilities. For visitors to Le Golf National, there are all sorts of packages available for those wanting to stay and play. The service is excellent, as is the quality of the food and drink, but what is perhaps more surprising is that there is a real buzz to the atmosphere in the clubhouse and hotel. This ambiance is refreshingly lively, making it lots of fun to party after play.  There are many renovations and improvements being carried out to the facilities at present - but do not let that stop you visiting, as the solutions to any of these minor inconveniences have been well thought out, with customers’ happiness the chief priority.  
The rooms and suites have great views across the courses and surrounds.  They are beautifully appointed and finished in a crisp, modern style, yet with all the comforts that you would expect, which includes well-positioned charging points for electric trolley batteries.  There is, of course, free wi-fi throughout.
 
The shop is light and airy, and open plan with a commanding position in the centre of the golf complex.  It is well stocked, and provides plenty of well-priced balls, (a must for the wayward golfer playing the Albatros course) and an extensive range of decidedly French golf wear for men and women, logoed elegantly, as you would expect in this most stylish of settings.
 
Visitors to Le Golf National will almost certainly come for the Albatros course, as it is such a treat to play the same track as the competitors in the next European Ryder Cup. But don’t miss the chance to play a round on the second 18 hole course - The Eagle Course, which was opened in September 1991. For most golfers, this will be a much more enjoyable course to play. It is beautifully designed and a real test, but one that rewards good golf and does not have the same amount of water as the Albatros. Many people will obviously seek to play the trophy course, but they may be more charmed still by the Eagle.
There is also a nine-hole course, L’Oiselet, which is pitched more at the beginner’s end of the market, and next to this is the golf range. The range is huge, catering for over 100 golfers at any time, hitting from several different sides of the facility. Some bays are covered, with Power Tees and top quality mats, and there is also plenty of provision for players to hit from the grass.  The open design of the range – with no rear wall – allows for an airy environment in the hot summers, whilst allowing great visibility of those playing from the café, bar and shop area that is located behind the range.  
 
The golf academy is a thriving and important part of the work that the Federation for French Golf is doing to drive interest in the sport. There are six full-time professionals and all are busy with some form of teaching for much of the day. The French have a beautiful attitude to leisure, but work very hard at the sports at which they are involved. Golf is no exception and the range and the practice greens are full of eager golfers all seeking to improve.
I lost count of the number of putting greens that were available for golfers at Le Golf National, but it is well into double figures - even more putting surfaces maybe available by the time the Ryder Cup arrives. All of the facility’s greens are cut to highest of standards, with particular attention paid to the Ryder cup course.
 
A visit for golf enthusiasts is a must and you can find more details on this remarkable golf resort at: www.golf-national.com