DOMAINE DE DIVONNE - 14 POINTS
The town of Divonne-les-Bains is dominated by a casino and large hotel. Just over the French border with Switzerland, it's only half an hour away from Geneva and easily within reach if you are looking for a game while there on business or holiday.
If truth be told though there are probably some better options around. The layout is curious, and hard to warm to. It is the only course I think I have ever played which has a mix of 6 par 3s, 6 par 4s and 6 par 5s. This makes it quite a rare beast. You can see discussions here and here on GolfClubAtlas which make the point of how unusual, and hard to design, such courses are. Seve Ballesteros appears to have been a fan of the concept, and indeed played at Divonne, but the execution here has flaws.
The course is not particularly long - less than 6,100 yards from the men's tees - but it is quite tight in places and there is some elevation change. The opening hole is a par 3 a la Royal Lytham and Boat of Garten which inevitably makes for a queue and a slow start to the round. Also, beware the tennis court off to the right. On one occasion, a first tee shank led to some embarrassment on my part...
The second, third and fourth holes are all fairly typical of the course to come - a bit tight, often soggy underfoot and few points of architectural significance. The most interesting place, from a golf course architecture point of view, comes from the 6th tee when you face three consecutive par 5s. I have only heard of three other golf courses in the world with such a feature and frankly, on the basis of Divonne, I see no reason for any more. The holes measure 423, 426 and 445 metres and the 7th and 8th are both protected by water meaning you can't really have a pop in 2.
The back 9 at Divonne has many of the same characteristics as the front, although maybe the trees are a little further back from the fariways and the greens a little less tucked in. The course has a 3-5-3 finish and 18th is a 200+ yard par 3 which, for some, may be best played with a lay-up rather than playing for a tight pin.
As you can tell I'm not a massive fan of Divonne. The course is often open when others in the area aren't which is the main reason for playing here. At other times of year, nearby Maison Blanche is a better shout, although Divonne is more used to green fee play because of the hotel affiliation and so visitors are more welcome here. There are too many idoiosyncrasies to really get into a round here so, if you do play, then focus on the views of the nearby Jura hills and don't worry too much about scoring.
BOOKING THE COURSE
While there is an online booking system, it is pretty clunky. Divonne is set up for visitors though so I would recommend giving them a call. You can play 7 days a week and green fees range from €40 during the week, in the winter months, to €100 at weekends in the summer. There are twilight rates too and you can hire whatever equipment you need.
Divonne is just 30 minutes drive from Geneva. Switzerland probably isn’t the first place you would think of when planning a golf break but it’s only 2 hours from London and Geneva is a real delight. You can eat well, drink well and take in the ambience of the lake.
Another factor to consider is that from late spring well into Autumn the weather is often spectacularly good. Forget the freezing cold of the winter, summers are properly hot with sometimes weeks of unbroken sunshine.
Golf-wise, you could try Switzerland’s alleged number 1 course, Domaine Imperial, as well as nearby Golf Club de Geneve (which regularly hosts an event on the Challenge Tour and is known in the area as being the best conditioned course around) or the nearby Maison Blanche which is diverting enough. However, it’s also perfectly feasible to spend a couple of days here before heading around the lake to Crans Montana which is possibly the most spectacular setting for a golf course in Europe. Although be warned, the golf may not quite live up the the views.
The other option is to drive a couple of hours west to Lyon which has one of the best golf courses in the area as well as a bustling nightlife scene with some great gastronomy thrown in.