LES BORDES - 17 POINTS
There’s a good chance you have never heard of what has, for some years, been ranked as one of the best courses in continental Europe - Les Bordes. Nestled in the Loire valley, a couple of hours drive south of Paris, this has been one of the most exclusive and hard to play golf courses anywhere in the world. However, a short window has emerged when anyone can get a round here, although do expect to pay a fair whack for the privilege.
Since it opened, Les Bordes has always been ranked in the top 3 courses in Continental Europe. If you want to read more about how it came into life then this article will give you a good background. The short version is the multi-millionaire owner of the Bic pen and razor company built the course with a Japanese friend, and spared nothing in the construction. The result was a course in great condition which was seen as incredibly beautiful but incredibly hard. It was run for the pleasure of the owners and their friends, with limited outside play.
Then things changed. By 2008 both Baron Bic and Mr Sakurai had passed away and new investors took control of the property. Visitors were forbidden and the course was kept in immaculate condition for the four local members and twenty international players to enjoy whenever they wanted.
Those who did get a look-in came away breathless with enthusiasm and it almost became a beacon of mystique sitting on top of the European rankings. It never featured on a world top 100 list – the assumption by those who had seen it was that too few raters had been through the doors to give a view.
Les Bordes was always on my list of courses to play in Europe but I knew it would be hard to get on. And then, one day earlier in the year, I was browsing the pages of the GolfClubAtlas website when I saw a post from one of the European aficionados saying that Les Bordes was now open for limited ‘stay and play’ access. After a couple of email exchanges, I had an email address at Les Bordes and we were off.
They couldn’t have been more welcoming. Yes, the course was open and we would be welcomed with open arms. And so it was, a few weeks later, we found ourselves driving the couple of hours south of Paris on a windy May morning.
When we turned off the road and into the private estate we really did get the feeling this was a rarely-beaten path and on arrival it was clear there wasn’t going to be a queue for the first tee. We were the only car in the car park and there was only one other group on the course all day.
The course is opening its doors because they have big plans for the future that includes building a hotel, lodges and a second course. For now, they describe the golf course as being gold standard, the restaurant as silver and the lodging as bronze. It would be true to say the golf course was truly world class but the food was excellent and the lodging may not have been the height of luxury but we each had our own little lodge which were just fine.
The practice facilities were fantastic. The putting green is a giant doughnut in front of some magnificent flagpoles on which they raise the national flags of the people playing the course that day! The practice green was entirely representative of what we found on the course – greens that were true and slick. The range had you hitting pyramids of Pro V1s from perfectly manicured grass to targets laid out as far as you can hit. This really was millionaire’s golf.
So that’s all nice isn’t it?! Wonderful people, lovely facilities, amazing condition. There were a few warning signs for what was come however. There is a board displaying the names of everyone who has ever broken 80 on the course. There aren’t many names on it and most of them have played top class professional or amateur golf. In the pro shop there are only two types of balls to buy. Expensive Pro V1s or cheap-as-chips Ultras. The Ultras are for the Members. They know what is to come.
What is to come is a golf course which will visually thrill you and mentally and physically punish you. It is probably the tightest golf course you will ever play. Miss the fairway or the green and you will likely never see your Pro V1, or Ultra, ever again. It is the thickest rough you can imagine – balls will be gone forever in most cases. The greens are generally protected, either with great expanses of sand – the 1st sets you up for what is to come – or water which abounds the course, especially on the back 9.
I had read some criticism about the greens being a little too undulating and while there are a couple which may be on the edge the phenomenal condition of the putting surfaces makes it easy to forgive this.
The front 9 plays through the trees before the course 'opens up' a very little on the back 9 which has both more elevation and water. There are some unusual holes – the 11th is a par 5 requiring a map to plot your way between the water, rough and green – but that really keeps you thinking all the way around.
However, if truth be told, this course beat me up a little too much to get quite as much pleasure as I would have liked from it. The low single figure golfers in our party took more pleasure out of it; the 9 handicapper and me (14), less so.
That isn’t to say that I regret going - that would be crazy. The course is a phenomenal creation which was really interesting to see. There were 8 people playing the course on the day we were there and 20 staff in attendance. I doubt we will ever experience service like it again.
The new hotel and second course are to be built some distance away from this one and the plan for now is that play here will once again be restricted to members only. So if you do want to see this extraordinary place then I would encourage you to get there soon.
I think that Les Bordes is probably a little high up the rankings for me. I think that nearby Fontainebleau edges it in terms of playability and there is no doubt that Morfontaine is in a different league. However, this is a place that has to be seen to be believed.
We combined our trip to Les Bordes with a round at Morfontaine and if you want to see some more pictures then here's a video with stereotypical music of a great double header:
BOOKING THE COURSE
For years Les Bordes was impossible to play, that has changed now. They describe the opportunity thus:
For the past 8 years Les Bordes has been closed whilst we have been preparing the property and course for the next stages in its exciting history. During the construction phase of 2017 and 2018 there will be a soft launch of the Les Bordes number 1 course where we will be reopening the gates for a chosen few. A rare and unrepeatable chance to play Robert Von Hagge’s masterpiece and to take a glance at the future plans of the estate before it closes again to the public under a new membership program of like-minded individuals
While it isn't cheap, the quality of the food and golf probably makes this one of the better deals you will find on really high-end golf. Prices are as follows:
2 night-stay & 3 days of golf : €1,470 (3 days of golf, buggy, unlimited practice, 2 nights accommodation, breakfasts & 2 dinners (without drinks))
1 night-stay & 2 days of golf : €875 (2 days of golf, buggy, unlimited practice, 1 night accommodation, breakfast & 1 dinner (without drinks))
1 night stay & 1 day of golf : €610 (1 day of golf, buggy, unlimited practice, 1 night accommodation, breakfast & 1 dinner (without drinks))
To book just send an email to email@example.com
I don't think there is a lot of other great golf within a stone's throw of Les Bordes. However Paris is a great destination. You can get tee times freely, with a bit of planning at Fontainebleau, Chantilly, Le Golf National and Saint Germain. Morfontaine is a very hard gig to secure but there are some specialist agencies who can help get you a tee time - have a look at the Morfontaine page for more details.
If you are planning to fly into Paris, then Orly is the better airport as it is the right side of the city for Les Bordes, but you will probably want to time your trip to avoid the hideous Paris rush-hour traffic.