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Author: Leonard van Nunen

Visiting the 3 best golf courses in France

03 May 2021
11 min. read
Leonard van Nunen
When I came up with a plan to organize a golf trip that included the 3 best golf courses in France (Les Bordes, Morfontaine and Fontainebleau) and 4 other great courses around Paris, the first thing I had to worry about was access. Both number 1 and 2 in France are very exclusive and hard to get access to. The other clubs are mostly member clubs and accessible during the week for a reasonable green fee.
Les Bordes from above (photo: Julien Tizot).

A lot of golfers don’t realize that the large cities in Europe like London, Rome and definitely Paris all have great golf courses. Because people usually visit these cities for sightseeing they don’t know that just outside there are often very nice, old and beautiful designed courses. Just to give you an idea, in Île de France, the region with and around Paris, there are over 80 golf courses. The courses I played during this week were all less than an hour from the Eiffel tower, except Les Aisses and Les Bordes that are approximately 2 hours from La Tour Eiffel.

This map shows how close together all these great French golf clubs actually are.

Planning the trip to play the 3 best golf courses in France

When planning a trip like this there are several factors to take into account;

  • When are the desired courses open for guests (most common is during weekdays)?
  • In France, most courses are closed one day a week for maintenance, but not on the same day everywhere
  • If the club is members-only how can you get an invitation?
  • The sequence of the courses, I like to build up and save the best for last
  • In France the most important meal on a golf course is lunch, most restaurants at golf courses don’t serve dinner, especially during the week they close early, so plan accordingly

When I planned this trip I did most of my research on Leading Courses and contacted people in my network in France. The courses L’isle Adam, St. Germain, Chantilly I booked/reserved via the site or email. Les Aisses was arranged by one of my Ambassadors in France Yves Charmy but it is also easily bookable via Leading Courses or directly by phone/email. Morfontaine I was lucky to be invited through a member of Fontainebleau, they have a hospitality agreement with the classic Tom Simpson course. He also invited me to play Fontainebleau. At Les Bordes I was invited because I’m studying to be a golf course architect and wrote an email to the manager. In the world of exclusive golf courses, there are a couple of pointers.

  • Never ask a member to play on his/her exclusive course they should invite you.
  • If you have access to a great course yourself you can always ask the member of the private course for a game, maybe they will invite you on their course
  • When you are there be sure to bring a nice gift, like a bottle of good scotch or something original from your home country
  • After playing send them a thank you note including some details of the course you liked, always include an invitation to your home course or a top course you have access to. (I invited the Fontainebleau member to join me at Les Bordes)
  • Check hospitality agreements of the desired club. Maybe sometimes it is easier to approach a member of one of those courses instead of directly getting in touch with the desired exclusive course

Practical information

  • Fontainebleau, Les Aisses & L’Isle Adam are closed on Tuesdays for maintenance
  • Chantilly is closed on Thursdays for maintenance
  • St Germain is open all days
  • Les Bordes; Monday is maintenance day but you can play
  • Morfontaine Like Les Bordes only possible to play if you are hosted by a member. Maintenance is done every day since there are not many players…

I started my trip driving down from the Netherlands straight to Golf de Chantilly. After a 5 hour drive, I had lunch on the terrace looking out over the two 18 holes courses. The most famous - and host to several French Opens - is Le Vineuil, designed by Tom Simpson in 1909. The second course is called Longeres and was designed by Donald Steel. My 14:00 tee time was perfect to enjoy the course in the Autumn light. If you want more detailed information check my review on Chantilly. In general, I really liked the green complexes and sometimes unexpected hole designs. The course was very, very dry due to the dry summer. I definitely want to play it again in springtime and hopefully have time to play the Steel course as well.

From Chantilly I went to my Airbnb in Précy-sur-Oise smack in the middle of the first three courses and my affordable place to stay for two nights. The next morning, I went to Golf De L'Isle Adam where I was invited by a member to play the challenging course. The course is very undulated with curvy super-fast greens. More detailed info can be found in my review. The food in the clubhouse is excellent and across the entrance of the course, there is a very nice hotel with another two restaurants. Everything is very close to Charles de Gaulle international airport so great access for international players as well.

Playing Golf de Morfontaine, the best golf course in France

On the third day, one of the absolute highlights of this trip, Golf de Morfontaine. This club has two courses, the Grand Parcours (18 hls.) and the Valière (9 hls.), both designed by Tom Simpson, who is the designer of three of the courses on this trip, Chantilly, Fontainebleau and the 27 at Morfontaine. He is also responsible for Ballybunion (old), Muirfield, Royal Aberdeen and Royal Antwerp. In my review on Morfontaine you can read more details.

The main reason why Morfontaine is number 1 in many lists of best golf courses in France on several rankings is in my opinion that every hole (all 27!) could be the signature hole of a very good course. The dimensions, or maybe better, the proportion of grass (fairways, tees and greens), heather and trees are perfect. That’s why they built 27 instead of 36 to get it just right. In my opinion, the best order of play is to start with Valière in the morning then break for lunch. After lunch, play the Grand Parcours 18 holes course. The lunch on the terrace of the old-school clubhouse is perfect and so are the locker rooms, all very classic. Unfortunately, the shirts and sweaters in the pro-shop are for members only. If you ask the manager nicely she might give you a cool Morfontaine pitchfork.

After Morfontaine I went to play Golf de St Germain, this traditional club has a 9-hole short course and an 18 hole Championship Course. Both courses are designed by the famous Golden Age architect Harry S. Colt. It’s the first time I ran into a ‘short’ course by Colt. The short course is an excellent warm-up as it has a couple of par 4’s and the rest par 3’s. The holes can help you get used to attacking the big course after lunch.

In my review of St Germain you will find more details about my experience but the course is really great to play with a lot of menacing bunkers looking at you and beautiful designer tricks by the old master. What always amazes me with Colt courses is the originality of the holes there are always a couple you would never think of, most of the time the existing landscape leads to these original creations…

The other thing that I will really remember of St. Germain is the beautiful men’s locker room. It’s on the first floor and there is a little cubicle when you enter where you can leave your shoes to be shined. The original dark wood lockers and the traditional lamps make it absolutely perfect.

On the fourth day, I played Fontainebleau with a member. We arrived quite early because there was a competition and we wanted to get out there before them. We had a quick coffee and a croissant and went to the first tee on the right of the clubhouse. What is really amazing about this third Tom Simpson design on the trip is the use of the hill in the corner of the property. This hill is used in 7(!) holes and after you finish you have the idea the course is quite undulated but the only height difference was the single hill…If you want to read more details about my experience read my review via this link.

I was really amazed by the atmosphere of this club tucked away in the woods near the famous city Fontainebleau. Of all the courses I played this would definitely be my favourite to join. Another very impressive memory is the enormous oak trees on the left of the 9th hole, on the tree are little signs stating the king and the year going back as far as 1570 when king Charles was ruling France.

On Sunday, the 5th day of our trip we went to Les Aisses, a heathland course just over 2 hours drive from the Eiffel Tower. It is situated beautifully in nature with a nice country style clubhouse that really fits in the surroundings. When we were visiting they had a lot of problems with wild boars opening up the fairways and damaging them. But they had some plans to prevent that.

The course was designed by Olivier Brizon and later renovated by Martin Hawtree. Currently, they were looking at some other Hawtree updates. There is also a 9 holes course but due to the very dry summer and the fact that they used the water for the 18 holes course, it was currently closed. Pick the correct tee when you play here because it can play quite long at some holes. If you want to read some more details follow this link.

Saving the best for last

The last day was reserved for Les Bordes, this very exclusive club founded by Baron le Bich and his Japanese friend Mr Sakurai has been ultra-exclusive since its start as in the beginning there were just 2 members (the founders). Baron le Bich was the owner of the Bic pens and a razor company.

By 2008 when the Baron and Mr Sakurai had passed away, investors took over and there were about 20 international and 4 local members. The course and the lodges were always in pristine shape, ready when one of the members would show up for a round or a weekend on the estate. The course is designed by Robbert von Hagge, who got total freedom and unlimited funds to built his dream course.

The result is a very demanding course where everybody who breaks 80 from the back tee receives his or her name on a board in the clubhouse. The green complexes are amazing but you do not want to miss the green because you will be in double bogey land straight away. If you want to read more details follow the link to my review of Les Bordes.

Recently there are new owners. They have definitely not changed the target group for members, still very international and very exclusive, but there are some more openings. Also, they were finishing a new 18 holes course by the famous architect Gil Hanse (who designed Castle Stuart, The Olympic Course in Rio de Janeiro, Streamsong). This course will be more playable and a sort of an inland links type where lesser experienced golfers can have a great time.

He also created the 10 hole ‘Wild Pig’ short course. These one-shot holes in the tranquil forest will be super for an evening drink and some wedge shots. Unfortunately, both courses were not yet entirely finished when we were there, a good reason to go back. When we asked the manager when we could tee-off he showed us the buggy and said whenever you want, we were the only two players on the course the entire day…

Golf de Saint Cloud is one of the courses so close to Paris, that you can admire the Eiffel Tower from the course. (Photo: member YVESCH.)

Take this trip!

And so my trip to visit some of the best golf courses in France came to an end. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would recommend this trip to anyone. Especially if you live within a 500 KM radius of Paris - that includes golfers from London -  this is a great trip to take. So hop on a car, train or plane whenever it’s possible and I assure you you’ll have a great time!

And - if you're on a budget, don't be put off by these, more exclusive, courses. In the Paris area, you can play more than 80 golf courses, so surely you will find some courses that suit you.

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