If you are partial to the finer things in life and enjoy golf as a social sport with perhaps the finest apres golf I have ever experienced and with a little friendly competition thrown in to the bargain, then gather up your passport, golf clubs and your best golfing friends and head to Les Bordes.
Deep in the heart of the Sologne, the famous hunting region of Northern France, hides the perhaps the finest course France has to offer. Forget Paris National, Le Touquet, Hardelot et al, popular though they are, they cannot compete with what is on offer in the Loire Valley, nestled among some of the most famous Chateau's on the planet.
Les Bordes probably does not enter your vocabulary of golf courses that you would readily visit for a weekend break in France, simply because of the fact you have never heard of it before. It is supposed to be that way. It is the mother of all hidden gems. And yet it is only an hour drive from the gates of the city of light, Paris.
Its seclusion is total from the outside world of planes, trains and automobiles and the only noises you can hear are the frustrated cries of golfers along with the vociferous local wildlife, the deer and boar.
This exceptional course is the fruit of a remarkable partnership between two of the finest entrepreneurs in the world, Baron Marcel Bich of the Bic pens fame and Yoshiaki Sakurai, a Japanese Marketing magnate.
The two commissioned Robert Von Hagge, a Texan course designer with over 200 courses to his credit, to create a masterpiece in which the two friends could enjoy each other's company with close friends. And they did until Bich's untimely death in 1994.
Von Hagge's brief was simple; 'to prepare French golfers to play on the finest golf courses in the world without being intimidated'.
At 7007 yards from the back tees and with a variety of tees for the rest of us, it provides a tough test with water coming into play on 12 holes. But it is not in any way intimidating, unless of course, you are hydrophobic.
Bring a plentiful supply of balls with you because no matter how good a player you may think you are, you will lose some here, either in the lakes, or among the army of Pines, Oaks and Beech that line the immaculate fairways.
Von Hagge completed his work in 1986 and in doing so, created the finest golf course in France and currently ranked number two in the Peugeot European guide behind Valderrama.
In fact, Les Bordes and Valderrama are the only two courses outside the UK to have received the top mark of 19 in the Peugeot European Golf Guide. The others include Muirfield, Ballybunion, Royal St George's and The Old Course at St Andrews.
Put simply, what we have here is the perfect golfing retreat where golfers can be at one with themselves and nature, just how it should be.
The course itself is an amalgamation of parkland, links and American designed holes with perfect conditions throughout the year. And the walk is spectacular, if a little long. Each hole captivates your mind into playing a world class shot, both from the tees and into the large and heavily undulating greens.
But reality strikes when you get it wrong! Miss greens and it becomes a real challenge in getting up and down for par.
However, when you do hit a 'peach' at any of the holes, you will be rewarded with a shot you will remember for the rest of your days.
The challenge is a delicate cross between pleasure and pain. The first few holes lead you into a false sense of security with not much water about. But as you meander around this wonderful, silent countryside you come to realise it will always be a pleasure to be here, but painful in a golfing sense if you get it wrong on the day.
The quality of the course invites you to play at your best. It really is fabulous. It would be churlish just to turn up on the first tee and get going when you have France's best course ahead of you.
With tournament quality practice facilities and Professional tuition available from Brian Sparks, an eccentric Englishman who teaches the French to dance when they begin to learn golf, you have the recipe to hit peak form at the right time when you come to visit. And you must visit here.
Each hole gets better as you go onward through the medieval forest, out towards the Lakeland and back towards the clubhouse sanctuary. And with a plethora of semi-island greens to find during your round, heart palpitations are commonplace as your ball sails through the French countryside air, pondering if your effort will make the carry, or die among the fish, large and plentiful too here.
The water challenges come as early as the 4th, a cracking par three and a shorter version of what is to follow. This would be a rival to Sawgrass' 17th hole if it were in a tournament. There is nothing but water between you and a birdie putt.
In other places, the front nine is akin to the Surrey Heathland courses where accuracy is at a premium and the flora, fauna and wildlife are at their finest.
There is an abundance of gorse, beech and various types of indigenous grasses coupled with some delightful wildlife such as the Coypu, Deer, Wild Guinea fowl, pheasants, Swans, ducks and the Wild Boar. They freely roam the estate and occasionally make a mess of the fairways when foraging for roots and truffles. But that should not put you off, remember the saying about smelling the roses on the way around.
Each hole offers a different challenge to the previous one so it is advisable to get some practice in and use a bit of imagination to play the course. It was designed with imagination, so you can play that way too.
You will begin to wonder if it really can get any better than this anywhere. Your mind starts racing during your round as you savour each moment that you spend here. You begin to imagine what surprise awaits you around the next corner and you wonder if you have played the best hole yet. They are all great. This course is devoid of bad holes.
It is difficult to describe how much you really want to show this course respect, yet beat it into submission at the same time. Play well and you can make birdies and revel in the moments that you play your best golf. Play bad and knitting springs to mind as an alternative sport.
The refuge of the sumptuous clubhouse was not far away. But the final challenge was to tackle the signature hole. The Championship finish to a course that deserves such a finishing hole.
There is nothing better than nailing a tee shot and splitting the middle of a very narrow, tree-lined fairway, except maybe hitting your approach shot from that spot, over a vast expanse of water to within six feet of a pin position the Marquis de Sade would be proud of.
With a course as good as this, it would be a let down to have a second rate clubhouse on the premises. And at Les Bordes, they do not like to disappoint.
At the heart of the resort is a clubhouse with the most incredible atmosphere. As you walk into the lounge, the log fire crackles in front of you as you sip some of the finest wines of the region and sample the excellent cuisine. It is warm and elegant.
The deep leather sofa's and glass tables are of the highest quality and provide a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the view of the largest putting green in Europe outside the windows. Or if the weather is good, you can enjoy a pain au chocolat et Café au Lait outside on the wooden veranda surveying everything before you like a Lord at his seat.
And sitting regally beneath the ancient wooden high beamed ceiling is the trophy adorning the wall. It was the oldest Deer on the estate and its huge head gazes over you while you relax and discuss the vagaries of Baron Bich's idyllic golfing retreat.
The décor gives an almost rustic elegance to Les Bordes, based on a traditional hunting theme and taking inspiration from the local people. No photograph will do the atmosphere justice, you have to be there to appreciate it, it is quite something, especially in the right company.
Baroness Bich was responsible for the décor both in the clubhouse and in the bungalows which are your accommodation for your stay. They were originally built for guests of the Baron, but now you can stay here as a guest of Les Bordes.
Each one is decorated differently and to the highest standard. Above all, they are comfortable, practical and have every modern convenience you can imagine, including satellite television and the customary Bic razors and pens!
And their location by the side of the 18th green and lake is the perfect spot to watch some afternoon entertainment with a cold glass of wine.
This is not the place where you can take the lads from the pub on a golfing holiday; it is far more refined than that.
You need to be with just a few people you can relax with, those who appreciate the fine wines and even finer French cuisine along with a world class golf course in the heart of France.
To date Les Bordes has only has 23 members, so that illustrates the exclusivity of the place. With that, it does not come cheap. But then again, you do get what you pay for nowadays and it is definitely value for money.
This is not just another golfing holiday, it is an experience. You will never forget your trip to Les Bordes, in fact, when someone asks you if you have ever played there you will learn the correct answer is, 'no, I didn't play Les Bordes, I played Chez Bic, as it is affectionately known around here.
For further information, call French Golf Holidays on 01277 374374 Or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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