In his weekly Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris goes to France to look at the 2018 Ryder Cup course.
I went to Paris last week to check out the exciting 2018 Ryder Cup course and also enjoy the charms of reputedly one of the toughest courses in France – the so-called ‘Irish Course’ at Clement Ader GC in Gretz, 45 minutes southeast of the capital.
‘Clemo’ is on flat land cut out of a forest but it’s full of modest ups and downs, twists and turns and natural water features. You never get a straight bounce on the fairways and the greens feature strong bunkering and tricky run-offs.
Equivalent to one of our scratch cups held over 2-days, the opportunity arose to play in what the French call a Grand Prix event at a nearby course called Green Parc. It came as quite a shock that more than half the field was made up of teenagers some of them as young as thirteen.
The entry fee - €80 for ‘adults’ and €20 for ‘juniors’ was one explanation. After all, €80 is reasonable value for two competitive rounds and a ‘free’ practice game in beautiful weather (22C) on a challenging golf course but another factor is that many French clubs sponsor their representative players, especially the young ones, to play in open tournaments.
Sponsorships are incentivized according to ‘performance.’ A top ten finish might result in the day’s expenses being fully reimbursed.
From my perspective, the majority of French golfers care more about how the ‘look’ than winning.
They do not have the cutting edge of Irish golfers due to our vast experience of playing in GUI National Inter-Club competitions. The four young lads with whom I was ‘paired’ were turned out immaculately.
They had the best of equipment including DMD’s, which they used at every opportunity, even for short pitch shots.
They made all of the right moves but any Irish golfer in the same handicap range would run rings around them.
I played poorly but had the minor consolation that my pair of error-strewn 83s was three shots better than the best return by any of my four, young partners who hit the ball 30/60-yards longer than me off the tee. Scores varied from 68 to 105 over the two rounds.
Why somebody capable of shooting 100 would play in a Grand Prix escapes me? Twelve female golfers were involved too - all of them skinny, young girls but they kept their scores within a much tighter spread than the boys – 72 (best), 81 (worst).
Apart from me there was another Irish interest. 17-years old Tommy O’Driscoll from Ring of Kerry GC who resides at Clement Ader for part of the year gave it a great run, going head-to-head with another 17-years old named Charles Joubert who plays the game with the un-French-like calm assurance of a seasoned professional and already seems destined for the pro tour.
Matching each other shot after shot until the breakthrough came out of the blue on the 15th hole in the second round. Joubert holed from 8-yards for a birdie and Tommy, in an attempt to stay in step, 3-putted rashly from half that distance. Joubert’s tidy play for two days was rewarded with impressive scores of 69, 68 and Tommy finished joint second on 70, 69 in an entry of well over 100 golfers.
There were three, gross prizes for both boys and girls; all (ugly) mod art trophies and an accompanying bottle of champagne but no vouchers or nett prize.
I found it incomprehensible that in an event certain to be won by a teenager that alcohol would be the prize. Something to do with sponsorship, I suppose, but it wasn’t clear.
All irrelevant from the winner’s point of view, he was only interested in acquiring valuable ranking points in the French Order of Merit that would increase his sponsorship opportunities.
The prize presentation, as happens here too, took place in the absence of the majority of long departed contestants followed by an elaborate champagne and canapés buffet reception, which the hardworking tournament officials and club members tucked into with gusto.
I also sampled the 2018 Ryder Cup course – Golf National. What a fantastic risk and reward golf course!
In the brisk wind, which I understand is ever present I found staying out of the water impossible because I wasn’t sufficiently on top of my game.
The many vantage points for spectators make Golf National unique and ideal for the Ryder Cup. The infrastructure in France is so good that I’ve no doubt that the matches will be hosted with style and panache. The French are masters at marketing and putting on a show.
Green fees at Golf National are a pricey €130 at weekends and €90 on weekdays but it was worth it - to play it once.
Clement Ader’s tariff is a much more reasonable €39 at weekends and €25 on weekdays.
For golf courses that have the reputation of being two of the most difficult in France, they were both most enjoyable. I’ll be going back for more ‘punishment’ French-style, in due course. If I can play well there I know I can play well anywhere.