Le Golf National - The home of the Ryder Cup
FRANCE has been my favourite overseas golf destination for many years.
My most recent trip included a long, looked-forward-to game at the thrills and spills venue for this year's Ryder Cup matches.
Situated no more than 20-minutes from Versailles, Le Golf National is a stadium layout developed from the plainest of agricultural land, which was ingeniously turned into a hazard strewn obstacle course of deceptive elevation changes by importing thousands of tons of builder's rubble to create faux dunes.
Specifically designed with French Opens and the Ryder Cup in mind, being selected to host the 2024 Olympic Games golf competitions is an unplanned, added bonus. Though full of danger and drama, every standard of player is capable of having an enjoyable game at Le Golf National.
I am not too proud to report that the yellow tees (6493-yards) were plenty tough enough for me, even in the knowledge that the professionals play a 'bifurcated course' that is a whopping 1000-yards longer.
Reconciled to incurring a 'few disasters', I dispensed with counting strokes and adopted my tried and trusted 'good, bad and satisfactory' method of scoring.
The rollercoaster ride began early with an 'almost' birdie on the first hole, a triple bogey on the second and a birdie on the third. I won't bore you with a full, 18-holes blow-by-blow except to say that my self-esteem survived without any exaggerated notions gained.
The best part of the experience will be a fully informed appreciation of the TV action when the Ryder Cup Matches are played in September, especially when observing one of the 'deadliest' finishing stretches in golf.
With so much at stake those last four holes will be the source of extreme anxiety and collywobbles - even for the very best golfers .
An unprecedented 6,400 people will be seated overlooking the 1st tee, 15th, 16th and 18th greens. At no previous Ryder Cup did any stand exceed a capacity of 2000.
A limit of 61,000 spectators per day (47% of whom will be French) have already bought admission. If you would like to be amongst them the only way of gaining entry, at this stage, is as a corporate guest or by buying an all-in package from an accredited, Tour Operator.
I recommend Brittany Ferries. They have a limited supply of tickets but they are selling fast. I'll be surprised if they will have them for long.
Prior to the matches, Brittany Ferries (Cork to Roscoff) is offering all-in packages (similar to what I enjoyed) My view is you'll enjoy the Ryder Cup more if you have played the golf course while visiting France for golf is always pleasurable. Passage on the luxurious Pont Aven out of Cork (to Roscoff) is included along with five nights of hotel accommodation and four games of golf, one of them at Le Golf National and the other three, coming and going at other excellent courses in Normandy.
Take your pick from: Dinard, Pleneuf Val Andre, Barriere Deauville and Des Ormes. Pleneuf is under two hours from Roscoff and is one of the most scenic golf courses I have ever played.
Built by Tom Simpson in 1929, the man who played such a vital role in the development of Ballybunion and County Louth (Baltray), Golf Barriere, a traditional parkland course featuring doglegs that swing back and forth in all directions, is situated at elegant Deauville.
We stayed across the river in the busy and attractive, seaside town of Trouville, located close to the historic Normandy Beaches (if you want a day off golf)
Further along and closer to Roscoff are Domaine Des Ormes, an all-purpose, adventure holiday resort with a formidable, American-style parkland golf course. Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient time to play (my favourite) at Dinard, a scenic, seaside course routed along a spectacular headland.
The passage by sea is a comfortable experience, not least because one can eat and sleep through most of it. All hotel accommodation and green fees were expertly pre-arranged and the freedom of travelling in one's own car allows for flexibility in one's itinerary.
When the Ryder Cup is long over, I'll be doing this now annual trip again but not until after the first week in May. The weather in Northern France is not sufficiently reliable in a country of four distinct seasons. In my opinion, French golf knocks the Spanish variety into a cocked hat.
I would always choose French golf courses over Spanish ones but if you still prefer to go to the Iberian Peninsula you can now do that journey by sea too - via Cork to Santander. The big pay-off for me is being able to bring my own motorcar. Brittany ferries Cork Office has all of the information you need. Telephone: 021-4253118 or you can email them at: golf.desk@brittany ferries.com