Golf du Medoc (Chateaux)
Long before becoming one of golf’s most celebrated designers, Bill Coore created this masterpiece. Golf World Top 100 takes it on.
When the money men who were proposing to build a new golf course on the outskirts of Bordeaux in the late 1980s consulted well-known French professional Bernard Pascassio on the designer they should engage, they could have been forgiven for raising an eyebrow at his suggestion. Pascassio found an architect from the US who was not familiar with European audiences.
An American being engaged to lay out a golf course in France is interesting in itself, but not unheard of – Robert Trent Jones and Robert von Hagge have worked with success further down the Aquitaine coast. But Pascassio did not advocate one of those famous names. He suggested Bill Coore, unknown to most in Europe.
Back then it may have seemed like a risk. Twenty-six years later, it looks the most prescient of advice as Coore is now one half of the hottest design team in golf, and his name being on the plans is of enduring benefit to Golf du Medoc. Bill Coore’s name now carries with it a welcome association. His stellar reputation means golfers now seek out his courses simply because he has worked on them.
And in a more tangible sense, Coore’s work has bequeathed an outstanding course to Golf du Medoc (in fact, two outstanding courses, because Rod Whitman, Coore’s assistant on the Châteaux, returned to the region two years later to design the Vignes).
While Pascassio was astute in his selection, Coore was not a total gamble. He had nothing like the reputation of today, but was hardly a novice, having spent 10 years with Pete Dye’s firm from 1982 before setting up his own company and then, in 1986, forming the now-feted partnership with Ben Crenshaw.
But with Crenshaw still full time on Tour (six years away from his second Green Jacket), he acted alone when he crossed the Atlantic to lay out his first course in Europe in an area world famous for wine, but not especially for its golf courses as of yet.
Bordeaux is the red wine capital of the world, with nearly 10,000 chateaux. There is, though, also some golf heritage. When Henry II married Alienor d’Aquitaine in the 12th Century, the region became English territory and Bordeaux wine was shipped over the Channel, and became known as ‘claret’ (rather than Bordeaux).
So when organisers of The Open required a new trophy after Young Tom won the Challenge Belt outright with his third consecutive title, and with claret their tipple of choice, a silver jug in which it could be served was commissioned.
It was also in Aquitaine – which stretches from Bordeaux down to Biarritz – that continental Europe’s first course was built, when Scotsman Willie Dunn created Pau in 1856. Even so, Golf du Medoc would not have been created if the soil of Pian du Medoc was the chalk-on-limestone base that dominates the region and is so conducive (along with the climate) to wine making.
Vines would have been planted there. But instead there is sandy turf and as a result pines, gorse and heather; a heathland paradise. When you are not in residential areas on the 15-minute journey from the airport to the resort, the scenery is parkland in nature.
Then, with one right turn, you are travelling down a narrow lane between avenues of sweet-smelling pines. Suddenly, it feels like you are heading for Woking or Worplesdon. Anticipation rises further as you turn onto Golf du Medoc’s driveway, which winds between heathland topography that is generally flat but to a golfer’s eye is heavenly. You pull up in the car park confident that, if this terrain continues throughout, Golf du Medoc will be highly impressive.
Situated 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, there are suggestions there is a links-like character to the fare here. While the turf is mostly sandy and quick draining, the landscape is pure heathland, not links. You do sometimes contend with Atlantic breezes, although a mature forest repels much of the wind.
Golf du Medoc’s courses are really all about expansive fairways lined with heather, gorse and broom that protrudes from sandy waste areas. They are about firm surfaces tee to green and wild, rough-edged bunkers à la Royal Melbourne. And they are about stands of mature pine trees observing your every move. On the Chateaux, Coore has also cleverly incorporated ditches that carry away collected water while also putting doubt and fear into the golfer’s mind on the tee.
The flat topography observed from the driveway is indeed indicative of the whole property, so there are no thrilling elevated tees or plateau greens. But Coore, a native of North Carolina knew intimately how to work this kind of terrain into an exquisite course.
It is more than merely enticing though. Measuring 6,946 yards off the championship tees to a par of 71, and further complicated by numerous clever dog legs, it will surprise no-one to learn it proved a stern examination for European Tour pros in the 1999 French Open.
Visit Golf du Medoc today and you can easily visualise those stars boarding the 1st tee on the edge of the wooden clubhouse, which still boasts the familiar green-rimmed oversized Rolex timepiece that adds further to the suggestion this is somewhere special.
That feeling is enhanced as you gaze down the fairway and spy bunkers obstructing your route to the green some 445 yards away. Coore returned to Medoc soon after it opened to rework the course’s bunkers, raising their profile and swapping their uniformity for jigsaw-shaped traps. Stumble 10 yards to the right of the 1st green and you are on the tee of the next; the Chateaux might be a new course, but it has old-fashioned values.
The mouth of gaping bunkers edged by heather and rough again dominate your view on this reachable 5. Then comes a sporty two shotter that longer hitters might fancy their chances on, but they’ll have a crack with some trepidation due to the bunkers and bushes on either side that leave a minimal gap to run the ball in. In fact, it is an optical illusion and those on the right are much closer; fly those and your ball can trundle up.
A classic dog-leg par 4 follows for the stroke one hole, before the first par 3, played over a lake. Many will love its feeling of drama but we preferred the expansive heathland scene from the par-4 7th tee, which is a magnificent driving hole with bunkers, pines, bracken, heather and sandy scrapes all in your mind.
The green sits up and stares at the warm late morning sun and is thus especially firm. These majestic long holes, seen again at 11 and 14, are the trademark of Golf du Medoc. The short holes over water at 5 and 8 do not disappoint but it was the more simple 12th that left the biggest impression on us, a gorgeous hole played slightly uphill to a green overlooked by a few tall pines. Worthy of Sunningdale.
A similarly classy short hole at 17 is part of a suitably high-calibre closing stretch that concludes with a robust par 4 played to the edge of the super hotel, a low-lying affair that sits modestly in its idyllic surroundings. Built eight years ago, in its colour scheme, its size and an overhanging roof that feels like an admirable attempt at disguise, it is not trying to be part of the course.
Laid out two years after its older sibling, the Vignes is 6,860 yards, but is touted as a ‘more gentle’ examination. After three holes with a more parkland feel, it benefits from the same heathland landscape as its sister and together they form one of the finest resorts in mainland Europe or Great Britain and Ireland.
Yet to describe Golf du Medoc as a resort feels a sleight. It is a class apart from our view of a traditional resort, the type we enjoy in Belek or the Caribbean. In hotel terms, it’s Restaurant with Rooms. This is gastro golf; two classy courses with terrific options to refuel and refresh ahead of further action the next morning.
Golfers who enjoy exquisite heathland courses should raise a glass of claret to Bernard Pascassio.
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