Boarding a flight to sunnier climates may seem like a distant dream of late but it’s no harm compiling a bucket list of destinations for when the world reopens post-Covid-19. In the meantime, Irish people will be staying and playing at home, bolstering an economy badly in need, however, when the time comes to look further afield, Les Bordes is one such bucket list destination we wouldn’t be shy about recommending.
Nestled within a magical 1,400-acre estate in the heart of France’s famed Loire Valley, Les Bordes is regarded among the world’s most prestigious golf clubs. Just a 90-minute drive south of Paris in the enchanting Sologne Forest, the exclusive private members’ club is one of the game’s dream destinations, with its acclaimed Old Course the envy of clubs worldwide and one of the top-rated venues in Europe.
Those who have been privileged to play the Robert von Hagge-designed layout over the last four decades will probably still be talking about the experience, it is that good, and even better is to come this year with the eagerly anticipated unveiling of the New Course at Les Bordes.
Created by globally-acclaimed American golf architect Gil Hanse – who designed the 2016 Rio Olympic Course and world top-100 courses Castle Stuart and Ohoopee Match Club – the par-72 layout is scheduled to open this summer and, if it is as good as the initial reports say it is, then anyone fortunate enough to play it is in for a real treat.
The first golf course to be designed by Hanse in continental Europe, the New Course’s heathland style is in direct contrast to the Old Course and, when combined with the venue’s 10-hole short course – the Wild Piglet, also created by Hanse and opened last year – Les Bordes Golf Club’s members will receive one of the greatest golfing experiences in the world.
“We visited the site and fell in love with the entire property,” said Hanse. “It is very different stylistically to the original 18-hole course, which I think is a positive, as members will have two very different golfing experiences. We realised there was the potential to create some bold and dramatic features and strategies or options on the golf course. We could create a course that would be in balance with the low-profile nature of the site, with these more dramatic hole features adding drama to the course.”
Taking inspiration from legendary golf architect Tom Simpson, Hanse and his team worked with club chairman, Driss Benkirane – founder and managing partner of private equity firm RoundShield Partners, the estate’s owners since 2018 – to create Les Bordes’ latest masterpiece.
With maximum care and attention taken to clear the location and preserve the natural environment, the New Course fits harmoniously into its surroundings, with the fairways blending seamlessly into the natural vegetation and trees. Featuring large bunkers, subtle elevation changes and incredible green complexes, the layout measures 7,211 yards from the back tees but is expected to play shorter than its overall length due to the firm and fast playing conditions.
Hanse added: “There are elements of a number of golf courses (in the New Course) including a lot of the great heathland courses around London and several heathland courses around Paris. I think that I am always influenced by Pine Valley, which is very near to my home, and I think that some of the scale of National Golf Links is apparent out there. If you roll all of those into one, I think that’s a pretty good recipe.
“With the two golf courses and the amenities that are already in place and the ones that are coming, I can’t see how Les Bordes won’t be considered one of the finest golfing destinations in Europe or in the world. You have all the cultural attractions around you, you’ve got the food and the wine, the quality of the amenities. It will be an idyllic place to spend time even if you weren’t playing golf, and then to have these two golf courses so different and varied in their challenges and their presentation really runs the full gamut. I don’t know where else in the world you could find that sort of variety.”
Hanse has already completed work on an accompanying 10-hole short course at Les Bordes – the Wild Piglet – with US authority Golf.com immediately rating the layout in its top-25 par-three courses in the world after it opened last summer.
In addition, members of his team have also worked alongside the golf club’s greenkeepers to implement a series of improvements to the legendary Old Course to further elevate the playing experience for members and their guests, including introducing a new maintenance and watering program to make the fairways and greens firmer and faster and reseeding the tees and fairways to improve their condition all-year round.
Off the course, leading architects Michaelis Boyd have completed a redesign of the clubhouse and renovation of 24 member cottages, while work on a new member gym, sports bar, mini-spa and private lounge and games room, including golf simulator, is set to be completed this spring.
The global allure of Les Bordes Golf Club is greater than ever, with members of Pine Valley, Merion, Riviera, Sunningdale, Royal St. George’s, Friar’s Head, Royal Melbourne and Morfontaine among the approximately 140 members who have joined since the club – which is accessible only to members and their guests – was formed in August 2019.
Les Bordes Golf Club remains a private club, governed separately from the rest of the estate and, although membership is not tied to property ownership, many members have reserved homes.
RoundShield Partners have devoted the best part of three years to implementing their golf club and estate masterplan since taking over the estate, developing a community at Les Bordes where all family members have endless possibilities for fun and adventure. Completed on-site amenities include natural swimming lakes and pools, beaches, watersports, go-karting, fishing, equestrian, petting farm and biking and walking trails.
Future investment plans include an announced partnership with Six Senses for the transformation of the 19th century ‘Chateau Bel Air’ into a luxury hotel and spa, a village square with shops and restaurants and a variety of residential villas in various styles, as well as an equestrian centre, an organic farm, an art gallery and outdoor amphitheatre.