It is fair to say French golf this season has been booming.
This week’s Allianz Open de Lyon is the fifth and final France-based tournament of the 2011 Challenge Tour schedule, and with only two events of the campaign remaining – the Roma Golf Open and the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final – it will play a key role in deciding who finishes in the top 20 of the Rankings and therefore a European Tour card for 2012.
The real success story this year has been Benjamin Hebert, the Moliets man who won three times to gain automatic promotion to the game’s highest level. Having missed six successive cuts, Hebert won three times in the next five events, claiming back-to-back titles in the Credit Suisse Challenge and the English Challenge, and then a month later the Rolex Trophy in Geneva.
His compatriot Edouard Dubois is also a multiple winner, having triumphed at the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda and the Scottish Hydro Challenge, and Anthony Snobeck, another Frenchman, was the man who set the ball rolling with victory in the Mugello Tuscany Open in May.
There has yet to be a French champion on French soil this season, however, and the likes of Dubois, Snobeck and a host of others such as Victor Riu, Charles-Edouard Russo and Michael Lorenzo-Vera will be looking to remedy that at Golf du Gouverneur this week.
The reason for the success is two-fold, but both factors come down to the fact that France invests heavily in young players who are just embarking on their professional career.
The first is the French Golf Federation’s development and support of the top amateurs as they join the paid ranks. Like all good national federations, they recognise that the most difficult period is immediately after a player turns professional, and they aim to guide them through that spell until they reach The European Tour.
As well as the players, the French Golf Federation spends much money and effort on the support aspects of golf – things such as coaches, physiotherapists and fitness trainers. A good example is at the Qualifying School Final Stage, where the FGF rent out a large villa and invite all the French players to stay there, where they have their own physios, people cooking meals and space away from the golf course.
The second is the sponsorship of Allianz. This is the fifth year of the Allianz Golf Tour, and there are four Allianz events on the schedule this year in the main regions of the country.
These tournaments, and the opportunities for up and coming players to compete, are invaluable to the continued development of professional golf in France.
Whether any of the golfers playing in Lyon follow in the footsteps of European Tour champions Thomas Levet and Raphaël Jacquelin remains to be seen, but with the French Golf Federation and Allianz backing them, they have every chance.