Major champions Seve Ballesteros, Paul Lawrie and José Maria Olazábal head the field in the Novotel Perrier Open de France this week as the oldest tournament in continental Europe moves from Le Golf National in Paris to the Sangliers course at Lyon Golf Club for the first time.
The European Tour last visited the Sangliers course at Lyon Golf Club in 1994 when Stephen Ames became the first West Indian golfer to win a European Tour event by capturing the Open V33 Du Grand Lyon. A year earlier Costantino Rocca won twice in France, winning the Open V33 Du Grand Lyon over the Terrains de Brocards course at Lyon Golf Club and then the Open de France at Le Golf National.
Rocca is among seven former champions in the field. Other winners include Ballesteros, who has captured the title on four previous occasions, Miguel Angel Martin, José Rivero, Mark Roe, Eduardo Romero and Phillip Walton.
Also in the starting line-up is local favourite Jean Van de Velde, the first Frenchman to play in the Ryder Cup. Van de Velde makes his first appearance of the year in Europe after competing the early part of the season on the US Tour in his bid to win his national title for the first time.
Amateur champion Mikko Ilonen of Finland, who turned professional a month ago after competing in the Masters Tournament, makes his debut on The European Tour this week.
Constructed in 1991, and officially opened the following year, the Sangliers course was designed by French architect Hugues Lambert. The feature of the course, carved through woodland on the outskirts of Lyon at Villette d'Anthon, is that six holes are adjacent to the River Rhone and water comes into play on eight holes. The fifth's narrow landing area, below a ridge and between trees and hazard is, arguably, the most demanding hole.
Arnaud Massy was the first champion of the Open de France in 1906 and the following year he became the first overseas winner of the Open Championship. After Massy, J H Taylor, James Braid, George Duncan, Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Roberto de Vicenzo, Bobby Locke and Kel Nagle all became winners of both the British and French Opens.
Since the birth of The European Tour that pattern has continued with Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo all winning both the Open Golf Championship and the Open de France.