Thomas Levet tamed the daunting final four of Le Golf National en route to Alstom Open de France glory in 2011 (EuropeanTour)
Le Golf National has earned a reputation as one of The European Tour’s toughest tests and, ahead of this week’s Alstom Open de France, europeantour.com caught up with Tournament Director David Probyn to find out what challenges lie in store.
Designed by Hubert Chesnaeu with consultant Robert Van Hagge, Le Golf National opened near Versailles on the outskirts of Paris in 1990 and is hosting the oldest of the continental Opens for the 20th time this week. The announcements last year that the course would host the 2018 Ryder Cup and the venue’s unveiling as a European Tour Destination further underlined Le Golf National’s position as one of the finest courses in Europe.
Over the years the Albatross Course, with vast undulating fairways, numerous water hazards and links-style bunkers, has tested the very best golfers in the world, but it is the fearsome final four holes which provide the grandstand finish.
This closing stretch will certainly provide plenty of drama when The Ryder Cup comes to France in 2018, just as it has for the last two decades.
“The final four holes here are as tough a closing stretch as you will ever see with water a really big feature throughout,” said Probyn. “Level par for these four holes will always be a great finish and the players this week will be eager to avoid the big scores that are frequently seen on the 15th and 18th.”
The final four include two of Le Golf National’s most stringent tests, with the first of those coming at the 399-yard par four 15th.
Probyn said: “It will almost certainly be one of the two hardest holes this week. It is effectively an island green and if you don’t find the fairway then the putting surface will almost certainly be out of reach, especially with the greens being much firmer this year.
“A well placed tee shot in the fairway is therefore critical, and playing away from some of the pins will be essential. Four par fours here this week would be a terrific result.”
And the challenge doesn’t end there for anyone trying to finish at the top of the leaderboard this week.
A short hole follows at the 16th, a tricky par three of some 175-yards, before the lengthy 17th that will this year measure 484 yards but Le Golf National saves its best for last.
“The 18th hole is a brutal par four with water all down the left of the tee shot and again there’s an island green,” added Probyn. “Clear strategy is required off the tee, and subject to the wind longer hitters may be able to take a more aggressive line leaving a shorter club in, while a 3-wood from the tee will leave a longer approach to a very demanding green originally designed as a par five.
“As is quite often the case, this played the hardest hole last year.”
With a finish like this there are bound to be fireworks but there are also opportunities for birdies earlier in the round as players look to build a buffer with those final four in mind.
“Five and six are both short par fours and are, without doubt, where players will be looking to make birdie,” said Probyn. “With a good drive the par five third is also very reachable and played the easiest hole last year.”
Indeed, changes to the course for 2012 have been implemented to encourage more birdies, with 20 yards taken off the seventh hole to make it a more manageable par four, while a new middle tee on the 14th will allow Probyn and his team to make the par five, which measures 607 yards off the back tees, much more reachable over the weekend to create a classic risk and reward hole.
The course will play to its full length this week thanks to the wettest June in 60 years, which has left the fairways soft and the rough extremely thick and penal.
However, Probyn makes it clear that the greens have not suffered with this recent rain: “We have worked hard on the greens programme over the last few years and these are now excellent surfaces that will be firmer than for many years.
“I think with showery and possibly windy conditions the course will present a very stern challenge this year.”
Le Golf National is ready to test the best and provide a great spectacle to everyone watching this week, and for those teeing it up Probyn has some closing advice.
“Accurate driving; with firm greens missing the fairway will really be a penalty. And of course getting through 15-18 four days in a row without disaster will be key.”