Le Golf National’s journey towards The 2018 Ryder Cup and beyond took another step forward last week with the closure of L’Albatros Course for the next few months.
Just two weeks after the conclusion of the Alstom Open de France, won in style by Bernd Wiesberger, a final round was played on L’Abatros before a programme of renovation, including the installation of a new irrigation system along with improvements to drainage, bunkers and the lake edging, began.
Le Golf National, a European Tour Destination, is consistently ranked in the World’s Top 100 and Europe’s Top Ten by Golf World (UK) magazine with its impressive stadium design with slick greens and vast undulating fairways dotted with water hazards and innumerable links-style bunkers. The work over the next few months will not only help make the venue ready to host golf’s greatest team event in three years’ time but also make sure Le Golf National is ready for the next 25 years.
“A composite course of nine holes will open on December 1, with the full 18 holes re-opening by May 1 next year,” explained Paul Armitage, General Manager at Le Golf National. “Very little golf course design changes are being made with the work focusing on modifying the first and 16th greens to give more pin positions, enlarging seven tees to accommodate more players, caddies and referees, putting new sand in the bunkers and maintaining the lake edging.”
A major project is also the installation of a new irrigation system as by the time of The Ryder Cup the current irrigation system will be 30 years old and at the end of it its lifespan. The new Infinity irrigation system from Toro will place more sprinkler heads around the course and enable the course managers to detect where water is needed and where not, helping Le Golf National from an ecological standpoint by reducing water consumption by 30%.
The work being undertaken is another chapter in the transformation of Le Golf National from a start point of being a public facility designed and operated almost exclusively for the members of the French Golf Federation to a world-class destination, a process supported by European Tour Properties.
“It’s a big journey, and a journey helped by many things such as hosting the Open de France and then hosting The Ryder Cup in three years’ time,” explained David MacLaren, Director of European Tour Properties. “Our job is to assist the management team here and the French Federation to help it on its journey to becoming a world-class destination. Not just one that can stage The Ryder Cup, because we all know what a great golf course it is and will be as the most amazing setting for The Ryder Cup, but also importantly to help the venue and the Federation to capitalise on that by being able to present a world-class venue to a completely different class of customer.”
The plan is geared towards delivering the highest of standards across the board, from service to signage, food and beverage to merchandise, towels in the locker room and a warm welcome when you arrive.
“What we want from all our Destinations, whether a Ryder Cup venue or not, is that when a golfer arrives, the experience, levels of service and presentation of the golf course befits a world-class venue,” said MacLaren.
“When people visit from the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, US or anywhere in the world in January or February we want them to get a level of service and a wow factor that befits a Ryder Cup venue. It is a very clear vision and the responsibility for that vision is with the French Federation. Our job is to support the Federation and the venue to help them achieve those objectives. Having a plan as big as that is exciting and one we are travelling together on with a huge amount of commitment and pride.”
While Le Golf National is the focal point in the build up to The Ryder Cup, the work being undertaken is just one element of the France 2018 Ryder Cup vision being implemented by the French Federation, with emphasis on the development of 6 and 9-hole short course facilities to introduce more people to the game of golf.
To date, 68 short courses have been built since 2008 when the Federation launched the plan and decided to enter the bidding process for The 2018 Ryder Cup. There are now 120 projects registered at the French Golf Federation all over France and the aim is to reach 150 by 2018. These are mainly 6-9 holes and cost from €10 to maximum €20-25 to play the course. To just hit some balls on the range will cost €2-4 as 90% have both a short course and practice range.
“There was a definite lack of accessible affordable courses and we felt it was the right time to launch a global development plan, a structured plan including the development of these facilities,” said Christophe Muniesa, Chief Executive of the French Golf Federation. “It is one thing to showcase golf but if you cannot play golf because there are no facilities you miss the targets. We had the example of rugby from the Rugby World Cup in 2007, where the Rugby Federation had a huge increase in demand but they weren’t able to supply as there were not enough rugby clubs for kids. So taking this experience we knew we had to accompany the development of the game with a more structured plan including the development of these facilities.”
A campaign “GoforGolf” is now also being rolled out helping people take that first step into golf. And visitors to Le Golf National will still be able to enjoy the facilities while the work continues on L’Albatros Course as the 18-hole L’Aigle (Eagle) and the 9-hole L’Oiselet (Sparrow) courses, along with the golf academy, remain open.
“It’s a fine balance,” added Armitage, “but our offer is to have low cost golf for golf development and making golf accessible and also high-end golf. We will have the full range of golf courses here.”