September 17, 2020 — We’re big fans of Robert von Hagge’s mid-1980s course at Les Bordes, so we were really intrigued to hear last year that the club was constructing another 18-hole layout to complement the original course. When we then discovered this new track was to be designed by Gil Hanse, one of the world’s leading golf course architects, we had to find out more about this project before it opens in 2021.
But first, a little background about the place. The Les Bordes Estate was taken over by an affiliate of RoundShield Partners in 2018. Since then, a fully private golf club with an international membership has been established. Six Senses Hotels also recently announced the intended opening of a luxury hotel in 2022 that will be completely separate from the golf club.
The vast majority of the members belong to other top ranked clubs around the world, with only around a quarter ofthem residing in France. Despite a harsh economic climate, there’s a waiting list for membership and access is only available as either a member or a member’s guest.
A number of other non-golf amenities – such as an equestrian centre, swimming lake with white sand beach, fishing lake, cycling, tennis and archery – were recently completed on-site. And as the estate extends to over 1400 acres, there’s plenty of space to accommodate all these other activities without interfering with the golf. But the focus is very much on providing a world-class, 36-hole facility for passionate golfers.
The New course lies to the west of the club’s existing layout, where there had previously been 27 holes, with the new project happening after a conversation between the architect and mutual friends of the new owners about developing a second course on the estate. Once Gil Hanse and other members of his design team visited the site, they knew right away they could create something really special here.
“We visited the site and fell in love with the entire property,” said Hanse last year. “It will be very different stylistically to the original, which I think is a positive, as members will have two very different golfing experiences. The routing allows for a very walkable design, with some tee boxes an extension of the fairway cut around the previous green.
The 10th, 11th and closing holes occupy the same large area of fairway, the latter playing to a green set against a lake edge. Regarding the course that was previously laid out on the same site, the playing corridors were very narrow so those that are used in the new design have been significantly widened.”
Extending to 7,301 yards from the back markers, the New course is configured as two returning nines, featuring four par threes that measure between 131 yards (at the 7th) and 230 yards (on the 14th). Holes to look out for include short par fours at the 9th and 15th, along with the right doglegging par five 6th and the par five 18th, played to a home green protected on the left by water.
We corresponded recently with Jack Laws, the Director of Golf at Les Bordes Golf Club, and he said the intention was always to have two very different courses: the Old remaining more target golf-orientated with the ball played through the air and the New emphasizing the ground game and being able to shape and control the ball along the playing surfaces.
He told us: “Gil Hanse lived with us on the estate for 4/5 months whilst construction was under way. He’d be up at 06.00, have a croissant and coffee in the clubhouse then start his day on the dozer at 07.00. He’d be shaping all day until darkness fell, six days a week. He was incredibly hands on and his team were just as thorough. The course is fundamentally a heathland-style layout built on sand, with large waste areas like those on Pine Valley, where Gil is a member. It’s a very unique style, particularly for Europe, with outstanding, truly exceptional architecture. Featuring large bunkers, subtle elevation changes and amazing green complexes, the course plays firm and fast so it’s actually shorter than the 7,400-yard overall length due to the playing conditions.”
Much of the architect’s inspiration for the new course came from the style and strategy of Tom Simpson’s work at Morfontaine, Chantilly and Fontainebleau. Hanse and his team visited those clubs in Paris and they realized there was an opportunity to replicate elements of the bold and dramatic features found there on a site which, by comparison, is low-profile in nature.
Care was taken to clear the location, making subtle transitions from the fairways into the natural vegetation and the trees to preserve as much of the natural environment as possible and hopefully impart a sense of harmony and balance with the surrounding landscape, giving it an almost immediate sense of place and belonging in the Loire Valley.
As professional events are unlikely to be held here, width and the ability to play from different angles and at various lengths allows players of all abilities to comfortably make their way around the course. The older course may be more manufactured and penal, with lots of water in play, but the New is a little more nuanced and understated.
Our panelist BB visited Les Bordes last month and this was his verdict on what he saw of the New course which was still growing in: “I played the old course and walked five holes of the new Hanse design with Jack Laws. I also walked a fair chunk of the new Wild Piglet course. The overwhelming takeaway is the contrast with the original course and the New feels more natural than the original, more ‘unearthed’ than created.
The holes flow over a landscape that appears more undulating than the old course. I didn’t see any back and forth issues in the routing, with subsequent holes just heading off in a different direction. Tees seemed pretty close to the previous greens, so it would be quite a nice walking course.
There was a small amount of heather on site, which they are propagating to spread to other areas, as well as broom, which I believe is endemic there. The construction/shaping has been well done – there were landforms I suggested that were natural (that weren’t) and vice-versa.
Driving corridors felt generous and I could see at least two ways to play each hole that I saw. I’d say there were some bold/distinctive hazards: either a large fronting bunker, a cross bunker on the driving line, or some kind of ridge incorporated into the strategy.
There was also a slightly random element to some hazards, which I quite liked. The bunkering was very natural and some fairways traps looking exactly like natural sandy blowouts on the wild heathlands where I live.
The greens were built up and looked like fun, with run offs and short grass everywhere. It was a challenge to not keep comparing it to Gil Hanse’s design at Castle Stuart – the holes I saw had that same look and feel, just transported to an inland site.
It had a flamboyant feel to it which got the pulse racing – more Tom Simpson than Harry Colt in style, based on my experience of Belgian and Dutch courses – but maybe this is just typical of the architect. To me it called out ‘fun’ more than ‘test’.”
We mustn’t forget the 10-hole Wild Piglet short course which has also been built. Jack Laws told us Gil Hanse thinks it’s every bit as good as The Cradle which he built a while back at Pinehurst – and that short course is regarded by many as the best in the world.
Much like the New course at Les Bordes, it has interesting green complexes and bunkering, with holes ranging from 70 to 120 yards. Permit delays on the main layout allowed the construction team to spend an additional couple of weeks refining the Wild Piglet layout to make it even more elaborate and entertaining, which now shows in the level of detail on every hole.
“So we have a bunker in the centre of one of the greens, a few of the putting surfaces have three or more tiers and there are some other crazy designs thought up by Gil and his team,” said Jack. “It will be a lot of fun post lunch in the afternoon, or a great place to start for beginners and juniors.
I love Gil’s message on the Wild Piglet scorecard – his take on the ‘Golf should be a pleasure not a penance’ Donald Ross quote – which is ‘Golf should be fun, it shouldn’t suck’.
Finally, our superintendent, Lee Strutt, is working tirelessly to implement Gil and our chairman’s vision; a recent addition to the team, Lee has been of overwhelming value in lifting the project to the next stage of evolution and has a clear view of what it takes to deliver a truly world-class golfing experience for our members.”
We’ll bring you first hand reports of both the New and the Wild Piglet layouts when we re-visit Les Bordes next year.