“The 16th is the best par 4 in France and the whole course is just brilliant,” says European Tour winner Gregory Havret of this heathland-woodland masterpiece south-east of Paris. Multiple tour champion Havret is a well-rounded, well-travelled golfer and while Fontainebleau is no higher than No.3 in its country – such is the strength of France’s elite golf – it deserves its top-five placing in Continental Europe. Fontainebleau is epic for two reasons: first, it is laid out on a property that feels as if it has been created for interesting golf; second, the person doing the laying out was Tom Simpson.
It sits on former royal hunting grounds and incorporates a mature forest of pine, birch, beech and oak that is teaming with hares and decorated with rocks, bracken and heather.
Fontainebleau offers the rare blend of being picturesque as well as thoughtful. It pleases the eye and teases the mind.
It would have been hard not to create something special on this eclectic canvas, but in engaging Simpson Fontainebleau got one of the truly great architects, a man whose flair and imagination enhanced any property he worked on.
As was always the case with the charismatic Englishman, he did not so much design a course as craft a work of art onto a living, breathing landscape. So, Fontainebleau offers the rare blend of being picturesque as well as thoughtful. It pleases the eye and teases the mind.
Simpson frequently asks you to make strategic choices; should you, for example, lay up with your second at the short par-5 12th or attack the green and risk your shot rebounding into the trees off the rocks guarding the approach? It is relatively short by today’s standards but inaccuracy off the tee will be punished by the trunks of trees as well as the 100+ bunkers.
Simpson’s name on the credits usually means eccentric greens, and the undulating surfaces here are no exception. From tee to green, this is a beauty that is not easily seduced. If you score well at Fontainebleau, you will have deserved it. But unlike at many other courses, even if you don’t you are still certain to have enjoyed it.
The raunchy terrain helps of course, but here no two holes at this venerable venue resemble each other. I’m not sure the whole course resembles anywhere else either; this truly is a distinctive, memorable experience.
From the moment you step on to the 1st tee at Fontainebleau, in the shadow of the old-worldly Norman-style clubhouse, you are captivated by its beauty. In the distance, a boulder-studded hill towers over the green, an early highlight on a course that delivers excellence as standard.
Stepping onto the tee of the par-5 3rd raises the tempo further. From this elevated spot, the vast forest of Fontainebleau stretches out beneath you as far as the eye can see.
Some astute tree management would help open Fontainebleau up a little and would help it challenge for the top three on the continent, but as it is, it is easy to see why some regard it as the best course in France.
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