The road to Les Bordes is one rarely travelled. Located on the outskirts of the medieval town of Orleans – a sort of Sandwich meets St Andrews – this is one of the most exclusive clubs in Europe. It exists as a result of the friendship between Marcel Bich, the man behind the Bic pen and disposable razor empire, and his trader partner Yoshiaki Sakurai. The Frenchman and the Japanese purchased a huge woodland estate two hours’ drive south of Paris that was previously used by French kings for hunting.
They agreed to use part of the ground to build their own course, with Sakurai a golfer with a desire to own courses close to capital cities and Bich advised by doctors to exercise more.
Japanese golfer Yoshi Endo advised Sakurai to commission an American who had worked in their country, Robert Von Hagge, but not before the architect had been summoned over the Atlantic to stroll through the 1,600-acre estate and discuss the course with one of France’s wealthiest men.
Von Hagge also had to send a hand-written assessment of the project on his return to Houston in order that Baron Bich could analyse it, given he put great store in ‘graphology’.
The course opened in 1986 with the air of mystique that accompanies exclusive clubs about which information can be sketchy and access even more scarce.
It was instantly highly regarded but after changing hands 20 years later, Von Hagge and his design associate Rick Baril – who had also worked on the original 18 holes – returned to Orleans to overhaul their masterpiece.
It is tranquil and it is immaculate, but it is also unremittingly difficult. It is as stringent a test as Carnoustie, Portmarnock or Muirfield.
New tees, woodland management and bunker reconstruction were part of the revision of a course that is groomed to a level seen very rarely in Europe or indeed anywhere in the world. Only Valderrama on the continent is close to Les Bordes’ conditioning – and that despite, as Baril says, it being built on “miserable and variable soil that seemed like they would never drain”.
The soil may not be naturally free-draining but the setting is otherwise magnificent. The only soundtrack to a round here are the sounds of club on ball, unless a deer breaks a fallen branch while strolling in the woodland.
It is tranquil and it is immaculate, but it is also unremittingly difficult. It is as stringent a test as Carnoustie, Portmarnock or Muirfield and arguably only Troia on the continent is as difficult.
There are a legendary small number of players who have broken par off the backs, which is all the more notable given it frequently receives tour pros as visitors on corporate events.
The 1st is an accurate portent of things to come, the fairway offering a narrow landing strip between trees and rough before an approach to a green ‘pushed up’ from the fairway and virtually surrounded by bunkers.
And these are penal traps, complete with steps to ascend and descend their steep sides. The green is flat and round and encircled by trees, heather and bracken, which is typical of the aesthetic appeal here.
If you are looking for a British equivalent, Loch Lomond would be a good comparison, which is another road lightly travelled by visitors.
Water, bunkers and the relatively narrow playing corridors – with holes framed by mature trees throughout – are the obvious elements that make Les Bordes exacting.
Another less conspicuous factor is that fairways were raised in order to improve drainage so they necessarily slope away at the sides, and these banks encourage balls slightly offline to bounce into the tree line.
Similar banks surround the greens and chipping onto the slick surfaces from what can be thick greenside rough is challenging. Highlights among the holes come at the gorgeous par 3s over water at the 4th and 8th as well as the sweeping 11th, which turns right to left around a lake.
The 14th is probably the pick of the par 5s, ending on an island green while the climax begins with a drive over a lake and then an approach over water to a sleepered green.
It is a classic Les Bordes hole, incorporating the serenity, the challenge and the aesthetics that are the hallmark of this club. If you are looking for a British equivalent, Loch Lomond would be a good comparison, which is another road lightly travelled by visitors.
So just as on the Bonnie Banks you have the opportunity to play at Les Bordes, take it.