Little is known about this mystical bolt hole, but Rick Baril, design associate of its architect Robert von Hagge, takes us behind the gates.

The story of Les Bordes begins in Japan. While working there, Robert von Hagge befriended Yoshi Endo, a prominent Japanese golfer. Some years later, Yoshiki Sakurai asked Mr Endo to identify an architect to design a course in France.

Robert received a call from Mr Endo, and was told to expect contact from a ‘Baron Bich’. Some days later, Robert did receive a call from France.

Robert always represented it as a “mysterious” call, in the sense that it was quick and not completely comprehensible. By the end though, what was clear was that there was a first-class round-trip ticket to Paris awaiting him with Air France. 

He was picked up at the airport and taken to Baron Bich’s house.

Robert would recount at that first meeting he was taken by the paintings on the wall. He remarked how one of paintings was very reminiscent of a Van Gogh, whose work Robert liked immensely. Baron Bich replied, “It is not a good likeness. It is the original.”

Later in the evening, Baron Bich was showing Robert a map of the property. When Robert pulled out his Shaeffer pen to make some notes, Baron Bich stopped him, handing him a Bic pen, saying he would prefer if Robert used it instead. This was Robert finally made the ‘Bic’ connection.

Baron Bich asked Robert send his impressions in a handwritten report. Baron Bich was proponent of ‘Graphology’ and he intended to make his own assessment of Robert’s psyche and personality.

It was during this initial meeting that Baron Bich explained his intention for the course: He wanted Les Bordes to be capable of training French golfers to be internationally competitive, because a lack of ‘international’ standard courses was holding the country’s top players back. Baron Bich sponsored Jean van de Velde for several years and Mr Van de Velde would visit and play Les Bordes.

After the first visit, Baron Bich asked Robert send his impressions in a handwritten report. Baron Bich was proponent of ‘Graphology’ and he intended to make his own assessment of Robert’s psyche and personality.

Above: Rick Baril and (seated) Robert von Hagge at a Les Bordes photoshoot in 2008

Robert returned to Houston ‘ecstatic’ with the prospect of Les Bordes.

They decided to build the course for two reasons. Firstly, Baron Bich’s doctor suggested he should take up golf for the exercise benefits – and he quickly became enamoured with the sport, often playing at Morfontaine.

He was openly impressed with Valderrama, expressing appreciation for the owner Jaime Ortiz-Patiño’s unwavering pursuit for perfection.

Secondly, Baron Bich expanded his business to Japan and this led to a connection with Mr Sakurai, who was a passionate golfer. He was expanding his global golf portfolio, often buying existing golf courses near major cities around the world. 

First impressions… of sushi

I was admittedly foggy the first time I saw Les Bordes. Robert and I flew overnight, arriving in Paris early in the morning. I had been to Europe before, but being driven from Charles de Gaulle airport to downtown, the sheer number of apartment buildings – looking like oversize filing cabinets – littering the morning landscape was astonishing.

We arrived at Hotel Mont Thabor, a small non-descript hotel near the Louvre. The hotel was Japanese owned and featured a first-class sushi restaurant on the ground floor, where I would soon experience my first sushi – for breakfast no less.

What a memorable breakfast it was – sushi and Kirin Japanese beer. Sushi requires measured progression toward appreciation but this was not my experience. I was thrown in the deep end.

Baron Bich and Mr Sakurai did not fully comprehend Robert’s vision – and, the scale of the intended design. But, I must admit, I didn’t either. 

I’m not sure of all I ate that morning, but much of it was still quivering. I would eventually learn to love sushi, but that morning at the Mont Thabor, Kirin was my friend.

We were driven to Les Bordes in a Range Rover, which broke down near Orleans, about 20 minutes from Les Bordes. When we arrived we gathered near (what is now) the practice range.

Baron Bich at Les Bordes

Above: Baron Bich on the 1st tee at Les Bordes just after the course was completed

There was a large make-shift table with our concept plan taped to it. I remember Baron Bich, Madame Bich, Mr Sakurai and Robert huddled over the plans.

We made a small tour of the property and even though I was able to appreciate the quality of the landscape, it was early in my career so I was not yet able to fully discern how the course would wind through the property.   

I was just trying to process what was transpiring. Robert led the discussion and tour. I remember feeling Baron Bich and Mr Sakurai did not fully comprehend Robert’s vision – and, the scale of the intended design. But, I must admit, I didn’t either. 

The fun of construction

It took two-and-a-half years from start of construction to opening. The construction process was convoluted.

First, there were several different nationalities involved. Secondly, there weren’t any ‘experienced’ contractors or companies specialising in golf construction, in France at that time.

So we had a French and Japanese client, an American architecture firm – doing its first project in Europe – a Japanese management company, two Japanese construction superintendents (who know nothing about France, its language or unique working customs, and an English manager to oversee the construction and French legal issues.

Then we were told that the size of the project made it too big for one contractor. Therefore, three had been awarded the contract.

Above: Robert von Hagge, Rick Baril, and Japanese construction guru Mr Sakata during the creation of Les Bordes

And, while we were attempting to figure out, through translation, which tasks (earthmoving, topsoil, green construction) were assigned to which contractor, we learned the work was divided by holes. Each was given six holes to construct! 

It was comical (and, it’s truly remarkable there weren’t fights) when the Japanese construction superintendents would give instructions through an interpreter.

We were also not accustomed to the French work schedule. For us, construction projects are six or seven day-a-week, 10-12 hours a day projects. We might even use two crews to keep the machines running.

In France we discovered everyone showed up exactly on time. The workers took their breaks exactly on time and quit on time. 

Robert joked: If a worker had a shovel of dirt, they would drop the shovel, dirt and all, in mid-swing if it was lunch.

It was comical (and, it’s truly remarkable there weren’t fights) when the Japanese construction superintendents would give instructions through an interpreter.

We learned if we gave instruction for very specific tasks – for example, “put 10cm of sand in bunker” – we could be sure there would be exactly 10cm of sand in the bunker. 

But, if we gave an abstract instruction – like; “meander this drainage channel to the lake” – this would likely result in the straightest ditch in the world – if the work was accomplished at all.

The budget

Les Bordes was built on a very reasonable budget. It was certainly not extravagant. There has been a lot of speculation about the build cost; I will only say, all estimates I’ve seen are significantly higher than the actual budget.

But, I will also add: What few people realise is, courses are rarely “complete”.

Above: Robert von Hagge (second from right) and Rick Baril (far right) with Les Bordes staff in 2008

They are living things and the work continues. Les Bordes is the best example in this sense.

The owners understood the scale of project and committed the resources required to nurture, refine and mature it. This is what maintained its reputation.

The philosophy… and my idea

Robert was a notoriously bad putter.  He also firmly believed golf is an aerial game.

He felt good ball striking was paramount, and putting was simply the other part of the mathematical equation – and, in his opinion, should not count the same as ball striking.

He strongly believed, once you arrived at the green, you deserved an easy two putt.

He was therefore predisposed to designing flat greens. Everyone else in the office had made it their mission to change this – adding contour/drama to the greens, whenever possible.

So Robert was sceptical about my idea of a chilli bowl green on the 6th. But eventually he did it…