Architect Gil Hanse talks us through the motivations and inspirations for the highly anticipated New Course at Les Bordes
Few designs have been more anticipated than this. The New Course at Les Bordes has captivated attention since it was announced architect Gil Hanse would add a new touch of magic to the 1,400 acre estate in the Sologne Forest, 90 miles outside of Paris.
The acclaimed designer, already responsible for the 10-hole Wild Piglet short course which opened last year at the property, has produced a layout whose heathland style will provide a very different experience to the heralded Old Course.
Think large bunkers, and Tom Simpson-esque green complexes, and you won’t need to stretch too far to imagine an offering that will cement Les Bordes as one of the world’s most desirable golf venues.
Ahead of the New Course’s official opening on July 1, we sat down with Hanse to talk about the project, its inspiration, and Les Bordes’ place on the world stage…
When and how was this project initiated?
The first time I went there was in June 2018. The owner and I had some mutual friends and the conversation came up that the owners were hoping to build a new golf course. Driss (Benkirane) had said that he was really hoping to work with us on it, and that fact that we had mutual friends made that conversation easy to get initiated, and once I came to look at the property I was immediately sold on the potential of the ground, and then the hospitality that I was shown while I was there was amazing. Being able to stay on property and the wine and the food, I was treated very well.
What was it that attracted you about the site at Les Bordes?
The sand and the vegetation, and the reputation of the place. Obviously, we’ve heard of Les Bordes here, so the quality of the site itself and the commitment of the ownership as well, which is a big thing.
When we’re considering the criteria of a project, Jim Wagner and I always ask ourselves ‘do we have the potential to do something exceptional’, and I think that, while the topography at Les Bordes is not the most outstanding we’ve ever worked with, it still has enough character to it, and the vegetation and the soil gave us the opportunity to do something exceptional.
Secondly, we ask ourselves ‘are we going to have fun doing it’ and working with the ownership at Les Bordes, and if you can’t have fun in that part of the world and enjoy yourself then I think there’s something wrong with you.
So I think the combination of all those really added up to that being a very attractive project for us. We’ve never built anything in Continental Europe and we wanted to make sure that our first project there was going to be something special, and Les Bordes gave us that opportunity.
What can we expect from the New Course?
You can expect fun golf in a natural, perfect setting. We were given the opportunity from the ownership to build some interesting golf holes; stylistically, it was fun for all of us to focus on Tom Simpson and some of his beautiful creations and some of his inspired designs, not that we copied him stylistically or design-wise but we were certainly influenced by him and that was a treat for us.
It’s been reported you took inspiration from Tom Simpson, what elements of his work were most relevant here and how have you blended those with your own concepts?
The scale of his bunkering was something that we really paid attention to, with clusters or rows of bunkers and that was interesting. From our perspective, it was just the way that they blended into the landscape that was amazing. Some of the green complexes that he built were fairly eccentric and so we felt that we could create a few on the golf course like that, but then he also built some greens that were simple in their presentation yet complex in their subtlety, and a lot of those things fed into what we did at Les Bordes. I know going forward, if the landscape is a good fit, we would certainly do more things in the style of Tom Simpson.
How challenging was it for you to create a new course near the one (the Old Course) that’s considered one of the best in Continental Europe?
I don’t think that we found it to be a challenge or challenging, we found it to be inspirational. It’s always nice when you come to a project and the level of quality is established through the existing golf course and the existing facilities, all of which are to a really high standard. We were excited and challenged in our creativity and what we were trying to do and hopeful that, when all is settled, Les Bordes has two golf courses that are very highly regarded, but I would be lying if I didn’t hope that ours was a little more highly regarded.
Do you feel you succeeded in your goal and why?
I do. I think that every golf architect when they are given a site hopes that the best that they can do is to maximise the characteristics of the site, and I feel that we have done that with the New Course. I feel that we have provided a great variety in the two different nines; we have captured the best of the topography on site; we have worked to enhance some of those areas through added elevation; and we have worked to create a very interesting and playable test of golf. I’m confident that, with all the work that we’ve done there, we have maximised the potential of the property and, as a golf architect when you walk away, that’s all that you can hope for.
What are the characteristics of a golf course that make you want to play it again and again? What makes it recognisable?
I think that it’s fun and that there are interesting shots. It’s the ability to go out one time and then think, “okay, next time I play it I’m going to try this differently” or that you get put into a different circumstance each and every round, but that the design and the creativity within the design allows you to approach the problem solving differently each time.
I think there’s that sense of the playability of the course and then there’s just the beauty of it and the presentation. I think that golf courses that have a sense of place and that feel like they belong where they’re sitting is also something that makes me want to continue to play it.
I think that adds to the character and the quality of it so the way it looks, the way it feels as you walk through the landscape, and then, certainly, the way it plays and challenges you to be creative are courses that I want to keep playing over and over.
Can you pick out a couple of holes that you especially like and tell us a bit about them?
The 15th hole, a short-par four, would be one of them. There’s a lot of character and interest, when we were working on it we talked through the philosophy and then Jim Wagner shaped and executed it wonderfully and added some tremendous character to it.
On the front nine, I’ve always liked the sixth hole, just the way it flows through the landscape and the different breaks. Trying to be reminiscent a little bit of Tom Simpson with segmented fairways and the way the green lays so simply on the ground.
Where do you see Les Bordes sitting on the golf world stage as a facility?
I think that, with the two golf courses and the amenities that are already in place and the ones that are coming, I can’t see how Les Bordes won’t be considered one of the finest golfing destinations in Europe or in the world. You have all the cultural attractions around you, you’ve got the food and the wine, the quality of the amenities. It will be an idyllic place to spend time even if you weren’t playing golf, and then to have these two golf courses so different and varied in their challenges and their presentation really runs the full gamut. I don’t know where else in the world you could find that sort of variety.
How is it possible to build two completely different golf courses on the same estate?
I think it was two different philosophies as to how Robert von Hagge did the Old Course and we approached the New Course. From that perspective, a significant amount of time passed between the creation of both golf courses, and I think that lent itself to, stylistically, different courses that appear differently, because one feels more manufactured and one feels more natural.
Neither one is right or wrong, they are just different and one golf course extracts a very harsh penalty for poorly played shots and the other is a little bit more forgiving. I think that is what’s going to make Les Bordes one of the most wonderful golf destinations in the world, you have two distinctly different golf courses from two different eras but the quality of both of them is equivalent in how they were created and how they are presented.
What are the qualities of a good golf course?
I think that a good golf course should have a sense of place, a sense of belonging, it doesn’t feel that it’s been transported from somewhere else and feels like it belongs on a property, and that it is one that has a variety of ways to play it, interest in the features that have been created or that have been found in the landscape, and it has to be fun.
It’s a balance between fun and interest versus difficulty, and we want to provide ways for golfers to navigate around a golf course based on their own skill level and if a golf course gives you that opportunity to map or think your way through it, then I think that’s the best an architect can do.
For more, visit the Les Bordes website.