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France


I


n the autumn of 2018, the Ryder Cup spotlight will be cast on Le Golf National, just 15 miles from the centre of Paris. This is a result of France seeing off bids by


four rivals, in 2011, for the right to welcome the Ryder Cup to mainland Europe — for the first time since Spain hosted it, at Valderrama, in 1997. With two years to go, excitement is rising as the Le Golf National — widely regarded as the home of golf’s Open de France — prepares for global exposure. Key to its appeal is its renowned Albatros course,


a supreme test that guarantees a clifanger of a tournament between the best of Europe and the US. Then there is the location, which makes it easy to draw spectators. It will be the first time the Ryder Cup is staged so close to such a major city in Europe. A third factor, and in marketing terms a vital one, is


the Palace of Versailles six miles down the road. France, a country famed for its elegance and sophistication, is determined to maximise its moment in the sun — where beter to stage the opening and closing ceremonies than Louis XIV’s sumptuous 17th century pad. Not able to wait until 2018, I started my own grand


tour in July this year at the gates to Versailles where 20,000 tourists a day line up to see the magnificent state rooms and the legendary Hall of Mirrors. The long gallery overlooking André Le Nôtre’s formal gardens was the focus of Louis’s court and the centrepiece of his strategy for control. By obliging aristocrats to live under his all- seeing eye, he prevented them from fomenting rebellion on far-flung estates. Emerging in weak sunshine for a stroll down to the


lake, I passed the Grand Trianon, the pink marble baroque hideaway that Louis once shared with his mistresses. Restored by Charles de Gaulle in 1963, it’s


84 ABTA Golf 2017


ready and waiting to play its central role in Ryder Cup’s lavish ceremonies. Aſter the short journey to Le Golf National, I


re-emerged into a functional, contemporary world. This complex was always a tournament facility with championship ambitions rather than wishing to be just a members’ club. Now owned by the French Golf Federation, it was built on a rubbish tip. Paris’s dumped white goods effectively form foundations for the elegantly landscaped fairways, and sculptured greenery, interspersed with great lakes. It took 300 lorries and three years to complete the


Albatros, the first of three courses, in time for its unveiling in 1990. Now it was my turn. In the week aſter the Open de


France, the course designed by Hubert Chesneau, assisted by the late American golf course architect Robert Von Hagge, was ready and waiting menacingly for optimistic amateurs wanting to make it like pros. Thick rough was still crowding the fairways, the pin


positions were in the same tricky places they’d been when Thongchai Jaidee had won for Thailand three days earlier. The Albatros was living up to its name, inhibiting fast play as golfers searched for errant balls. So I had plenty of time to note essential Ryder Cup changes such as improved drainage, 10 miles of new access roads and facilities for 65,000 spectators. The Federation raised the necessary £6.3m by commiting its 400,000 members to a charge of £2.50 for 20 years. If Paris nabs the 2024 Summer Olympics and golf is still on the schedule, the Albatros is sure to be fit for purpose for the Games. The sun was well below the horizon by the time we


completed the final stretch, four holes involving sheets of ball-devouring water, leading into the kind of


Statue, Chateau de Versailles


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