In less than a week 24 of the world best golfers will star in a unique Europe vs. US match play event, better known as the Ryder Cup. While a lot of attention goes out to the players, the actual venue of the biennial competition is often a bit neglected. This is odd, as the course can play a considerable role in the outcome of the matches. In fact, with water coming into play on ten of the eighteen holes at the Albatros course of Le Golf National, the question rises whether players should be fearing the golf course more than their opponent. Time for a thorough review of this year’s Ryder Cup battleground.
Le Golf National, a true links?
The Albatros course is one of three courses at Le Golf National, located 30 minutes by car from Paris, France. The par-71 18-hole golf course has a length of 7,183 yards (6,568 metres) and is being described as a golf course that “combines the traditional feel of a links with the modern features of target golf”. Even though the course features undulating fairways and links-style bunkers, golf purists might argue that it’s not a real links considering the fact that it doesn’t meet all the requirements for a real links course (for example the large amount of water hazards that come into play).
Nevertheless the course, ‘officially’ designed by Hubert Chesneau (actually most of the work was done by the Von Hagge company), can be seen as a real test of golf. It should be no surprise that Leadingcourses.com users rate the course highly with an 8.9 out of 10. The drama already starts on the par-4 first. Hitting driver brings the lake on the left into play, but gives you a better angle into the green that’s being guarded by a bunker on the right and, guess what, water on the left. After the first hole it doesn’t get much easier: a 210 yards (192 metres) par-3 that requires a well-placed tee shot carrying the water. After the par-5 third players get a welcoming break from the water and enter a more forgiving stretch of holes.
The Final Act
The final four holes at Le Golf National guarantee an epic finale of the 42nd Ryder Cup. “When Le Golf National was designed, The FFG (French Golf Federation) expected Le Golf National to be the permanent venue for the French Open, and they were therefore interested in a stadium style golf course,” said Rick Baril, co-responsible for the final act at Le Golf National, in an earlier interview with Leadingcourses.com. Baril envisioned a huge arena where people could witness the drama unfold on the final holes. “My ambition was to make as many of the final holes as possible viewable within an “amphitheatre”, where spectators would not need to move to see the action. This resulted in the configuration of holes 15, 16, 17 & 18, which you see today.”
With Le Golf National has been the host of the Open de France on the European Tour for 26 years, the final stretch of holes has proven itself as the place where tournaments are lost or won. Even at the 2018 French Open, when this year’s Swedish Ryder Cup player Alex Noren won by one shot when he birdied two of the last three holes. This at the cost of American Julian Suri, who found the water with his second shot at 18th hole, leading to a double bogey and a tie for second place. Tommy Fleetwood, also starring in the European Ryder Cup team, also knows how to keep his nerves along the last stretch stretch of holes. At the 2017 French Open he made par on 15 through 18 to win the tournament.
Revamps and Grandstands
Almost 7,000 spectators will be able to see the drama unfold at the last four holes from the largest grandstands in Ryder Cup history. To prepare the course for the Ryder Cup, adjustments amounting to 10 million euros were made to the course last year. 17 new bunkers were placed and 28 original ones were redesigned. Also, two new lakes and four new tees were created. Finally, some of the soil at the golf course was prepared for the large amount of grandstands, player tents, car parks and roads that will be used during the Ryder Cup. And even though it’s unknown which team will hold the Ryder Cup trophy at the end of the weekend, the Albatros course at Le Golf National will certainly play a crucial role in the outcome of the 42nd Ryder Cup tournament.