Dec
22
2017
Vive le golf en France! — Normandy (Part 1)
By Stephanie Wei under Ryder Cup

Golf de Granville/Photo by Patrick Koenig

With the Ryder Cup headed to France in 2018, it seemed not only logical but practical to conduct a reconnaissance trip to play some of the country’s finest golf courses before the year end.

A couple of months ago, when I was contacted by Olivier from Private Golf Key, a Paris-based travel, golf and lifestyle company, about the potential journey to Normandy and Paris, along with Cannes, the host city for the 2017 International Golf Travel Market (it’s like the PGA Show, but for golf tourism), I felt like it would be a disservice to turn down such an opportunity, especially since interest will be piqued with Le Golf National hosting the always much-anticipated biennial matches between the premier golfers in Europe and the U.S.

That’s besides the point, though — who needs an excuse to go to France?? There’s the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, the French Riviera, the chicest fashion, and tasty bread and cheese, not to mention wine. I’ve been to France several times — Paris and Belle-ile-en-Mer, an island off the coast of Brittany, which is one of my favorite places in the world — but I certainly had never considered planning a golf trip there. I know France has produced some renowned (or infamous) professionals and it’s home of the original Biarritz template hole. I mean, if you don’t know the name, Jean Van de Velde, then you can’t call yourself a golfer. Then, there’s the enigmatic Victor Dubuisson and former Ryder Cupper turned commentator Thomas Levet.

Over two weeks, I was fortunate to discover and play some fantastic courses around France. Now, our lovely French hosts kept emphasizing and apologizing for the weather, but there was no need. After all, it *is* December and even the South of France isn’t a winter getaway. It’s almost like playing golf in the Hamptons this time of the year — the courses may or may not be playable and the weather is unpredictable. You want the elements? There’s no shortage of wind and rain!

 

My golf disruptor-in-crime Patrick Koenig and I had a grand time in teeing it up in tracks in the Normandy region, the greater Paris area, and the South of France.  First up, let’s check out our adventures in Normandy!

Our first French golf experience was at an outstanding links track Golf de Granville designed by a famous golf person named Harry Colt. The course opened in 1912 and closed during World War I, but following the end of the fighting, Colt was brought in to renovate the design. I was super impressed with Granville. We only had the chance to play nine holes, but it was a true links experience. It was an old-school classic track with holes carved out of the natural terrain, which runs past the English Channel. he bunkering and green contours were strong and interesting. Even in the wet conditions, the greens were rolling well. It’s quite a breathtaking scene on the sixth tee.

View from the 6th tee at Granville (Photo by Patrick Koenig)

Heck, actually, it’s like Scotland or Ireland! In fact, France is an ideal destination for golfers in November and December when it’s too cold almost everywhere else in the U.K. and Europe (with exceptions, of course). Plus, throw in the sites, the history and art, the wine and cheese,  and SOLD! — you’ve got a perfect golf + French vacation!

After the morning round, we went down the road about 60 miles and popped by Omaha Beach Golf Club for lunch and squeezed in a late-afternoon nine on La Mer Course — or in English, the Seaside Course. It’s a must-play for the scenes and history. I mean, sweet golfing scenes and historical significance? That’s pretty much my idea of heaven. I geeked out hard, but we also had to golf our balls fast as we were chasing the sunset.

When we rolled up to the first tee, it was wet, windy and pretty miserable, but as golf geek troopers, we persisted! The weather was rather fitting for the first hole, which is named in honor of Dwight Eisenhower, with an expansive fairway that heads toward a green with the English Channel in the backdrop. Every hole is dedicated to an individual that served as a prominent member in the Allied Forces during World War II.

Midway through the first hole, the rain started to peeter away to a drizzle and then it stopped raining altogether. It was definitely meant to be. There’s also a view of the water on the par-3 no. 2, but it’s not as spectacular as the holes to come. The third and fourth holes don’t feature seaside vistas, but the undulated and hilly fairways carved into the cliffs are equally picturesque.

Then, the par-5 fifth hole — which plays extremely long into the wind — leads toward the coast of Normandy and alongside the English Channel. It’s like a preview or tease of the signature sixth hole.

Hey, I just followed the pro here — anything for the right angle or perspective to capture the picture!

 

When you reach the sixth green or just beyond it, that’s the nadir of the entire experience, where golf meets history. About 20 yards past the green along the cliffs, it overlooks the village of Port en Bessin on the English Channel, as well as the War Memorial dedicated to the brave soldiers who served and/or lost their lives in the Battle of Normandy. The Memorial is above Omaha Beach, which served as one of the five landing areas in the Allied assault on German forces.

The Germans had built formidable defenses to protect this enclosed battlefield. Not far from the War Memorial is a hidden underground bunker that is accessible to the public. Omaha was crucial to the American-led Allied assault against German forces. While the Americans suffered thousands of casualties, they also managed to land 34,000 troops, and the Germans endured huge losses that reduced their strength by 20%, with no reinforcements coming to the rescue. The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history and the operations termed “D-Day” (June 6, 1944). The success in the Normandy invasions kicked off the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from the Nazis and put in effect what would lead to Allied victory on the Western Front.

Oh, by the way, did I mention I majored in history with a focus on the World Wars and interwar period in Europe? Sorry, I get carried away and I know I’m a huge geek (and damn proud of it!). I wished I would have had time to explore the Memorial, the fortifications, bunkers, museum and the town, etc. But it was a poignant experience. I got goosebumps.

Back to golf! Koenig kicked off a chain of events that led to a very memorable moment for me — mostly because it’s basically the only known video footage I have where I make a long-ish putt. (I have plenty of ones that I miss.) Basically, he asked me to take a video of his birdie attempt, so I followed his example, except I made my putt. SHADE.

Koenig has serious talent and definitely a future in golf commentating. Someone sign this guy now! (I’ll take 10% commission, please, k, thanks.)

Around the same time, the skies started to clear and it appeared like the sun was trying to creep through. As we approached the last two holes, the clouds cleared and gave way to a breathtaking pink sunset.

It was the perfect first golf day in France.

Oh wait, it got better! To cap it off, we stayed overnight at the Hotel La Chenevière, a chateau from the 18th century, which was occupied by German forces during World War II and then the Americans following the Normandy landings and D-Day. Of all the cool and nice hotels we experienced in almost two weeks, this was easily my favorite. I loved the old-school charm and boutique feel, not to mention historical significance, combined with the luxuries from modern updates.

Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to visit again in 2018!


This is actually kind of funny and I probably told every single person I encountered about this strange coincidence, so bear with me. In the past 4+ years, I’ve played more rounds of golf in the U.K. and Ireland than anywhere else in the world. No joke, no exaggeration. I’d estimate the total number of rounds to be around 50 — maybe more. (And yes, I realize many of you play more than that in a year.)

The best part is I have only used an umbrella once. Which was in Scotland at Prestwick GC during the week of the 2016 Open Championship. Sure, I’ve played in gale-force winds, but it was sunny. I’ve played countless times under dark and cloudy skies with a chance of sideways rain, but I’ve been hashtag blessed. Oh, there was one other time in 2013 when I was playing Enniscrone in Ireland and there was a torrential downpour that lasted maybe a hole and one half, but it wasn’t a big deal (and I wasn’t even carrying an umbrella — not that it would’ve done much good).

I found it especially amusing and comical that I played in crazy Scotland-like conditions while I was in France. I think the last time I braved such fierce elements was in 2004 at the NCAA D1 Central Regional women’s championship, which also happened to be my last competitive tourney. I wish I didn’t remember it because it was a crappy way to end my career — I made a 9 on a par-3. This was also before companies made rain gloves and rain gear/equipment that actually kept you dry and made golf playable. The worst was trying to keep your grips dry and the havoc that wreaked when everything was so drenched that it was a lost cause. Fast forward 13-14 years ahead and tech in golf gear has come a long ways. I never thought there would be a day that I willingly and enthusiastically played in torrential sideways rain and wind.


Stay tuned for the next installment of our golf party in France when we travel to Paris — where we played a hole with the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop and also checked out Le Golf National.

(All photos by P. Koenig)