Parfect escape: a round of golf at Ryder Cup Paris venue is a trip you won't forget in a hurry
I've very fond memories of my only trip to watch the Ryder Cup. In 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales, I ran on to the 17th green with my good friend Andrew Weir and thousands of other European fans in a state of absolute joy after our very own Graeme McDowell had just won his match against Hunter Mahan to ensure Europe regained the Ryder Cup.
Last year, Europe were successful again when the tournament was played in France for the very first time at a course which looked fantastic on television. So when the opportunity arose this year to go and play Le Golf National, I jumped at the chance.
My brother-in-law Simon and I flew with easyJet to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. From there, depending on traffic, it's roughly an hour-long journey to get to Le Golf National, which is south-west of the French capital.
We stayed at the Novotel which is right beside the clubhouse of Le Golf National so it could not be handier. The rooms are basic but the restaurant and bar area are modern and bright, and the excellent buffet breakfast was particularly popular with the many golfers staying at the hotel.
Before we played, I had a fascinating conversation with Paul Armitage, the managing director of Le Golf National. When Paul took over in 2014, he admitted that the course needed some "tender loving care" to turn it into a Ryder Cup venue and was losing a significant amount of money.
Now it is making a seven-figure profit, hosts a number of French amateur competitions and will be used for the 2024 Olympics (the format for men and women has yet to be decided).
Paul admitted that since the Ryder Cup, feedback and interest has been high from all golf fans, including Americans, but that the majority of customers are still French. Considering that 40,000 tickets were sold for the practice days of the Ryder Cup and 63,000 for the actual event, the demand for golf in France is strong and the Olympics are sure to be a huge success.
The facilities at Le Golf National are second to none. When you pay your green fees, you not only receive a goody bag, but you can have as many range balls for the driving range as you want. After a good warm-up there and on the huge putting green, we made our way down to the first tee of the Albatros (the Ryder Cup course).
Off a 10 handicap, I was the high handicapper in our fourball, as Simon is off scratch and we were joined by two French PGA professionals who were also low single-figure handicappers. We were greeted by the amiable starter on the first tee who had tea and coffee at the ready for our round ahead.
We played off the white tees which was just over 6,800 yards but there's several tee boxes to choose from depending on your standard.
The course lived up to every expectation. The weather was good which certainly helped and the rough had been cut back since the Ryder Cup.
But there's no easing into your round with water playing a big part on holes 1 and 2 - your second shot at the first is played with water all down the left, while the par 3 second is all over water.
After the par 5 third with a water hazard down the right hand side, the course has a slight links feel to it with the rough and strategically placed bunkers the main hazards to avoid.
Even when you find the putting surface, some of the green complexes (like the 4th) are huge and three putts can be a common occurrence.
There are scoring opportunities around the turn but what makes the Albatros course memorable is the last four holes with water playing a big part on three of them.
The 15th requires an accurate drive before playing a second shot over water to a semi-island green and then the par 3 16th is also all over water. The 17th is a brute of a long par 4 with heavy rough down either side and the finishing hole is another long par 4. Even with a good drive, your second shot will be a long iron all over water again. It's a fantastic finishing stretch and one which offers challenges to all golfers.
As for my round, let's just say I was much better on the back nine than the front nine. Simon made it look a little easier as he breezed round in 1 under.
The following day we played the smaller Aigle course. It's a much easier test for the higher handicappers with less trouble.
It may be a little rougher around the edges than the Albatros course but it provides a decent test and the greens were still very good. For early on a Sunday morning, the Aigle was still very busy with a lot of locals playing, so it's imperative you book well in advance to secure a tee time.
At night we just relaxed in the hotel but if you fancy a little jaunt out in the evening, the historic city of Versailles is only a 15-minute taxi journey away.
With everything on-site, Le Golf National offers those organising a trip abroad an easy life. And with a world-class golf course thrown in, it's a trip you won't forget in a hurry.