Ryder Cup course fit for a king — literally
September 28, 2018
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — A tip for Tiger Woods and his American teammates from the architect of the Ryder Cup course: Keep those drivers holstered.
"They are going to have to think about where to place the ball and not necessarily hit the ball very hard," Hubert Chesneau said. "If they go off the fairways they are going to be in real trouble and that is going to force them to change their habits.
"The Europeans," he added, "know that you don't always get your driver out at Le National."
Hosting the 42nd Ryder Cup, just the second held in continental Europe, represents a crowning achievement for Le Golf National's glorious Albatross course that the 75-year-old French architect built with Texas-born golf designer Robert von Hagge.
Although this won't be uppermost on the players' minds as they negotiate the artificial hills and lakes, the venue can quite literally claim to be fit for a king: It's built, Chesneau said, on land that used to feed France's royals before they lost their heads to the guillotine in the French revolution.
When queen Marie Antoinette, who was put to death in 1793, used to hanker for cake, the wheat for her flour may very well have been harvested from around here. The erstwhile fields now peppered with golf holes and lush greens served the nearby Chateau de Versailles, where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, his wife, lived before the revolution of 1789 forced them to Paris.
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Left of the fairway on No. 14 is a squat stone tower that dates back to that time; one of what used to be 12 gateways to the cereal fields that supplied the royal household, Chesneau said, speaking to The Associated Press in a phone interview.
From an architectural point of view, the land interested him because it was "completely flat and naked," a blank canvas upon which Chesneau could build "the stadium of golf that was in my head." Work began in 1987.
Chesneau said word went out to Paris-area builders that they could dump their unwanted soil from construction sites on the course, making the undulating hillocks that now give spectators a great view of the holes. The ballet of 250-300 trucks a day carrying dirt lasted nearly three years. Soil also was set aside from the lakes that were gouged into the site's clay to help drain it.
Chesneau was born in Senegal, where his father, also an architect, introduced him to golf as a kid, on a beach course of sand mixed with fuel to make a crust hard and smooth enough to play on. Chesneau's love of links golf shows in the open vistas of the largely treeless Golf National, although he kept a crescent of ancient oaks around No. 3.
He calls the closing holes "le tribunal" — the court — because "the end of a course is the hardest, the most stressful, it's where you pay the bill." Holes 15 to 18 snake back and forth like a shoelace across and around a lake and are bordered by bumps, crests and grandstands that give spectators views of the ensemble.
"I wanted a circus at the end," Chesneau said. "The idea was to have everyone at the end around these holes."
Phil Mickelson, for one, is impressed.
"An incredible golf course," the American said. "It's just in pristine, immaculate shape, and yet provides a very good challenge that's a fair challenge."
Chesneau said such praise "tickles the heart." His only concern is that many matches might not reach the 18th hole. In the Ryder Cup, matches are often decided before they get that far.
"I hope it will end with a couple of decisive matches on the 18th on Sunday," he said. "There, you'll see that the atmosphere will be spectacular."
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