Eschewing more familiar golfing spots, OWEN HOULIHAN heads to France

WHEN it comes to planning a short golfing trip further afield, conversations regarding location have usually coalesced around the usual suspects.

The sun-kissed fairways of Spain or maybe Portugal’s Algarve often feature towards the top of preferences, offering the winning combination of warm weather, multiple resorts and competitive pricing.

Closer to home, Ireland and Scotland also hold much appeal for the travelling party, with their appealing mixture of golfing challenges and enjoyable off-course bonhomie.

But France? Well, a trip to the neighbours across the Channel would probably not be immediately near the top of the list as a primary golfing destination.

It’s a perception gradually being challenged by Golfy, a network of around 160 courses and hotels based primarily in France, aiming to spread the word regarding the country that will, after all, play host to the Ryder Cup just next year via a discount and loyalty scheme.

The network spreads far and wide throughout France, as well as reaching into nearby Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, but our trip was centred around the wine-producing Burgundy region, around 90 minutes south of Paris in the heart of France.

First overnight stop on our golf and grape mini-odyssey was the Domaine de Vaugouard at Fontenay sur Loing, one of those sumptuous French country mini palaces you might expect to be used as a backdrop for a James Bond film, all style and sweeping outside staircases.

Boasting 11 stunningly-presented rooms in the 18th century chateau proper and another 31 in outbuildings, it seemed rather undersold by its apparent four-star rating and certainly didn’t disappoint.

Neither did the course, only created and designed in 1987 and featuring many picture-postcard holes, weaving in and out of the surrounding woodland and ornamental lakes, offering the ideal balance between pleasant stroll and sporting challenge.

Our 18 holes negotiated, we kicked off the golf shoes, freshened up and sat down to an array of gastronomic treats from Les Saules restaurant, all the while able to enjoy the warm early summer evening on the chateau’s terrace to round off the day.

The concluding cognac added the perfect postscript to the opening day, although it hardly made the early-morning alarm call ahead of moving on any the easier.

Our day two destination was the Domaine de Roncemay, comprising of another 18 holes and a 19th century hunting lodge hotel and outbuilding - a sort of mini version of the Vaugouard - not far from Auxerre.

Another magnificent setting, the golf course was an enticing mixture, weaving in and out of an ancient forest of oak and beech, peppered with fish-laden lakes and ponds, before eventually opening out to a sort of plateau you might more normally expect to see at a British links venue.

Amid such inspiring surroundings, it always helps to be on top of your game and in this regard I had to raise a glass – if you’ll pardon the pun – to my playing partner Jean-Marc Brocard, vineyard proprietor in the world-famous Chablis district.

Somehow, the combination of Jean-Marc’s broken English, my dredged-up A Level-standard French, allied to a few Gallic shrugs and the odd hand and arm gesture or two delivered a winning on-course combination.

Game won, we hopped into our transport for the 45-minute ride to Jean-Marc’s pride and joy, sitting proudly atop the valley in Chablis and offering stunning views of the scale of wine production in this well-renowned region.

Surely a go-to for any aspiring oenologist, but equally absorbing for the simply curious newcomer, our tour encompassed the mechanics of grape-growing, how the flavours were influenced by factors as wide-ranging as the direction the vines faced, or the character of the soil their roots were embedded in.

The doors were also thrown open on the huge bottling and distribution procedure, the likes of the Co-op and Marks and Spencer being among the biggest customers, while naturally enough Jean-Marc also guided us through a detailed and informative tasting of his Petit Chablis, Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru.

Suitably informed and entertained, we retired to Roncemay to round off our trip with a further gourmet serving from chef Pascal Guellec.

What golf in France may lose to the likes of Spain or Portugal in popularity, availability or pricing, it certainly gains in class, style and quiet beauty.

Travel facts

  •  Domaine de Vaugouard boasts 11 rooms at the château, 31 in the outbuildings, a gastronomic restaurant, bar, sauna, fitness room, tennis court and other facilities. See
  • The Brocard vineyard offers a variety of visits, tours and tastings. See
  •  The four-star hotel, spa and 18 holes Domaine de Roncemay offers 15 rooms, bistro and restaurant, open-air pool, well-being space and gym. Room rates start at 139 Euros with special offers often available. 18 holes of golf starts from €62 for the public, with Golfy discounts available. See
  • The Golfy discount card is accepted at 162 golf courses across four countries, including France, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as 130 hotels in France.
  •  The Golfy Indigo e-card offers a 25% discount on green fees and 15% off accommodation. It is available for a special price of just €49 for UK and Irish golfers (the standard cost of the card in France is €110). The Golfy Platine e-card provides a 30% discount on green fees and 25% on golf breaks, and is available for €180.