Escape to some great golf in the Alps

Seventy years ago, during World War II, the local French resistance group Maquis du Vercors used the scenic but rugged Vercors Plateau in the French alps to hide from the Germans.

The Vercors Massif was home to many resistance fighters, where they operated out of reach of the German occupation force for most of the war. Towards the end of the war, in a famous speech broadcast from London on the BBC on June 5, 1944, General de Gaulle called on the resistance fighters to take up arms and and fight the German army, all as part of a string of uprisings, in support of the planned allied invasion of Normandy. However, the Germans responded in force and landed several companies of troops, and in the Battle of Vercors defeated the resistance, killing more than 600 resistance fighters. Today you can still find many headstones and memorials in the area, in memory of the many fighters that died in that fateful battle.

The very same terrain that made the area suitable for hiding from the Germans is what makes Vercors a perfect area for mountain sports. In the winter, the Vercors ski area offers 245 km of downhills ski slopes with 91 lifts, and is the foremost cross-country ski area in France with over 900 km of marked and groomed tracks.

In the summer, the area is popular with climbers and spelunkers, as well as paragliders and balloonists, not to mention mountain bikers. In fact, you can find almost any summer sport, maybe with the exception of sailing, in the area.  We came looking for golf.

Golf de Corrençon en Vercors

If you head south from Grenoble up into the mountains you soon reach the nature reserve of Vercors and the town of Villard-de-Lans. The town is mostly known as a winter sports resort, but it is equally charming in the summer, with plenty of outside cafes and restaurants, and a nice if somewhat touristy shopping area.  If you continue south, up the valley towards the downhill ski resorts, you come to Corrençon en Vercors. When the road ends, right at the bottom of the slopes, you find Golf de Corrençon en Vercors.

We came to the course with two preconceived notions; we had stayed in Villard-de-Lans the night before, and I met someone that had played the course. I asked him if I could walk the course, or if I should rent a buggy. ”I walked it” he said, making it sound like no big deal. The second thing we heard was that there had been snow on the course at the end of May, only three weeks earlier, so we were worried it would not be in good condition.

Bad information on both counts, as it turned out. The good thing was that the course was in excellent condition. No signs of winter damage, excellent grass on both fairways and greens. The bad thing was that the person I had asked about walking the course turned out to be a tri-athlete: I’m not. But by the time I realized this, it was too late to get a buggy.

The course starts at an elevation of 1100 m, and already on hole one you start heading higher. This continues on hole two until it gets even steeper on hole three. Finally, on hole four you lose all that elevation in one short par 3, quite a spectacular hole.

The next few holes give your legs a bit of recovery time, as they are more level, until you reach the 8th hole and start downhill towards the club house. The 8th is one of the more spectacular holes, one of several par fours where you have a chance to reach the green on your drive, if you are one of the lucky persons that can hit both long and straight.  When you see the green far below, it is easy to get tempted, but the penalty for missing the fairway is usually a lost ball.

On the back nine, it gets really hilly, as the course climbs even higher. It is also here that you find the most spectacular holes, and the most spectacular views, one after the other. The course winds through the alpine forest, opening up here and there to views of snowcapped mountains, including on the three finishing holes, all heading downhill back to the clubhouse. The 17th hole is one of those tempting, drivable par fours, and the 18th is a short, somewhat disappointing par three, but with a view that makes up for it.

Back at the clubhouse, you can enjoy a beer on a terrace that has quite an ”after ski” feel. You can definitely tell that this is the end of the ski runs in the wintertime. And if you walked the course, your legs feel very similar to how they feel after a day of skiing. This in spite of the course being rather short, only 4992 m from the club tees.

All in all, this is a course you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area. It has a number of spectacular holes, and really no bad holes at all. Well worth playing, but consider a buggy unless you are in really good shape.

You’ll find the Golf de Corrençon en Vercors address, website, green fees, and all the details in our course description.

After-golf in Vercors

There’s plenty to do after golf in Vercors, enough to satisfy anyone’s appetite, especially if we are literally talking about appetite. The area teems with good places to eat. Two quite different restaurants we tried and liked are:

Le Bois Fleuri – A one Michelin star restaurant in the Hotel du Golf near the golf course, serving a range of inventive recipes by chef Jerome Faure.

Malaterre – An out of the way odd, but strangely inviting, restaurant deep in the mountains above Vercors. You have to pre-arrange your visit to Malaterre, but if you are interested in natural food from the area in a very rustic and simple setting, it is definitely worth a visit.

While in the Rhone-Alpes area, we had the opportunity to try two more golf courses, both along the A7/E15 motorway south of Lyon.

Golf Albon-Senaud

Domaine d’Albon Senaud is located south of Lyon, on the way to Valence. The club has two golf courses, a full length 18 hole course, and a par-3 nine hole course. Apart from golf there is also a nice but basic Best Western hotel, and an excellent restaurant featuring a local cuisine, all you need for a golf weekend.

The course

The 18 hole course starts right outside the restaurant with a short par three, well guarded by a small pond. An easy hole, unless you suffer from first tee jitters when seeing that water…

The 2nd hole is a par four with the tee high over the meadows below. You could drive the green, but a strategically placed pond makes that a risky proposition. 

The rest of the holes on the first nine are played on fairly flat and open terrain, with difficulties mostly coming from sand traps and ponds. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to find the right angles, but the second time you play the course you will find the first nine holes fairly easy.

On the back nine, the course completely changes character, and becomes more of a forest course.  Starting on the 11th hole, you all of a sudden realize that you are not far from the Alps, as the course now climbs steeply, very steeply.

The 11th hole is not very difficult, except for a completely blind tee shot making it hard to know where to aim the first time you play the course. Once you climb up the fairway, the hole opens up and you realize you probably should not have used your driver at all.

The course continues to climb, until you reach the 14th hole, a short par three that is probably steeper than it is long, reminding you that you are in the Alps.  It is only 126 m long, but probably more than that high. It falls off so steeply that you cannot follow your ball flight; you just have to hope that you hit the green.

The last few holes on the way in plays predominantly downhill, following a valley with a small stream catching any wayward balls.

After we were done playing, we really felt like we had been playing two different courses, with the back nine being so different than the front. All in all the course is quite short and not very difficult, except that it is sometimes hard to figure out which way to aim the first time you play the course. To really enjoy the course you should give yourself time to play it a second time.

You’ll find the Golf Albon-Senaud address, website, green fees, and all the details in our course description.

Golf de la Valdaine

Golf de la Valdaine is further south along the A7, past Valence. The course is right next to Chateau du Monard, which houses a hotel and a restaurant, as well as the pro shop. Again, everything you need for a weekend of golf.

The course

Now we have left the mountains behind. The 18 hole Valdaine course is a traditional parkland course, with wide expansive fairways sprinkled with a few trees.  With a par of 71 and an SSS of 69 it is a fairly easy course, well suited for a relaxing golf weekend without too much frustration and very few lost balls.

The front nine is played in an open landscape, with the holes going back and forth in near proximity of each other. Unfortunately, in near proximity is also the A7 motorway, so be prepared for some traffic noise on the first six or seven holes, too bad in an otherwise serene setting. None of the holes are particularly challenging until you come to the last hole on the front nine, a par four dogleg right bending around a large pond. To have any chance at making par, you have to shortcut over the pond twice, with required distances hard to judge. For a low handicapper this is an easy hole, but if you don’t hit the ball very far, it can be a frustrating hole with narrow landing areas.

On the back nine, the course changes character as it winds into a more forested environment, with the holes more isolated from each other. This also makes for some more interesting golf, with both more trees and more water in play, and also a few hills. Definitely some more challenging golf than on the front nine.

The last hole is a par four dogleg left, where the adventurous golfer can shortcut over some trees and almost drive the green. For some extra excitement, the clubhouse terrace is located directly behind the green, with only a very narrow bunker separating it from the green, an interesting challenge if you find yourself with a long approach shot and a slew of spectators. While we relaxed with a beer after the round, a ball landed right at the foot of our table, on the concrete patio. The local rule for how to deal with this was printed in french on the scorecard, so I’m not really sure what the correct course of action would be.

You’ll find the Golf de la Valdaine address, website, green fees, and all the details in our course description.

After golf

Here, too, the restaurant was excellent, serving a traditional French menu.

To sum up our short visit: The food was excellent everywhere we went, and the golf courses were all in good shape, not too challenging, but not uninteresting. With the exception of the front nine at Valdaine, the surroundings were peaceful, especially on the mountain course in Vercors. All in all a very successful few days in Rhone-Alpes, which definitely made us want more.