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Gil Hanse's new European course is part of a dream golf experience

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October 27, 2022

Three gates. For security, sure. To keep desirable wildlife (stags) in and undesirable (wild boars) out, more accurate. Mostly, though, the three black gates at Les Bordes Estate serve a more psychological purpose for the members and guests lucky enough to enter them.

The gates peel back at a seemingly intentionally slow rate, as if to compel you to appreciate the distinct divide between the outside world and the 1,400-acre estate 90 minutes south of Paris you’re about to enter.

After you pass through, take note of the Gil Hanse-designed New Course on your right and the white sand beach on your left. As you wind through the immensely vast, secluded property—nearly double the size of Central Park—spot the stables over your left shoulder, equipped with a petting zoo and equestrian park. Hanging your final right turn, that idyllic pond on your right is where you can trade your clubs for a fishing rod.

You’ve reached the clubhouse and the Old Course at Les Bordes Golf Club, one of the most exclusive golf clubs in Europe. I was lucky enough to travel to the Sologne Forest to take a golf trip that is typically reserved for a well-to-do few, though it’s becoming (slightly) more accessible (more on that later).

The golf club dates back to the late 1980s, when Baron Marcel Bich, co-founder of Bic (the ballpoint pen, lighter and razor manufacturer) enlisted Robert von Hagge to build a course on his existing estate for personal use. After Bich’s death in 1994, Les Bordes fell into a state of limbo, changing ownership numerous times before being bought in 2018 by RoundShield Partners, a London-based private equity firm.

With new ownership came a new vision: to create an exclusive family getaway in a historic, serene setting. To complement the existing Old Course, Hanse—arguably the game’s hottest architect—was hired to build a second 18-hole course (plus a 10-hole par-3 layout), which opened in July 2021 to national acclaim. (It ranks in the top 100 in the world on a competitor’s list.)

Throw your car in park and make sure you have everything—you won’t be using it for a few days at this electric golf cart-only estate. Avoid the family of deer staggering along (you laugh, but it’s not an exaggeration) as you make the short walk to your luxury cottage off the 18th hole of the Old Course.

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Les Bordes Estate guest cottage

Courtesy of Les Bordes Estate

On the outside it’s a quaint, French-style chalet. On the inside, however, it’s a five-star hotel room—a patio overlooking the 18th green included—with a charcuterie board, baguette and local red wine awaiting you. When in the Loire Valley.

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Charcuterie board at Les Bordes Estate

Drop your bags and resist the urge to crash after your red-eye into Paris. Retrace your steps, hop in the cart waiting outside your chalet and head to Hanse’s first design in continental Europe.

At Les Bordes, Hanse and design partner, Jim Wagner, were given a sand-based site—a golf architect’s dream—allowing for firmer, faster playing conditions. As you play the course, still in its infancy, it feels as though the 18 holes were always there, and that there must’ve been little movement of the existing terrain.

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Courtesy of Les Bordes Estate

“We worked really hard to make sure our course sat softly in the landscape,” Hanse told Les Bordes.

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Courtesy of Les Bordes Estate

Whether by sprawling heathland or fescue-lined bunkering that’s rugged yet refined, the New Course not only sits softly in the landscape, it feels as though it is the landscape. The natural aesthetic is all the more impressive considering Director of Golf Jack Laws told me the eventual layout was selected from 50 initial possible routings.

Despite its moniker, the New Course is a return to an older, more classic style of golf course architecture. One that demands a more nuanced strategy than simply trying to avoid an imposing water hazard—and where angles, created by clever contouring and well-placed bunkering must be properly navigated in order to create the easiest shot into the green. And one that allows the golfer to run the ball up onto nearly every putting surface (14 of the 18, by my count), incentivizing creativity while giving options to the higher handicapper.

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Courtesy of Kevin Diss

Even with all of the strategic elements, the New Course is incredibly walkable—in fact, it’s a walking-only course. The terrain has plenty of subtle undulations to create some blind shots, but there is hardly an elevation change that will leave you catching your breath.

After playing the Hanse layout swiftly—under four hours as the members do—you’ll make your dinner reservation in the rustic, albeit modern clubhouse. Though the 15 Michelin-recognized restaurants within a 40-minute drive are tempting, Les Bordes and Executive Chef Jérôme Voltat hold their own.

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Clubhouse at Les Bordes Golf Club

Voltat, who has worked under numerous Michelin-star chefs and at five-star hotels around the world, kicks off the five-course meal on this night with roasted scallops over curry oil and a lime butter sauce. A glass of Sancerre from a nearby vineyard complements the Dover sole and grilled zucchini before a veal chop with mashed potatoes and baby carrots.

As is traditional in France, a sélection de fromage (complete with Munster, Roquefort and various other cheeses) bridges the gap between the main course and dessert. Apple pie with a caramel drizzle and a few more glasses of wine complete your first dinner at Les Bordes.

Remember avoiding those deer earlier on your walk to your cottage? If you’re at Les Bordes during the autumn mating season, you’ll want to double-down on that advice as you stumble back to your room. The shockingly loud groaning of eager stags surrounding your cottage is at first disturbing yet at the same time holds a bizarre charm that reminds you of the remote world you passed into after entering those three gates.

Day 2 of your golf escape to the Loire Valley kicks off with a tee time on the Robert von Hagge-designed Old Course. Well, actually there aren’t strict tee times at Les Bordes. The “show up when you want to play” policy is indicative of the estate’s laid-back vibe.

Between the Old and the New, it’s hard to imagine two more varied designs with such differing soil conditions and playability on the same property. As Les Bordes CEO Max Binda and Laws will tell you, that was by design.

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Courtesy of Les Bordes Estate

Compared to Hanse’s playable layout, von Hagge’s Old Course could just have easily been built by Pete Dye and situated in South Florida. Dye-esque mounding, island (or peninsula) greens and intimidating sightlines are present throughout. The tranquil setting amid the forest and lakes serve to lower your blood pressure as you play a course where the ball-striking demands would typically have the numbers spiking. The soil is denser and more saturated than that of the New Course, largely preventing the ground game and demanding precision through the air.

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Courtesy of Les Bordes Estate

The slope at the exacting Old Course totals 150 from the tips, and the layout feels every bit as tough as that number suggests. Take a couple hours to recover in the clubhouse, perhaps with a Les Bordes gin and tonic or a local IPA. See what Voltat has in mind for lunch. Head over to the adjacent locker room to take a few swings in the simulator, or play pool or foosball to pass the time.

Replenished and reenergized, take the seven-minute cart ride to another new Hanse creation at Les Bordes: the 10-hole Wild Piglet par-3 course, which opened in September 2020.

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Courtesy of Kevin Diss

Nearly every putting surface is busy with undulation. The holes range from about 65 to 135 yards, with most falling in the 80-100-yard range. For an estate looking to accommodate golfers and non-golfers alike, it’s a great way to get beginners and juniors started with the game. Some holes can be played simply with a putter, and lower handicaps will enjoy the creativity that the green contours accommodate.

Speaking of playing with a putter, Hanse also designed a massive Himalayas putting green adjacent to the course, which as you’d expect has a tremendous amount of undulation and a seemingly endless number of pins.

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Courtesy of Kevin Diss

Finished with your 28 holes for the day? Cue the five-course meal and enjoy every bit of the Loire Valley wine offerings.

It’s a routine many could get used to but few get to enjoy. At Les Bordes, there are currently about 220 members, which Laws estimates are 40 percent American and 60 European. As alluded to earlier, under new ownership, the estate has a vision of making Les Bordes an exclusive family getaway destination.

The rapid expansion of the golf facilities is only part of a multifaceted plan that will help Les Bordes achieve that vision. Prior to the recent rejuvenation of the estate, the residential offerings were quite limited. Golf club members had the opportunity to rent one of those luxury cottages you enjoyed for a couple nights. Perfect for a quick trip, yes, but as the Les Bordes staff told me, most stays in the cottages last two weeks or less. They needed a more permanent option.

The permanent option comes with the Cour du Baron luxury single-family residences, which range from three- to seven-bedroom homes in the middle of the estate. Renowned architectural firm Michaelis Boyd designed the residences, which come in both contemporary and traditional styles. Les Bordes Estate recently announced the official public launch of sales for the residences, which are being released in phases and range from approximately $1.5 to over $6.5 million, though most fall in the $1.5 to $3.5 million range.

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A rendering of a Cour du Baron home

VMI Studio

The first phase of 21 homes was initially open to Les Bordes Golf Club members, who have already reserved 18 of the residences. The final three homes from the first phase, as well as the next phase of 24 residences, are now available for public purchase. The homes are currently under construction, and the first move-ins are scheduled for late 2023.

Though golf club membership is not included with the purchase of a Cour du Baron home, homeowners get access to all of the extensive country club amenities, which will include restaurants, a café and juice bar, organic farm, gym and wellness amenities, plus some of the other activities within the estate, such as tennis and pickleball courts, horseback riding, electric go-karts, fishing, a white-sand beach and archery. That said, though golf club membership remains invite-only, Les Bordes staff say golf-minded homeowners may be well-positioned to ultimately be invited for membership.

An inside track, perhaps, to join what many consider one of the most exclusive golf clubs in Europe, and the opportunity to share a Loire Valley dream golf trip with friends and family. And, with Hanse’s New Course—along with the adjacent Wild Piglet par-3 layout and Himalayas putting green—Les Bordes may soon be regarded as the best all-around golf club in Europe, period.