Golf de Saint-Germain Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Not all sites are created equal. On rare occasions, architects are given a wonderful site with which to work and their job is ‘not to messit up’ as Bill Coore once said about the opportunity at Sand Hills. On rarer occasions still, they might even turn a ‘nine’ site into a ‘ten’ golf course. Far more frequently, architects are given property with more modest potential and it is their job to create the golfing interest by adding features to the land. Each opportunity represents a different challenge for the architect and each offers its own unique sense of satisfaction for a job well done.
In the case of Harry Colt, he and his firm are associated with over three hundred courses world-wide. Built primarily during a thirty-five year period before he became too weak to travel in the late 1930s, Harry Colt worked with a wide range of properties. Many consider Royal Portrush with its exquisite crumpled links land to be near the ideal canvas. In 1929, Harry Colt made the most of the opportunity as his routing took full advantage of the many natural landforms.
Eight years prior in 1921, Harry Colt faced an entirely different challenge at Saint-Germain, located in the leafy suburb just west of Paris. He was given a 110 acre site with few natural landforms. Indeed, excluding a quarry at the far corner, the high to low point on the property was a mere five feet. Furthermore, a newly constructed rail line bisected the property. From this unpromising start, Harry Colt created one of his finest designs.
To give the featureless land interest, he relied on two primary means. The first was that he employed to great effect the fill created from the construction of the rail line. Many of the course’s most interesting green complexes were built-up using it, including those found at the stellar seventh, tenth, and fourteenth holes. Also, Harry Colt deployed 116 bunkers around the course, making it one of his most heavily bunkered designs. The placement of the bunkers gives the course much of its strategic interest as we see below.
Holes to Note
First hole, 430 yards; An atypical hole for Saint-Germain, the golfer sees a long straight fairway that feeds uninterrupted onto the green. Sound easy? Far from it, as out of bounds is down the right and the broad slope of the green’s front third has seen many a golfer start his round by putting, then chipping, then putting again. Like the first at Hoylake, this makes for a superb nineteenth hole.
Second hole, 500 yards; In many ways, the second hole epitomizes the good decisions that have taken place at Saint-Germain in recent times. Back in the mid to late 1990s, a number of new courses were opening across France, putting pressure on the board at Saint-Germain to make sure that their course remained relevant. A few proposals from various architects were entertained, none of which were true to its Harry Colt roots. For instance, one architect called for clover leaf bunkers to be built throughout the course. At this time, a new green was built here at the second, quite large and out of character with Harry Colt‘s other seventeen greens. Sensing a loss, Philippe Delaune, the President of Saint-Germain, reached out for guidance from his friends at such Harry Colt clubs as Sunningdale and Swinley Forest. The resounding message that he received back was to remain faithful to Harry Colt and his design principles. In that vein, rather than trees as had been discussed, a cross hazard was added 220 yards from the second tee in 2001 to help further the dogleg qualities of this hole. Presently, Saint-Germain is also exploring returning the second green to its original Harry Colt design.
Fourth hole, 460 yards; The first of its great holes, the fourth sweeps to the left with two pairs of bunkers on the inside of the dogleg pushing the golfer to the right. One of the deepest green side bunkers is front right, meaning the golfer dearly loves to approach the green from left of center.Understanding how Harry Colt created such greenside bunker depth on a flat site is to appreciate his enormous talent as a golf course architect.
Fifth hole, 190 yards; When routing a course, Harry Colt famously located the par three holes first. Not surprisingly, that means he designed and built as many standout par threes as any architect. However, what is surprising is that this one, built over flat land, might well be worthy of inclusion on an eclectic list of Harry Colt‘s eighteen finest holes. In regards toits merits,Stuart Hallett, former assistant Green Keeper at Saint-Germain and now head of Stuart Hallett Golf Design, eloquently captures the genius that Harry Colt poured into this hole when he writes,
The setting is beautifully created from extensive cut & fill. The raised tee and green create movement not only around the green, but also the quarry type environment from tee to green that breaks up the dead ground with imagination. At190 yards from the back, the shot is made to look much more difficult than it actually is. At approximately95 yards,two bunkers form the face of the false quarry, full of broom and natural scrub. The two bunkers plus scrub hide just enough to make the hole perspective interesting with the blind fairway adding difficulty to distance evaluation.The fairway itself feeds downhill into a fairway bunker at 155yards that appears much closer to the green when standing on the tee. This key bunker tricks the player into playing the full distance to the flag with a long iron rather than safely flying the bunker with a shorter club and relying on the firm and generous green entrance to run the ball towards the flag for a safe par. The temptation to hit a full length shot into a narrow, two-tiered green leaves no margin for error. The deep grassy hollow to the right of the green makes saving par a severe test, as do recovery shots from the left where two greenside bunkers may save you from the out-of-bounds, approximately 10 yards from the green.The beauty of the hole comes with local knowledge when the duffer option becomes more than just a bail out option. A punchy running shot must fly the first two quarry bunkers and a diagonal mound that masks the green entrance to pitch at approximately 135 yards.Mounding and fairway slopes will send the ball dangerously close to the bunker short of the green. However, by choosing the right landing zone, shot trajectory, and of course careful shot execution ensure a funnel type green entrance and a gentle run uphill towards the center of the green.
Sixth hole, 575 yards; Harry Colt utilized bunkers at Saint-Germain to accomplish several different purposes. In this case, Harry Colt built a string of cross bunkers only a one hundred and ten yards from the tee but they accomplish their goal admirably well: they obscure what would otherwise be a fairly prosaic view of a flat field while at the same time providing a thrill to golfers who delight in seeing their tee ball carry the scruffy hazards.
Seventh hole, 180 yards; The most pronounced green pads at Saint-Germain are typically near the rail line which comes as no surprise as that is where the dirt was. The one at the seventh is a particular doozey, with its seven foot false front having confounded golfers for decades.
Eighth hole, 360 yards; After playing a round, the golfer is surprised to learn that Saint-Germain is on a relatively tight piece of property as many of its holes enjoy a spaciousness and seclusion not readily associated with just 110 acres. The eighth is such a hole with mounds and trees perfectly used to channel the golfer’s eye toward the green. As recently as 2000, Saint-Germain lacked the strategic interest it currently enjoys as trees rather than bunkers frequently dictated play. With trees encroaching too far in, the playing corridors became narrow and the sole question asked of the golfer was if he could execute one straight drive after another. Fortuitously, a severe winter storm felled several hundred trees on December 26th, 1999.Though original viewed as a disaster, Club officials were quick to appreciate the open views left in the storm’s wake.Ever since that fateful winter, a discreet but determined tree removal program has continued to open up the course, removing unsuitable species that had been introduced over the past several decades. A direct result is the excellent turf quality which Saint-Germain now enjoys, thanks to improved light and air flow.