Golf de Saint-Germain Saint-Germain-en-Laye
France

Tenth hole, 365 yards; The surest way to defend par of a short to medium length par four is at the green. By doing so, the hole never loses its challenge, despite changes in technology. At the tenth, Colt took the fill from the rail line and built up the green seven feet from its surrounds. Seth Raynor would have referred to this as his Knoll green. The club has extended the tees back forty yards since Colt’s day but golfers are capable of driving the ball eighty yards farther today with 460cc drivers and composite shafts than they were with hickory clubs when the course opened. Regardless, the hole’s challenge remains just as rigorous today thanks to its fortress-like green.

A view down the tenth fairway.

In what was once a flat field, Colt built green complexes of enormous interest and challenge.

This view from behind the tenth green shows how much Colt built up the green pad.

Eleventh hole, 155 yards; Though it is true that Saint-Germain doesn’t have any weak holes, it nonetheless would not be a standout course without, by definition, standout holes. Taken as a set, its quartet of par threes is truly special. Though not as dramatic as the other three, the eleventh is just as bedeviling, thanks to the seven bunkers that ring the green which slopes slightly away from the tee.

The one shot eleventh.

Though it doesn't look as fearsome as many on the course, this bunker (dubbed the 'coffin' by members) to the right of the eleventh green makes for a difficult recovery, especially in its narrow back half.

Thirteenth hole, 340 yards; On a course famed for its bunkers, the thirteenth stands out for its lack of them. With bunkers acting as visual guideposts for what to do/not to do off many of the tees, the absence of bunkers in the hitting area off the thirteenth tee tends to relax the golfer. Also, the green itself seems curiously devoid of bunkers. The overall effect is that the golfer swings merrily away from the tee, not appreciating a) that the long  and none too wide green  best accepts approach shots from left of center and b) the three foot deep grass swale to the right of the green. Only after carding and having failed to get up and own from the swale does the golfer begin to appreciate that the lack of guidance from the architect was used to great affect on this modest length hole.

The thirteenth looks innocuous from the tee but many approach shots end up in the grass swale to the right of the green.

Fourteenth hole, 445 yards; In contrast to the subtle thirteenth, the terrors of the fourteenth are immediately evident. Originally a par five when the course opened, ominous bunkers pinch in the fairway one hundred yards from the green and still are a factor for those that miss the fairway with their tee ball. The approach calls for a low flighted ball that runs onto the forty yard deep green. Though open in front, the green runs uphill as an extension of the fairway with two distinct tiers on the putting surface. The back of the green is nearly six feet above the level of the fairway and it is this elevation that makes recovery from grass bunkers on either side so tricky.

As seen from the fourteenth tee, Saint-Germain's superb maintenance practices give the course a rich texture that few parkland courses can match. The temptation to bite off too much from the tee on this dogleg left must be avoided as thick scrub, natural fescue, a nest of bunkers and overhanging trees block the approach when in the rough.

This nest of bunkers is well short of the fourteenth green, which is itself bunkerless.

This side view of the fourteenth green indicates the huge amount of dirt that Colt required to build up its long green pad.

Fifteenth hole, 525 yards; Random land movements lead to a variety of holes and therefore, flat courses generally suffer in comparison with courses with rolling topography. That is not true in the case of Saint-Germain, whose variety of holes is a testament to Colt’s talent as an architect. Take this hole for instance. Needing fill for green pads, Colt elected to create two depressions in the ground, the first one from 220 to 270 off the tee along the right and the second one 150 yards from the green on the left. The golfer needs to zigzag his way down this long fairway without getting caught in either depression. As these two features are below the grade of the land, they appear natural.

Sixteenth hole, 320 yards; The game has seen enormous change since Colt first built Saint-Germain for hickory golf clubs. Despite the advance of technology, Saint-Germain has held up very well. Indeed, the sixteenth might be a better hole today than when it was first laid out as today’s equipment brings the green nearly in reach for long hitters. The temptation to over swing in having a go for this green must be resisted as the trouble comes when golfers press for too much from this tee.

The tempting view from the tee of the drivable sixteenth. The large grass covered mound right and bunker forty yards short left of the green were added by the club in 2006, successfully giving long hitters much upon which to think.

Seventeenth and eighteenth holes, 155 and 445 yards respectively; Located in the corner of the property, a quarry was put to great use by Colt and allows this stylish course to finish with panache. At the seventeenth, he benched the tee area into the hillside and then built-up a green pad on the far side of the quarry. By doing so, Colt also left enough room for the drive off the eighteenth tee to play over the quarry. The last fifty yards of the eighteenth highlight the immeasurable benefit that Saint-Germain receives from being so well presented by Green Keeper Jean Marc Legrand and his crew. The ground gently slopes toward the green and the uniformly fast and firm playing conditions allow the golfer of today to still play a low running shot as Colt intended.

The one shot seventeenth plays across a quarry.

This tee ball at the seventeenth fell short of the green, leaving a difficult recovery.

The final tee ball is a thrilling one across the quarry to a wide fairway.

Can the golfer chase an approach past this string of bunkers and onto the eighteenth green? The ground is guaranteed to be firm enough to give it a try.

Saint-Germain hosted the French Open nine times, from 1927 through 1985. Such luminaries as Bobby Locke (1952), Sandy Lyle (1981) and Seve Ballesteros (1985) won here. As the game transitioned from hickory shaft clubs to steel and then with the improvements in agronomy, the winning score was lower with each subsequent French Open. As the course property is hemmed in on all sides by a national forest, it lost the ability to continue to expand. Regardless, its present length of 6,750 yards packs plenty of challenge for its well heeled members. Those fortunate to play here today will no doubt share the same sentiments of admiration as expressed by Bob Jones and Ben Hogan after they played their respective matches here.

The French flag is between the putting green and the first tee. The clubhouse provides grand views of play on the ninth green.

The End