Golfing in the South of France: Pont Royal

Dave and I welcome a new player to the GHClub Tour

After a back and forth battle for the last two games at Ballards Gore and the Caldy Club, the GHClub Tour was definitely in full swing and the only way for us to continue our excellent runs of form was to take our games overseas. 

Recently, Dave and I had got in contact with a reader of the blog from France – his message read as follows:

Hello Grace and Dave!

My name is Pierre and I live  in Salon-de-Provence. I’ve been a golfer for nearly all of my life (I am 57 years old) and would love to have a game with both of you to witness this legendary family rivalry first hand. Although I can’t offer you a place to stay, I’d be more than happy to invite both of you to play at Pont Royal, the club which I am a member of here in France. We’re very proud of the courses here at the club and you no doubt would’ve seen it on the television, if you keep up to date with European Golf. Please come and visit me this Summer, I would very much like to meet both of you.

All the best

Pierre LeGrande

That’s how Dave and I found ourselves cruising under the English Chanel on our way to the south of France and a date to play at the Pont Royal.

Brits driving abroad are often warned to be careful, as there are more than a handful of hazards that can sink a hole in your pocket and potentially ruin your trip away. Thankfully, both Dave and I avoided any run-ins with corrupt law officials and so we arrived in Salon-de-Provence just after nightfall on a balmy June evening. We were staying at a villa in the south of France close to the club so that we could down there early in the morning, but Pierre was still there to greet us with a bottle of wine, which I quickly passed off on to Dave.

Rather cunningly, Dave decided to ‘save’ that bottle of wine for the next night, so we were both fresh-faced, eager and more than a little nervous to tee-off bright and early at Pont du Royal. We had both assumed that playing at the likes of Lahinch would have prepared us for anything, but it was the sheer class of the occasion that was putting us off, rather than any perceived lack of skill – that and the evident skill that Pierre and the rest of his peers presented.

Having played golf for nearly all his life, rather than the handful of years Dave and I have between us, we soon discovered that we were about to be horribly outclassed. Despite valiantly teeing off and surpassing Pierre on a number of attempts, it soon became obvious that his knowledge of the course, coupled with his well-practised Little Game was about to put us to shame. On the up-side, at least the weather was pleasant and, for a Frenchman, Pierre was not one to gloat.

On our first European jaunt, with our first guest player, Dave and I were happy to concede defeat to a far superior player.

Congratulations Pierre!

Irish Roadtrip: Showdown at Lahinch

It was a long month after my defeat to Dave at the Caldy Club.

With the weather cheering up throughout May I’ve (thankfully!) had plenty of time to sort my game out and get some much needed practice in down at our local club. Having always espoused the virtues of playing golf free of any memberships, Dave and I finally bit the bullet and joined our local club.

As our golfing trips have been growing more extravagant over time, we’ve found that we’ve had to spend longer saving up for them, which has led to our games (or mine at least) deteriorating. Despite how much I’ve improved over since I first picked golf up, I’ve conceded now that I need regular practice to stay on top of my game and have a hope of beating Dave in what has now become a monthly excursion, rather than a weekly one.

Thanks to having unlimited access to 18-holes as well as a putting green and selection of short holes, I feel like I’ve been able to iron out the kinks that have been present in my game for a while. Unfortunately, whilst I’ve been sharpening up game, Dave has also had time to perfect his.

I’d already got the upper hand by the time we’d made it to hole 1 of the legendary Old Course at Lahinch Golf Club, thanks to the frequent stops on our way through Ireland. Dave has had a penchant for Guinness since his university days and, sure enough, the promise of a freshly poured pint of the black stuff was too much for him to resist. As I was driving, we ended up stopping for frequent breaks along the road from home to Dublin then on to Limerick and finally Lahinch. By the time we arrived at the course for our tee-off at the world-renowned Old Course, Dave had some significant bags under his eyes and a ‘sore head’.

The first game of golf was played at Lahinch in 1892 by a Lieutenant of the Black Watch Regiment and a Limerick businessman, on a course marked by feathers and sticks. Two years later Alexander Shaw and other officers from the Black Watch Regiment enlisted the help of Old Tom Morris to design a new links course that emphasised the sandhills of the area. Upon its completion Morris declared it ‘the finest natural course he had ever seen’. Whilst Dave and I certainly don’t have the same golfing pedigree as Old Tom, we were both inclined to agree with his sentiment.

Thanks to Dave’s unmarked Guinness-related handicap I was able to get off to a flying start on hole 1, avoiding the troublesome bunkers that Dave plunged straight into. After having troubles on the 2nd and 3rd, however, Dave was still breathing at my neck and I had to get my head firmly screwed on to maintain my focus.

Despite his hangover, the opulent environs and World-class environment had lit a fire in his belly and soon he was playing with the confidence of a pro. Thankfully, after a couple of duff drives on the 10th and 11th, it became apparent that Dave’s brief comeback was waning and I soon managed to putt my way to a 3-stroke victory.

Dave refused to admit that the Guinness might have affected his play and shook my hand firmly at the end, although we both know that the next time we meet will be our true battle.

A Trip to the Wirral: Caldy Golf Club

Our journey to the Wirral was a smooth one.

Travelling during the week often grants us a few benefits, one of them being quiet roads.

Radio 2 played quietly in the background as Dave and I discussed our last game, almost a full month ago now, where he had succeeded in breaking my 22-week winning streak. He’d done a very good job of not gloating since that day, something that I was surprised at considering his ebullient celebrations back in May.

Despite having played as a youngster, Dave had yet to return to his younger form before our game at Ballards Gore. Now, buoyed by his win, he was keen to turn the screws and ‘get in my head’ before we teed of at Caldy Golf Club.

A little bit about Caldy Golf Club

Old Tom Morris (1821-1908), uncle of Jack Morris the designer of Caldy’s original 9-holes.

Unlike the relatively young Ballards Gore (built between 1979-80), Caldy has a rich golfing heritage behind it. Jack Morris (the nephew of Tom Morris, four-time Open Championship winner between 1861 and 1867) drew up the plan for the original 9-hole course back in 1906 with the course officially opening in 1907. Over two decades later James Braid, himself a five-time Open winner, revealed his plans to extend the course to a full 18 holes.

Illustrious origins aside, at times it was feared that the Course at Caldy was not long for this world. Significant erosion of the cliffs that it rests on began only 2 years after the course was completed. By 1936 a short hole had to be abandoned, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the club took measures to prevent any more loss of the ground – by this point the 5th hole had already been lost to the sea, along with the back of the 3rd and another short hole.

Towards the end of the 80s £125,00 was invested in protecting the 3rd green, but even after this work was completed it was clear more needed to be done. A further £250,000 was ploughed into shoring up the cliffs – this work was completed in 1994 and has gone a long way in preserving this lovely course. Our enjoyment of the course, thankfully, wasn’t marred by any land erosion.

We followed a UPS delivery man down a well-kept drive to be greeted by a handsome clubhouse, parking alongside the van as the driver delivered his cargo to a chef waiting out front. As we entered the cook explained to us that he was currently in the midst of upgrading his kitchen, hence the package of Britannia cooker spares he was holding in his hands. We enquired as to whether we’d be able to order some lunch after our game, to which he replied in the affirmative – clearly a chef with some confidence in his engineering skills!

I’d like to tell you that I was able to wipe the smirk of Dave’s face and return to the top position in the Grace Hill Golf Club rankings, but unfortunately that did not happen. Although I drove well, clearly I was still lacking confidence after my recent loss which the caused me to collapse around the 5th hole. Dave, in comparison, confidently shot on part throughout the day peaking with an eagle on the final hole.

I’d like to say that I was proud of him, but that would make me a liar…