For a change of scene, delicious cuisine and some challenging golf, Mike Kaas Stock heads to the region of Brie in France and finds that everything is tres jolie…
It’s a bright, warm 6am start for me. I’m up early because I want to be at Domaine de Crecy Hotel and Golf in France by lunchtime. After a 45-minute drive from my house to the Eurotunnel, it’s then about three hours on the road, heading towards Paris, turning east just before hitting the city.
It’s an uneventful journey, which involves listening to the complete Blues Brothers collection and I can’t help but adapt a line from that classic film: “There are 300 kilometres to go, I’ve got a full set of golf clubs are in the back of the car, the sun is shining and I am wearing sunglasses.” I have a feeling I’m going to have a good day.
Domaine de Crécy Hotel and Golf is located near the beautiful town of Crécy-La-Chapelle. This is the heart of Brie country, heaven! The hotel dates back to the 17th century and was originally a large, grand farmhouse. Now converted and with 29 elegant rooms, it still has a rustic and authentic French charm. At the centre is a courtyard, which provides a perfect relaxing area, complete with swimming pool and outdoor seating for the restaurant.
I am in the heart of the magnificent French countryside but still only 40 kilometres from Paris and 15 kilometres from Disneyland. The well-known La Vallée Village is also nearby, perfect for those looking to add to their stylish wardrobe. With a lot of activities here to keep kids and partners happy, I could keep myself very busy but I am here for the golf… and to visit a very special course.
ARNOLD PALMER COURSE There are two attached golf courses here; the nine-hole Montpichet and the stunning 18-hole Vignoly. And it’s the Vignoly that has my attention, for this is the only Arnold Palmer-designed course in France, and let’s face it, there are only a handful in the whole of Europe. Anyone who is a fan of the great man just has to play here.
Montpichet was also originally designed as an 18-hole course, but the owners decided to let nine holes return to nature and concentrate on maintaining and managing Arnold Palmer’s impressive creation. So Montpichet is for guests and visitors who want to practice, or who feel that they are not quite up to taking on a Palmer’s masterpiece. For those looking for multiple courses, Fontainebleau and Le Golf National are only a short drive away, so there is plenty here to keep even the diehards happy.
AUTHENTIC FRENCH GETAWAY I have an apartment to myself with superb views out to the French countryside. The space is divided into a lower living area/bedroom and there is a mezzanine area with a further two beds. The accommodation is great for families and with one of the biggest attractions in Europe (Disneyland Paris) only a short distance away, this is the perfect place to stay.
A stroll around the grounds really does bring home the feeling of peace and calm. Although only a short distance from the French capital and even less to Charles De Gaulle airport, the only air traffic I see is way off on the horizon. The setting is perfect for anyone looking for that authentic French experience.
TIME TO TEE Later that afternoon, and after a quick trip to the driving range to remind myself the intricacies of the game, I head out onto Palmer’s Vignoly course. It’s a hot day but I decide to walk the rather than take a cart, I want to experience this course from the ground, plus I have been invited for a meal in the restaurant later and need to work up a good appetite.
When I play a new course I want to be able to stand on every tee and be impressed by my surroundings. The views and the general lay of the land are very important factors. And I must say, I am not disappointed.
Hole number one sets the tone with a lovely par-4 into a valley. The fairways are not overly tight but there are plenty of obstacles to keep you on your toes. Just be aware of a line of bunkers on the right that are best avoided, unless you are able to clear them.
So, warmed up, I move on to hole number two, where an abundance of water comes into play. This is a par-5, with a dogleg left, the fairway is hugging the lake on the left for most of the way. Once you get within range of the green, remember that you have water to the left and rear and two bunkers guarding the approach.
At hole number six everything seems to unravel for me. It’s very narrow off the tees, with water to the left and an impenetrable mass of trees to the right. As a lefty with a tendency to slice, it’s the water that is my biggest concern. After strangely losing two to the dark woods, I bow to the inevitable, cut my losses and drop a ball.
I am overheating and so decide to pop into the clubhouse after the 9th and get some refreshments. It’s a hot day out there and I neglected to bring any water. Plus I am of the opinion that a glass of French beer may improve my game, which has been wilting in the afternoon sun.
Half an hour later I continue and, much to my disappointment, the beer doesn’t seem to have helped in any shape or form. There is nothing that I can blame for my poor show; the greens are perfect and the fairways are reasonably forgiving (if only I could land on them).
The back nine are just as beautiful as the front, with water very much a feature of almost every hole. It’s not every day that you get to play an Arnold Palmer course and, even with my lowly performance on the sixth hole, I am thoroughly enjoying it.
It seems that taking a beer break was a good idea afterall; I have started the back nine before the latecomers have arrived and after the afternoon players have finished, so I appear to be very much on my own.
The shorter holes are usually more to my liking but I find the par-5s here to be well thought-out and enjoyable to play. They seem to have a lot more substance than many – the 10th being a perfect example, with both a dogleg left and right, and water to found on the left on the first dogleg and on the right nearer the green. The course completes with an excellent slightly uphill par-4, and by the time I finish, it is early evening and a cool breeze has brought welcome relief.
FAMILY BUSINESS Later that evening in the restaurant, I meet up with brothers Adrien and Pierre-Louis xxxx [surname here?], whose family own and run Domaine de Crécy. They took over the business several years ago and have been working hard to promote both the hotel and the course. Over excellent food they tell me of the family’s plans going forward. As well as the constant work to maintain and improve the course and the hotel, there are other plans to create further attractions and reasons to visit. “We also want to reach out to UK golfers and persuade them to come just that little bit further into northern France,” says Adrien. I must admit, I noticed on my journey here that the amount of UK-registered cars became less and less as you move away from the far north. This is a shame because British golfers just don’t know what they are missing. It’s such a short distance and the courses really are worthy of our attention.
CRECY LA CHAPELLE The next day, before I begin my journey home, I decide to visit the nearby town of Crécy la Chapelle, known as the Venice of the Brie. The town exudes charm and authenticity, a perfect place to sit at a café on a sunny day and watch the world go by. I make a point of visiting the town’s boulangerie to stock up with croissants and pain au chocolate. I find it’s the perfect bribery to take back to my wife so that she forgives me for going off on yet another golf trip. I know this is Brie country, but the thought of driving back with some ripe cheese sweating away in my car just doesn’t appeal, so I stick with the croissants.
I arrive at the Eurotunnel Calais and in no time at all am back on British soil. A trip by car to France is so simple and there is no excess charge for golf clubs. So my advice is to explore our closest neighbours… France is on our doorstep and if you are up for a drive that is still less than the time you would spend travelling by plane to one of the better-known golf locations, there is a world of possibilities awaiting you.
Good to know
You can book your trip to Domaine de Crecy at www.GreatGolfHoliday.com
Eurotunnel have trains departing every two hours from Folkestone with a crossing time of 30 minutes. www.eurotunnel.com
P&O travel between Dover and Calais with roughly one sailing every hour www.poferries.com
Eurostar have trains to Paris every 30 minutes www.eurostar.com
Domaine de Crecy website www.domainedecrecy.com