The stories about Vidauban Golf Club (formally known as Prince de Provence) are legendary. Many consider it one of the word's most exclusive courses. There are no signs leading to its isolated location in the Provence hills and its members have been known to blindfold their guests to keep the route secret. Its secluded location give it a mystique worthy of the hype.
This was the next course I decided I must play while in Europe. I was already going to be in Vidauban (where the course is located in southern France) for a few days and figured I should try my damnedest to get on this holy grail of golf courses. With the golf gods smiling upon me, I managed to secure an invite (and trust me, that wasn't easy). And as the French say, "Voila!" Before I knew it I was there at Vidauban playing a magnificent round of golf. So magnificent that I must share my story...
The drive to the course takes you through a large nature preserve called Plaine des Maures. Stunning...
The course history begins back in the 1970s when Robert Trent Jones Sr. bought the 2500 acre property from a farmer and decided to build a course that would, in his eyes, be his crowning glory. This was to be the best of the best. His plans included holding a tournament called The International Open that would eventually compete to be a 5th Major.
The vision was to eventually build three golf courses and over one thousand beautiful condos and villas like the two you see here. Due to years of legal troubles coupled with permit and construction issues, none of this ever came to fruition and there isn't even an actual clubhouse.
What you see now are just two model villas that have been converted into a clubhouse.
The course and everything involved nearly bankrupted Robert Trent Jones Sr. at the end of his life. Today Vidauban Golf Club is home to a small and discreet international membership who share a passion for the game, a vision for excellence and an appreciation for the sanctuary it provides for their families and privileged guests and an extraordinary biodiversity. Very few golfers ever get to see beyond the gates at this golf-only masterpiece. And many of those lucky few who are allowed special access are PGA and European tour players.
In fact, the tee pictured here was specifically built and named "Rory’s Tee" after Rory Mcllroy was crushing drives over the back of the range from the original tee.
After a short warm up it was off to the first tee. I was told that only one other member and his guest would be on the course today. So far, Vidauban was living up to its ultra private reputation. And I was loving it.
Being I had the course all to myself, I decided to use this to my advantage and play two balls on every hole and keep score for both, essentially playing 36 holes. My strategy was this: with ball #1 I would be aggressive with my lines and with ball #2 I would play conservative. Can you guess which ball won? I'll show you the card at the end.
I was warned about the donkeys at the back of the first hole and sure enough there they were (play video!). This would be the second set of donkeys on a golf course I would see on this trip. The second time would be at Les Bordes (another ultra exclusive club in France, located in the Loire Valley). More to come on that in a future blog.
The second hole was definitely my favorite on the course. After seeing the first hole and being blown away, I just couldn’t believe the second hole was better, but it was. The rock outcropping and bunkering made this one of my favorite short par 4s I’ve ever played.
The green complex was difficult and I hadn’t quite figured out the speed, resulting in my only 3 putt of the day.
The par 3 fourth hole is a great par 3 that I nearly holed out from 150 meters. This would have been epic!
A few of the holes have blind tee shots but the landing areas are wide and forgiving. Positional golf is key to scoring well here at Vidauban.
The 8th hole is a great par 5 that requires a perfect draw around the corner, leaving you with a chance of getting on the green in 2.
The ball marker pictured here below is the new logo of the course. A few years back it was discovered that the very rare and endangered Hermann's tortoise was living on the property. Because of this finding, all present and future construction was put on hold due to a court mandated order. One more obstacle that the club did not need! The club eventually won a court case allowing further possible construction (with explicit precautions to protect the tortoise of course). As a nod to the tortoise, the club decided to make the Hermann's tortoise shell its new logo. Very cool idea!
The 9th hole is a great par 4 up the hill. Two good shots are required to get on the green and a severely sloped green doesn’t mean a birdie is a given.
There is no halfway house and the clubhouse is across a road about 1/8 mile away. The 10th hole is opposite the first on the other side of the range. What looks like a tight hole off the tee is actually a quite generous fairway.
The green, however, offers little room for error. I missed long and made a miraculous shot out of the heavy rough to save par with my first ball. Those aggressive lines were risky to say the least.
The course is split in two by a country public road. Two gates (see video) that are manually opened and closed by members must be delt with twice during your round. Once after the 10th hole and again after the 17th. These gates are a nuisance but fires are a constant threat here in southern France so no mechanical gates are allowed for fear of fire trucks not being able to gain access if the fire knocks out the power.
The land here in Provence is really unique and the feeling I was in the "land of the lost" kept popping into my head. The bugs were the loudest I had ever heard on a course. The sound could drive you crazy if you had a headache for sure but I found it rhythmic and actually made me feel more connected to the course.
Human beings have wiped out much of the natural habitat where bugs create symphonies of sound. Fortunately here at Vidauban this is not the case.
I nearly knocked it on in two on this par 5!
The course took a long time to come to fruition and Robert Trent Jones Sr. became ill near the end of the construction. His son was asked to come and finish the course. You will never see a difference in style, though. They both allowed the land to dictate the course instead of forcing the design on the land.
The original plans called for three golf courses and as I headed to the next few holes I could see the property where the other two courses would have been. The remoteness of the location also adds to the mystery of Vidauban.
The course looks like something out of a DALI painting with all the parasol pines framing the holes.
Once you head back across the road you will find the 18th; a beautiful finishing hole. Although too short in my opinion because of today’s technology with distance, it still offers a beautiful conclusion to a truly exceptional golf course.
Robert Trent Jones Sr. may have never seen his beloved course get the recognition it deserved but I am happy to report I played the course at a tournament level with both balls. The 2st ball with the conservative lines came in at a smooth 1 under par and the 1st ball, where I took aggressive lines came in at 2 under par with a fantastic birdie on 18. This was a great lesson to learn. Both ways of playing did exceptional. I would say that paying attention to how you're playing that day should dictate how you approach the course. If you can hit it where you're looking, you can get aggressive. If you're a little off, stick to course management. But above all else...Have fun!
The CEO of the club, who was gracious enough to allow me to play this magnificent course, shall remain nameless - to protect his privacy. That being said, he was one of the most genuine and welcoming gentleman I met on my entire trip around Europe this summer. A true ambassador of the game. A pleasant surprise came when he gave me his personal copy of James R Hansen's book, "A Difficult Par" - showcasing Robert Trent Jones Sr and the making of modern golf. The book includes a chapter dedicated to Vidauban Golf Club. I read it cover to cover and found it very inspiring.
After the round was over and goodbyes were exchanged, I made my way back into town to pick up my girlfriend in the Vidauban town square. The hot sun and long hours on the course left me ravenous and as soon as I saw my girlfriend sitting at an outside bistro, I immediately sat down next to her and ordered a burger. Yes, a burger. Don't judge - I was beyond hungry and not in the mood to be adventurous with French food. Now let me just say...damn these people definitely know their food! This burger was phenomenal. The meat was perfectly cooked, the ciabatta bun lightly toasted w/aioli mayo and fresh homemade fries on the side. Yes, the perfect day of golf finished off with the perfect French burger.
This game has taken me to some amazing places but it’s always the people that bring me the most joy. Finding those who love this game as much as I do is rare, but here at Vidauban I felt like I was home. Truly one of the best golf courses I’ve ever played. Robert Trent Jones Sr. had a vision of this course being the most elite, exclusive, and challenging test in the game. After years of progress being thwarted by every imaginable issue (from permits to turtles), the current owners and management have realized Jones' vision in the most perfect manner. Hats off to you gentlemen!
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