Researchers have discovered that an artist will generally produce his or her best work when their driving force is love rather than lucre; that is, not necessarily when the subject is a romantic one but when the artist is inspired by their muse and not by the fact that someone has offered them a great deal of money to get the job done.
So it was with Vidauban Golf Club in the South of France, a precious property close to the unremarkable small town of that name some 25 miles north of St Tropez in the hills of La Plaine des Maures. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones, who may be regarded as the father of modern golf-course architecture, on land he acquired for himself. He built the course of his dreams in a landscape so breathtakingly beautiful that even if you shoot your worst round the year you will walk off feeling you’ve just had one of the games of your life.
Vidauban is what you may get if the designer is also the client, in this instance the man who created such esteemed layouts as Valderrama in Spain, Pevero in Italy and Peachtree in the United States and who was entrusted by the relevant authorities to redesign several US Open venues and Augusta National. Sculpted out of a landscape which features the distinctive reddish/brown stone of this region of Provence, it is a work of which Rodin would have been proud if golf was his gig. It certainly makes you think.
I’ll cite three examples. The 4th is a par-three where one might sense the influence of the 16th at Augusta, which was reworked by Jones a few years after that course was opened. The issue at Vidauban is how much you are prepared the take on the risk of going in the water versus playing safely to the right. The 10th is a wonderful shortish par-four which plays gently downhill all the way to the green, the greenside bunker on the left being the only one on the hole. Should you be bold and try to hug the tree line with your drive or play out to the right, making the hole longer? The 12th is a par-five where you need to figure how much of the slight dogleg you might attempt to chew off with the driver. The view out to the surrounding hills is only fully realised as you leave the tee and head down the fairway. If you miss many of those here, by the way, you will likely find yourself amid pine trees or lavender.
While Jones loved his project, it proved to be a huge financial burden. He died in 2000 with the course’s very survival in doubt. Eventually it was saved and one of his sons, Rees, played it soon after his father’s passing. “This golf course was his life’s project,” he said. “Now I can see why it meant so much to him.”
Vidauban is a very private golf club, with barely 20 members. The story goes that an Augusta member visited shortly after it opened about 20 years ago and remarked as he left: “And I thought we were exclusive.” There is a small village on site, with apartments for members and their guests, and the club has associated itself with several prestigious environmental organisations, being respectful of the delicate eco-system in which its course has been created. A course which is one of the finest in continental Europe.
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