For the first time since its inception in 1927, Paris France plays host to the 42nd Ryder Cup. All week long the top competitors representing the United States and Europe will call Le Golf National their home. Stretching 7,183 yards, this par-71 course was made to showcase big events and create pressure packed finishes.
Le Golf National is comprised of three different courses including the 18-hole Aigle (Eagle) and the 9-hole Oiselet (birdie) courses. For the 2018 Ryder Cup, the focus will be on the 18-hole Albatros which opened in October of 1990 designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge. Le Golf is now the yearly home of the European Tour’s Open de France.
When word came that Le Golf would play host to the Ryder Cup a number of measured improvements were made between 2014 and 2016. Manmade lakes, redesigned greens and increased bunker and fescue areas were renovated to welcome in the players and fans in 2018. Not known as a driver’s course, players will have to play a game of patience off the tees and around the greens.
Often looked at in three sections, Le Golf National starts tough, mellows in the middle and ramps up even more difficult in the closing stretch. Water throughout the course creates a necessity for accuracy no matter where you are. Nowhere is that more important that closing four holes known to tour players as the ‘Loop of Doom’.
The opening stretch (Holes 1-3)
The opening three holes give players a bit of everything straight from the start. The first hole is a 419-yard par-4 that will force competitors to choose a long iron or wood off the tee. A short iron into the green will be flanked by bunkers to the right and water stretching nearly the entirety of the hole to the left.
After navigating the treacherous opening par-4, the second hole gets cut in half with a 210-yard par-3. Water continues to threaten the left side while three bunkers loom off the right and back sides of the green. Keep in mind that the farther left the pin placement is will mean more water for the players to carry off the tee.
With a four and a three already set up, it’s only fitting the third hole is a 558-yard par-5. A slight dogleg right will tempt players to break out driver for the first time in the round and go for the green in two. Water is less prevalent at the third but the green is still guarded, this time by a large bunker on the right and flanked by trees coming in.
Increasing the difficulty on the right side will be a large oak tree placed just ahead of the green side bunker. Ryder Cup officials are likely to place the pin on the challenging right side throughout the weekend. A pin to the right will make the approach increasingly more difficult and give players and early make or break choice coming into the green.
Closing out the Front Nine (Holes 4-9)
Over 60 yards longer than the first par-4 of the day, the fourth hole of the round is the first true test of the driver on the course. With driver in hand accuracy will again be of the utmost importance as fairway bunkers line both sides of the target location. With the second shot, players will be firing into an elevated green full of precarious ridges and contours to contend with.
Five, six and seven all feature treacherous par-4’s that, if played intelligently, can yield birdies, points and momentum for these pairings. Ranging from 405, 380 and 457 yards respectively, all three holes in this stretch include thick fescue along the edges. If players can keep it in the fairway and dialed in with their irons a three-point swing isn’t out of the question.
The deceptively open par-3 eighth hole, from a far, looks like an area where players can get aggressive. Players will need to be weary from the tee box especially in days of strong wind. This large, undulating green will be difficult to navigate, even more so if you land in the relatively small but deep green side bunker.
While present on the left side of the fairway, water along the edge shouldn’t come into play at the par-5 ninth. The closing hole of the front nine will likely be reachable in two shots with favorable wind. The difficultly lies in the narrowest green on the course including a series of three, deep bunkers leading up to the front.
The calm before the storm (Holes 10-14)
The tantalizing 10th hole will challenge some of the Ryder Cup’s long bombers to attempt to reach the front of the green from the tee. The 375-yard par-4 is gettable but dangerous with water on the left and small green side bunker tucked up tight. A pin placement left will likely let players dial it back and play a short iron in for a better look at birdie.
Just two years prior the par-3 11th was redesigned to include a longer water hazard and two more bunkers behind the green. If players can carry the water and not go long into the sand, they will have to fight a double sloping green from left to right. With so many variables to watch out for there will be more than one match where par may win the hole.
Sitting at 433 and 415 yards, respectively, holes 12 and 13 each include a dogleg right into the par-4 greens. Water sweeps across both holes while a grouping of oak trees once again will make it a difficult in to the green on 13. It will be difficult to gain points on this two hole stretch but very easy to lose points and momentum at a critical juncture.
The final par-5 of the course will certainly test every player regardless of their personal strengths. If you get aggressive off the tee and try to hit the green in two, be wary of the very large, very menacing bunker before the green. Take an easy approach in and laying up forces the player to expertly navigate the two-tiered green with spin and precision to get out with par.
The Loop of Doom (Holes 15-18)
The final hour holes of the Albatros Course are referred to as many by “The Loop of Doom”. This 1,536 yard stretch of closing holes may look average on paper but will surprise even the most seasoned golfer. Surrounding waters, prevailing winds and peculiar pin placements will leave both teams in trouble throughout the weekend.
As described by Team USA Captain Jim Furyk, the par-4 15th “is all about where rather than how far.” Referred to as “Le Juge”, or “The Judge” by course designers, the unsuspecting hole will invite players to over reach early and often. Hitting a solid tee shot to the largest section of fairway will give players the best look at the green. With water lining the entire backside, a safe, short iron is the best bet in an area where bogeys or worse may be a familiar sight over the weekend.
At 177-yards, the shortest par-3 on the course is the one minor reprieve players will get in “The Loop of Doom”, depending entirely on pin placement. The green on 16 slopes from left to right all draining down to the sprawling green side water hazard. A bail out bunker is located in the upper left section just off the green if players want to play it safe and risk getting up and down for par.
A complete change of pace at 17 offers no water or bunkers. Instead, the 480-yard par-4 will bend players uphill right to left into a tricky green. Heading into the difficult 18th this may seem like a gift to most players.
The fairway at 17 forces players to battle the grounds and hit their approaches with perfection and creativity. The green itself is only 26 yards deep but equally as wide with a steep slope to the right. Getting on the green in two doesn’t guarantee anyone a birdie, or even par, at the penultimate hole.
The final, and most difficult hole, on the Albatros Course is without a doubt the par-4 finale. Birdies will truly be a blessing over the final 471 yards. Placement off the tee must be precise with pot bunkers and water on the right and left.
The approach shot will force players to fly over the water with another bunker just off the left portion of the green. According to the Ryder Cup course guide, during the 2017 Open de France 147 bogeys or worse came throughout the week including a scoring average of 4.51 in 2018. With the 42nd Ryder Cup on the line many of the hopes and dreams of an entire nation will live or die by each team’s decisions on the 18th hole at Le Golf National.
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