Boosting disaster, golf courses being small in France

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BUC, France – Just a 15-minute drive from the site of this year's Ryder Cup, the Ugolf Buc-Toussus club is a bit further away from the Ryder Cup in style.

Le Golf National, which will be the test base for the American and European teams this week, has a modern club house in stone and glass and 18 holes on the Albatros track, which measures a total of 7,331 yards. with a par of 72.

The golf club in Buc has a small metal block of a club house with an overlying shadow structure that is typically reserved for roofs above parking lots. The club has designed a nine-hole layout for high handicappers that measures a total of about 1,260 yards with a par of 28.

It is what the French call a compact urban golf course. And it's a French version of what Americans or Britons have a & # 39; pitch and putt & # 39; would call.

These short and modest French courses, designed to fit on small parcels in the vicinity of large population centers, are also intended as one of the most important legacies of the Ryder Cup and are spread all over France.

"I've seen a few, and I really think they'll leave a mark," said Jean van de Velde, the French golfer who was able to win the British Open in 1999 before becoming notorious collapsed on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie.

If Van de Velde had won that day, he might have become the great Frenchman star that the golf industry of his country was looking for interest in the game, instead of a brave loser through the centuries. go.

Now as then, Arnaud Massy, ​​who won the British Open in 1907, remains the last and only Frenchman to win a major.

Although Van de Velde, Tho Mas Levet and Victor Dubuisson have represented France in the Ryder Cup in the last 20 years, there is no Frenchman in the European team this time.

French golf authorities have had to use more creative strategies to try and make the sport grow in the light of a challenging economic climate, no shortage of recreational competition and the lingering perception of golf as an expensive, elite pursuit .

"It is complicated to develop that great champion, and we thought that if we want to develop golf in our country, we would need structural change," said Pierre Lasfargue, a director at the French Golf Federation. "We needed more facilities, but not just facilities."

Lasfargue was one of the driving forces behind the efforts of the French federation to promote the compact price concept.

"I discovered golf in London on a pitch and putt, and I suggested we try to develop pitch and putt in France," said Lasfargue. "And they told me it was a very British concept at the time and would never work in France, and I said:" Hey, I'm French and it worked for me, so that's no reason. "

He was told to keep developing the idea and eventually became part of a federation study in the mid-2000s that looked at the French golf landscape.

"In France we have about 173 major residential and commercial zones, and we have looked at which types of golf courses we could place in these zones," he said. "We realized what we were missing, the little ones, and we needed small facilities near cities, especially if we wanted to attract the youngsters."

That was because France had already boomed from 1985 to 1995. golf course had experienced.

"In 10 years, there were about 400 18-hole courses that were built, which is about two-thirds of the total across the country," Lasfargue said. "But when we looked closely at it, we realized that more than half of these 400 courses were outside the residential and commercial zones, which meant that they were not connected to the population."

It was only when France's bid for the Ryder Cup began in 2009 with the seriousness of the project and the commitment to build 100% of these compact courses in time for the tournament in 2018

Pascal Grizot, president of the France 2018 Ryder Cup Committee, said the compact courses had created 47,000 new golfers over the years.

"We can trace the impact, because every time there is a new golfer, they buy a membership in the golf federation," Grizot said, "and these golfers are directly connected to these courses."

Lasfargue said that the average age was about 10 years younger than at clubs with 18-hole courses. "The turnover level is slightly lower and the average age is 40, 41, 42, where it is on the big golf courses 52 is, "he said." We also get quite a few young people because the compact courses are often accessible by bus and bicycle. They are not overcrowded with the youngsters, but there are quite a few. "

Although there have been public investments, the compact courses were mainly financed by the private sector, which was the case in Buc., One of the earliest examples.

"What the federation has done is not providing the money, but providing the business models to private investors," said Paul Armitage, managing director of Le Golf National. "It also helps private investors talk with city councils or municipalities. Getting land near cities is not easy and not cheap, so sometimes it helps to get planning commissions and maybe also municipalities and says: "Right, you save the land and you own it. But why would you just leave it as a wasteland? & # 39; "

In Buc earth of a large tunnel project was used to form some fields in a undulating and intentionally unconquerable course.

The first hole, a par 3, measures 119 meters , or about 130 yards, from the back tees, and the fairway looks like a grassy halfpipe, so that even errant shots will be channeled to the green.

"For us, these compact courses respond to three big problems, "said Lasfargue." People say that golf is expensive, difficult and time-consuming. Compact courses are cheap. They are easy and you can play them quickly. "

Florent Terroni, who works at the Buc club, says that a good player can finish the nine holes – eight of which are par 3s – in about 45 minutes.

" An average player ends in about an hour, "said Terroni." We have many different ages and a good basis here. There are about 250 regulars, and then on top of that people in golf schools or who come here to get their green card. "

The green card is the license that gives golfers access to regular 18-hole courses in France, and a licensed instructor must sign it after having seen a player for at least one round

Staying up is the goal of many Buc golfers, which generates substantial sales, but the price of the course is hard to beat, playing nine holes costs 20 euros, or about $ 23, less if you have a discount card

Unlimited access to the course for a year costs € 588. There is also a driving range, the only thing about the club that is not compact.

It has room for 110 golfers even if it is rare if more than half of the slots are occupied.

"I have never seen it completely," said Benoit Serraz, a Buc resident who often practices the course. " think about it to split the driving range in half sipping and re-designing the whole course to make it longer, a real nine holes. "

That sounds like it might not be entirely in line with the national smaller-is- better strategy. But for now, with the Ryder Cup about to start and a Ryder Cup banner behind the reception in Buc, is the official count of compact federations of the 99 federation.

How tempting Lasfargue also resists the thought to finish when he prepares to retire after the Ryder Cup.

"We are almost there, but we want it to be true," he said laughing. "We do not want to say 100 if it is not 100, but we will continue."

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