When the 2018 Ryder Cup is played on the Albatros course at Le Golf National near Paris it will create a piece of history as it will be the first time the event will have been played in the capital city of the country hosting it.
Close to Versailles and about 30 minutes from the centre of Paris, Le Golf National comprises two 18 hole courses and a 9 hole academy course.
Transformation from a cornfield started in 1988 and the Albatros course officially opened in October 1990 and is owned by the French Golf Federation so access for the public is very good.
It has hosted all but two of the Open de France tournaments on the European Tour since Eduardo Romero won the first at Le Golf National in 1991. The course and was remodelled before the 100th tournament in 2016 in preparation for the Ryder Cup and this was the layout I played.
The Ryder Cup is now a global event and the feeling you get when you first arrive at Le Golf National is that you are entering a sporting arena rather than a more traditional golf course.
The stadium design provides plenty of viewing spots for the 60,000 spectators a day that will be there during the tournament, as well as providing a dramatic look for those playing in more low key outings.
Almost in front of the club house and under the gaze of the resort’s hotel is the large bowl of an amphitheatre around the lake that contains the 16th, 15th and 18th greens shown below.
Even without the crowds, the banking around the 1st tee bears down on you as you wait to tee off on the first hole. You hit out of the shoot to a hole that dog legs right with the first lake waiting for you around the outside of bend.
You then have to dice with the lake again to reach a green that has been expanded to accommodate 9 flag positions. A gentle start, this is not.
And the 187 yard downhill par-3 2nd gets your attention too, as if you go long you are chipping back to an angled green that slopes towards the water with hardly any fringe to stop a ball from rolling through into the drink.
Welcome to Le Golf National Albatros!
Thereafter the course settles into a slightly less harsh set up, not that it is easier. The fairways are generally quite narrow and the mounds on either side are covered in fairly sticky rough, so hitting them is key to good scoring as it is a long day otherwise.
Unusually for a modern course, there are some quirky holes like the 7th where you hit up to a raised fairway that tilts left to right, before hitting down over a small dip to a green below you. You know from the flat field that you can see next door that it's not 100% natural, so it is good to see something that does not look too perfect in the mix too.
The 195 yard par-3 8th is classic stadium golf. Imagine a wok with handle, where the green is in the bowl and the tee raised up at the end of the handle and you get the picture.
The long par-5 9th features a long, twisting, narrow raised green that is really only wide enough to accept a short iron from your average player. From the yellow tees it can tempt you to attempt a second shot that would invite more disaster, whereas from white and black tees this is a definite 3 shotter.
Another stadium par-3 at 11 gives you a great chance for par or better from 167 yards and with you looking down on the green over the lake it gives a stunning back drop.
13 is a nice par-4 requiring careful positioning of the tee shot so that you can hit your approach over the water and between the tall trees guarding the entrance to the green.
It looks like it should be a lay up hole but you can take pretty much any club you want and it is one of those holes that is probably better played forward as it then forces you to make some choices over the club from the tee.
This followed by the long par-5 14th that curves uphill and round to the left to an angled two-tier green that tucks itself away out of sight from the fairway.
However this is all just foreplay as the course leads back to that final amphitheatre I mentioned earlier and it is a bit like playing the last few holes on the Old Course. You know what's coming and it is in your mind before you get there.
15 requires a precise tee shot, probably a lay up to hit the fairway as it nips in around driving distance, to give you a chance to hold the generous island green. A good test of nerve, especially into the wind.
Tucked away in the corner of the same lake is the downhill short par-3 16th with a large green that slopes back to front. It's more visually intimidating than anything else, so get the club right and you should be OK.
The long par-4 17th is a bit like running out of the stadium in the marathon in order to come back in again for the final lap and about as inspiring. It goes in the opposite direction to 15 to return you to the entrance of the amphitheatre section so you can experience the sensation of entering the arena again.
This time the 471 yard par 4 18th runs down the right of the lake with a left to right shaped fairway giving you plenty of places to run out for a bath before leaving a tempting yardage to have a go for the green.
You will have to be very composed or on a great score to turn this down and lay up for an easy pitch instead, as the green is quite wide and there is a run off area behind before the water in case you are slightly long.
To be frank, Le Golf National Albatros is a bit of a brute, but in a good way. If you don’t hit the fairways then you will have a very long day. Even if you do, there is enough variety and challenge in every approach to keep things interesting, from shots to raised greens, over water, between trees or half blind approaches like at the 6th. When you come off it is easy to remember nearly all the holes and that is the sign of a great course.
It is certainly a very tough course so don’t play too far back on the tees and be ready to go on the first tee, as those first two holes can really derail your round before it gets started and maybe they would be better further down the order.
I played it twice and it definitely helped knowing the course the second time around. I was broken by it the first time and didn’t feel much better the second time and everyone I played with felt the same. However I want to keep going back until I feel that I have tamed the monster at least once.
Take in Le Golf National together with some local classics and you could have the making of a fantastic golf trip. Courses like Fontainbleau Golf Club, which looks like a classic heathland course from Surrey that has been dropped into a glorious part of France with the same ambience. A more gentle, but no less picturesque outing can be found close by at Golf Chateau De Cely, set in the grounds of a 14th century chateau.
With Paris nearby there is also plenty of activities day and night to bring a little culture to proceedings together with excellent French cuisine and wine.
Since we became Europe in 1979, the choice of the home Ryder Cup course has not exactly fired the imagination, with the exception of Valderamma. However, 2018 sees another course that can stand head and shoulders above the rest because Le Golf National is tough, dramatic and well worth playing.