The vast vistas that greet the visitor to the Golf de St Endréol have the effect of producing strangled sounds from the throat of Riviera Golfer, as he attempts a rendition of the soundtrack to The Big Country.
As the morning sun hits the magnificent Rocher de Roquebrune and makes its red rocks glow, you feel transported back to the early colour Westerns, expecting a posse of pesky ’injuns to break cover from behind a Mojave mesa, or for John Wayne to cry “Take ’em to Missouri, Matt!” from the saddle.
Although called a “resort course”, St Endréol, north of Le Muy in the Var, belies the label that often describes a pushover parcours for hackers on holiday. During RG’s latest visit, the well turned-out players staying at the new hotel on the property were there for some serious golf.
It has some of the best holes in our region, including the awesome Par 3 13th, an elevated tee-shot over all-the-way water that gets more terrifying as you move back from the red tees to the white. It also has one of the most difficult and frustrating, the uphill Par 4 17th, with the green perched on a cleft in the cliff seeming to retreat as you approach it. The very good news for us golfers of moderate ability is that this is shortly to become a Par 5, keeping the overall Par 72 for the course as the modified 11th hole drops down a stroke to a Par 4.
St Endréol, like Terre Blanche near Fayence, is a modern resort with more to it than golf. A 2000m2 spa opened nearly ten years ago, followed by a 50-room hotel in 2008. There’s a restaurant and villas, to buy and rent. Frédéric Thuboeuf, a pleasant Parisian, is the general manager of the whole shoot.
“St Endréol was planned to have nine phases, we are currently in phase six [including the new hotel] and about to start on phase seven”.
When St Endréol opened in 1992 in was jointly owned by French interests held by Suez and the Japanese company Kajimi. The financial storms of the early Nineties washed away the French and left the Japanese holding the expensive, but very promising, baby.
Millions of euros later, and the Japanese are still investing in the project, but have switched their focus from quantity to quality. They are keen to build the seven high-end villas, €1.5 million a pop, that will discreetly line the magnificent undulating fairway of the ninth hole. This development, although very upscale, mirrors what has already occurred on the domaine, where more than 200 villas nestle unobtrusively around this hilly area on the edge of the Argens plain.
“The Japanese insist that there is a minimum of 50 metres between the golf course and the boundary of any new property, often it is 100 metres,” says the 48-year-old Thuboeuf. This avoids the claustrophobic experience of playing on some Spanish courses, where you sometimes feel as if you are driving the ball down a street with houses looming on either side, often protected by hideous giant nets. Golf for sardines.
A little further down the line, St Endréol’s owners will be obliged to build the housing for local people insisted upon by the mayor of La Motte, the commune into which the domaine falls. Some of the present members and owners are prepared to wait a long time for this particular phase to become reality.
The club membership number is small, around 250, as you would expect from a course whose focus is more on guest players. There are many northern Europeans among them, fewer Brits than before that little hiccup involving Lehman Brothers in September 2008, after which there was a rush to sell as the pound sterling plunged to parity with the euro.
Mr Thuboeuf was surprised to discover that there were hardly any members aged between 20 and 40. He thought that new blood was needed, realising that the “rack rate” for membership of €3250 was too much for younger players. So he boldly introduced a new fee structure, so that now players between 22 and 28 years old pay a yearly sub of €1450, from 29 to 35 €2350. The Thuboeuf youth policy is working, slowly. The interview pauses momentarily as Riviera Golfer wonders if he can age down … no, knocking 30 years off might be a tall order.
As mentioned on the previous page, there are many ways to reduce the cost of golf, and St Endréol, with a normal green fee of €75, has experimented much in this area. “Twilight” golf after 15h30 comes in at €49, as does starting in the midday heat in summer.
They remain loyal to the Golfy card, which entitles the holder to one free round per year plus 25% off the costs of green fee with the standard card (€99 per year) and 30% off with the Platine card. That means that if you just used the standard card at St Endréol, after only three rounds you’d have paid for the card, and each time you play after that you’ll pay €56.25, very reasonable for a course of this quality.
So saddle up the pony and mosey on down to Le Muy, one of the great spots in the world to ride off into the sunset.