Bubba Watson, Thomas Bjorn, Matt Kuchar, Ian Woosnam. These big name, big game golfers and a hatful more have played at Terre Blanche and given the thumbs up to this elite golf resort. What turns them on about the Château, the course usually in play for international competitions?
“They love the quality of the greens, and there is praise for the Dave Thomas design,” says golf director Jean-Marie Casella. “They find the Château very challenging, with varied holes, fantastic greens and wonderful views over the wooded hills. You need to play strategically to avoid hazards.”
It’s true. It’s no use a big hitter blasting away from the tee box assuming length will win through either on the Château or the Riou, the course normally reserved for members and their guests. These are long courses for sure, even off the forward tees, but the excellent bunkering, plus the lakes, streams, gullies and often curving fairways, make the use of brain over brawn compulsory.
Terre Blanche golf, near Fayence in the Var, has gone from new kid on the block to international golf destination in just 10 years. Jean-Marie, 51, has been in charge since 2009. He started his career helping to create Golf de l’Estérel outside St Raphaël, then moved on to Golf du Médoc and Pont Royal near Aix before taking up the reins at Fayence.
“My best moment so far at Terre Blanche was when we won the Best Golf Resort Europe 2013 award,” says Jean-Marie. The accolade came from the International Golf Travel Market, the top golf-and-travel gathering, and confirmed the resort’s position as a magnet for the well-heeled golfing traveller – one in five rounds at Terre Blanche is played by a “resort golfer”.
“Terre Blanche Golf is just one of the parts of the Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort. People who stay with us can combine a whole range of fantastic experiences,” says Jean-Marie. “They can enjoy gastronomy – there are four restaurants. Well-being – the spa has a big range of treatments and massages, and we have started aquabike sessions. Relaxation by the swimming pools and there is even a Kids’ Club so that everyone in the family can have fun.”
Jean-Marie and his team may have grabbed a big slice of the international golfing crowd, but competition for local players remains keen. Half of the rounds played in a year are by “green fees”. Terre Blanche’s “Canton Programme” is a hit with local players.
“This scheme applies to residents of the Canton de Fayence, there is a handicap limit of 35. A local player can play once a month on the Château course for a half-price green fee. The Riou course is reserved for members and hotel guests.”
Quite a saving on a pay-and-play option that normally costs over €100, even in the low season between the end of October and the beginning of April. Included in the fee is access to a practice and teaching centre where most players would be better off watching the guy or gal next to them than duffing drives before tee-off time. It’s a popular place for pros on the European tour.
“The tour pros can benefit from excellent facilities all year round,” says Jean-Marie. “We have the first high-tech European Tour Performance Institute. This is also the winter training base of the young amateurs of Pôle France Elite, who we hope will be following in the footsteps of our touring pro, Raphaël Jacquelin.
“The training centre is also there to encourage amateurs of all levels to practice and benefit from the advice of our biomecanics experts.”
Back on the courses, I have heard murmurings of discontent from golfers who object to the compulsory buggy policy operated by Terre Blanche in the warmer months.
Jean-Marie insists this is the right policy.
“The courses are long and physically demanding to play – there are plenty of slopes! Having compulsory buggies enables us to shorten the time it takes to play a round. The buggies have bottled water and are equipped with GPS which players find very useful, especially if it’s their first time playing here.”
More and more pro golfers are paying their first visit to Terre Blanche as it establishes itself as the centre for top-flight competition. The Château course hosts the French Riviera Masters, the only event on the European Senior Tour played on French soil. Last year saw the first Richard Mille Invitational, with Bubba Watson joining top French pros for a match play event.
That tournament combined great golf with good fun. For the Terre Blanche of the future, that’s the way to go.