There are not many golf courses of which you can say one of the best things about them is the drive that gets you there.
I think back to my days as a North London-dwelling golfer, struggling round the M25 to get to a 9:00 a.m. start time at The Berkshire, Wentworth or – seemingly on the other side of the world – lovely Walton Heath. The build-up of tension caused by the journey, with its inevitable delays and frustrations, put one in the perfect frame of mind to shank one’s first tee-shot.
How different then the stunning car ride up the Route Napoleon to Château de Taulane. Past Grasse and St Vallier then over the Pas de la Faye at nearly 1,000 metres, the road clings to the cliff below the mighty Audibergue, crosses the Col de Valferrière then descends onto an idyllic and fertile plateau – you could be entering Narnia.
In the heart of this paradise, at le Logis-du-Pin, lies one of France’s most stunning golf courses, built on 340 hectares, much of it ancient pine forest, with a gorgeous 18th-century château as its centrepiece.
The Château de Taulane course was the first in France to be designed by Gary Player, and the genius and sensitivity of the South African golfing legend were working a full throttle as he plotted the 18 magnificent holes through the forest. There is plenty of water at Taulane in the shape of streams and lakes with special ball-attracting properties, and these features blend perfectly into the stunning natural surroundings, which include soaring mountain peaks that protect the fairways from wind.
The course opened in 1992, and has been drawing praise from golfers ever since, gaining a place in France’s Top Ten courses in Fairways Magazine.
The man with the enviable job of looking after this golfing gem and its lovely hotel is Michel Cipolla, the Franco-Brit who is general manager, Château and Golf. He came to Taulane in 2007, after studying management in Nice then working for some years in and around Monaco before being invited by Paul Bocuse to the France Pavilion in Florida. On his return to France he joined the Fairmont Monte-Carlo before taking up the reins at Taulane.
What really turns Michel on is seeing the smiles on his guests’ faces as they realise they have stepped in to an earthly paradise. “I ‘collect’ those smiles,” says the 48-year-old. “They are priceless thank-yous.”
“The thing that pleases the players and guests most, along with the sheer quality of the course, is the sense of endless natural space, which seems to generate an overpowering feeling of relaxation and peace.
“The course in never overcrowded, and players can enjoy the game at their own pace.”
Because of its 1,000-metre altitude, the cloak of winter snow stops play from mid-November to spring – this year the course opens on April 12th. From then through May and June the course bursts with brilliant wild colour as the alpine flowers come to life.
Château de Taulane is an expensive course to maintain, and this is reflected in the green fees, €80 in the low season months of April, May and October rising to €100 in the June-September period. A reasonably priced lunch can be taken on the terrace, with its splendid views over the massive shared green of the 9th and 18th holes.
Practice facilities are superb. An excellent driving range is combined with practice greens for putting and chipping. Teaching is done through the Essential Golf Academy, which also has a base at the Claux Amic golf club above Grasse – the two clubs are now under the same ownership.
For now, the sensation of privilege that comes from playing a course where no villas line the fairways – and the absence of the roads, cars and people that come as part of that development package – is complete. Plans are afoot to expand accommodation, and the Reporter will be bringing you news of this as soon as we have it.
But for now I urge all those golfers who appreciate what The Master referred to as “Nature’s Cathedral” to take that glorious ride up into the clean, cool air of the Pre-Alpes, always refreshing but never more so than when the heat and the clamour of the coast make seaside golf less than a pleasure.
For more details see www.chateau-taulane.com or phone 04 93 60 31 30.