Versailles may be around the corner from Le Golf National, but the host venue of the 2018 Ryder Cup is no walk in the park. Far from the impeccable gardens of Louis XIV, the Albatros course at France’s leading golf resort is a gruelling test for even the mightiest of players from Team Europe and the USA.
Similar to many of the Ryder Cup venues that precede it, the layout features risk-reward holes at every turn – make a good swing and birdie opportunities will gladly present themselves to you, miss your mark and you’ll encounter greedy rye grass rough likely to kill your score.
The notable story of the round, though, is its linksy feel. Forget that Le Golf National resides miles inland and that the presence of water on ten of the 18 holes is far removed from the origins of the game: what matters is the hills, undulation and incredibly firm greens (all features of a good links) that provide much of the test on this challenging track.
PGA Tour regulars are used to a ‘target golf’ style of play, where driving it long and spinning it close with a wedge are part and parcel – try that here and watch your score rack up.
The Europeans – far more at home on unpredictable linksy turf – have the advantage here in France
Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau represent the leanest and meanest of the USA’s athletic side, but this is not the realm of the bombers, either. Quality ball striking, especially with irons, akin to the deftness of Alex Noren, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood is set to suit.
The roller coaster ride of any good Ryder Cup will swing in the favour of those who take their opportunities best, and navigate the perils of slick greens, thick rough, water and sand traps with limited damage. Our view? The Europeans – far more at home on unpredictable linksy turf – have the advantage here in France.
Whomever gets their hands on one of the most iconic trophies in golf will do so by coming out on top on these five crucial holes:
1st hole, 419 yards, par 4
Le Golf National’s Albatros course sets its stall out on the first with a tough blind drive around the corner, favouring the right-hander’s fade – pick your spot, shape it off the water running down the left side and do not miss the fairway. That’s the easy part: the second mid-iron shot over the first lake on this layout plays to a slippery green. If the pin is at the front, mere inches from the water’s edge, do not get greedy. Par will likely halve the hole.
7th hole, 457 yards, par 4
This troublesome up-and-down hole starts with a tee shot (usually 3-wood or long iron) to an elevated fairway before making its way downhill to the green. The left side of the fairway will provide the best angle of approach, but tall fescue grass lurks close by for those who pull their shots. Avoid the three bunkers to the left of the green and you’ll leave yourself a good chance at birdie.
Only a quarter of all matches in Ryder Cup history have come all the way down the last hole
13th hole, 415 yards, par 4
The back nine is where the Ryder Cup really turns up the heat – and hole 13 is a precious opportunity to steal a march on your opponent on the run to the clubhouse. Off the tee, it’s a great looking hole – but even the prettiest of roses can prick you with their thorns. In the case of this dogleg-right hole, those thorns are a green well protected by tall oak trees and water guarding the front. Stick the positioning off the tee and try to cosy one up to the pin; don’t waste one of the kindest greens on the golf course.
15th hole, 408 yards, par 4
Playing at Le Golf National is a game of two halves: 14 testing holes that will throw up the odd birdie opportunity, and four brutal closing holes that will test Team Europe and USA’s stamina and resilience. The 15th is where we’ll begin to see the drama unfold. Four iron off the tee is sufficient club to leave roughly a nine into an island green. No doubt under the pressure of the Ryder Cup, a few balls in the drink is likely on this teasing little number.
18th hole, 471 yards, par 4
Question marks surround the importance of a tough final hole in the Ryder Cup given that statistically only a quarter of all matches in history have come all the way down the last, but that’s enough of a percentage to make the 18th at the Albatros course a significant threat. Voted the most difficult hole on the European Tour in 2016, it’s a lengthy 471-yard par four that requires a hefty 3-wood off the tee to leave a short-ish iron into yet another island green.