Chateau des Vigiers

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Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Ayear after formally retiring and passing most of his interests in course design to his long-time associates Tom Mackenzie and Martin Ebert, veteran British golf architect Donald Steel has begun a new project.

Steel, who has spent much of his time since retirement carrying out his duties as President of the English Golf Union (EGU), the first course architect to serve in this position, designed the original 18 hole course around the 16th century chateau in the Dordogne region in 1990.

The original course was constructed by the similarly veteran course builder Brian Pierson, who has also partnered with Steel to do the new nine.

Steel, the two-time President's Putter winner and former Sunday Telegraph golf correspondent, once nominated the home hole on the original Chateau des Vigiers course, a 417-yard par four that dog-legs sharply around a lake, as his favourite among his many creations. The new nine, which begins in the vineyards around the chateau, then moves down into a beautiful valley, will feature exposed rock faces among its visual cues.

In particular, the third green is set at the bottom of a six metre rock wall – not a place to overclub! In France as elsewhere in Europe, the environmental constraints on new golf course development are strict, and the planning for the new nine at Chateau des Vigiers has environmental matters at the forefront. Pierson says that planners have imposed a total ban on drawing any more water from the ground, so the new holes must be water-neutral. This means an effective system of reservoirs to collect and store water, and only minimal use of irrigation. In this context, the course's location alongside vineyards may prove a boon – excessive water is as harmful to the quality of wine as it is to the quality of golf! As with the existing course, the new holes will be maintained in a resort style to avoid discouraging holiday golfers and encouraging quick play. This means relatively short rough and wide fairways, but with challenge promoted through fast greens with significant undulations. Steel and Pierson expect the new nine to be completed and ready for play by spring 2008, coinciding with an expansion of the hotel, which is adding a new conference centre and 42 additional bedrooms. Hotel guests are allowed – in fact welcomed – to play in the regular club competitions, which often feature wine from local growers who are club members as prizes.Which sounds like a pretty good incentive to me!

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