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For the millions of refugees who are forced to flee their homeland, exile is a wound to the soul. One fine day in 1879, the Grand Duke Michel and his wife, Countess Sophie de Turby, granddaughter of the great poet Alexander Pushkin, were ordered to leave the territory of Russia. The order from Tsar Alexander Ill cannot be discussed. Despite the Napoleonic wars at the start of the XNUMXth century, France continues to shine like a beacon. For Russian scholars, exile in our country seems milder and leaves less room for nostalgia.
With a heavy heart to leave Holy Russia that he will never see again, the Grand Duke Michel and his family choose Cannes , a town on the edge of the Mediterranean, a favorite vacation spot for the European aristocracy. Installed at the Villa des Dunes, the Grand Duke Michel recreates the splendor of the court of Saint-Petersburg. The parties follow one another, each more extravagant than the next. A swirling, decadent life, undoubtedly identical to the scenes admirably described by the Norman writer, Jean Lorrain, in his novel "Les Noronsoff".
One day, tired of these orgies, the Grand Duke Michel and his wife take a break. A stay in England and Ecosse, a real initiatory journey to the land of golf. Chance or fate will lead the Grand Duke to St Andrews, the capital of scottish golf. During a partridge hunting party, he discovers through the forests the venerable Old Course links whose natural fairways hug the shores of the Paradise estuary. Grand Duke Michel lowers the barrel of his gun and watches, puzzled, the players banging balls from their clubs on their hickory sleeves towards flags flapping in the wind of the sea.Ecosse. This meeting marks him forever.
Back in France in his villa in the Dunes, he tells during his famous dinners his budding passion for a sport still unknown on the Côte d'Azur. With friends to whom he communicates his enthusiasm, he creates the Cannes Golf Club, bought a few hectares of land on the shores of the Mediterranean and built the first links of the Coast, a 9-hole course in the shade of umbrella pines. A magnificent golf course in Provence.
While all the first golf courses in France were founded by the English, the birth of the Cannes-Mandelieu golf course, initiated by a noble of the Russian court, does not lack flavor. The Grand Duke Michel had even preceded by a few years Lord Ashcomb, founder in 1895 of the Valescure golf course in Saint Raphael. The Cannes Golf Club becomes, after Pau-Billiere et Biarritz le-Phare, the third oldest club in France.
The subjects of his gracious majesty did not hold him against it, however, and some colonels of the British army attributed to themselves the sports organization of the club and infused this young club with a very British spirit. TO Cannes Mandelieu, you don't break your glasses of champagne like in Saint Petersburg. The trend is more for "five o 'clock tea", enjoyed with the little finger raised. And to add a few drops of lukewarm milk to the precious scented beverage, a cow is allowed to graze on the fairways. In Cannes-Mandelieu, we cultivate the country “chic”.
But these times of recklessness for the European aristocracy came to an abrupt end in the deadly fires of the two world wars which bloodied the 50th century. For many years, the course retained the wounds since, before deciding to reopen the golf course in the XNUMXs, it was necessary to unearth twenty thousand mines buried under the grass of the fairways.
In these post-war years, the Côte d'Azur became the last fashionable place, the ultimate place of new extravagance. Rog1er Vadim's film "And God Created Woman" which reveals the bomb Brigitte Bardot announces the craze for the small port of Saint Tropez, in the Var, and the film festival of Cannes every spring projects the Croisette in the spotlight of the news. In the 50s and 60s, Parisians flocked to the shores of the Midi every summer via the Nationale 7. A mythical road, synonymous with holidays in the sun, sung with tenderness by Charles Trénet. France is slowly returning to the civilization of leisure. Golf courses in Provence will then multiply.
Passed to 18 holes, Cannes-Mandelieu golf course which very quickly became the most visited course in France, was threatened by a campsite. On the Siagne river, the ferry connecting hole 2 to 3 and hole 12 to 13 takes its procession of golfers under the mocking gaze of campers. For many months, the battle rages on to the city council. But elected officials, visionaries, understand the importance of a golf course in the tourism development of a holiday town. Cannes-Mandelieu had been hot. The future centenary had almost passed away at the dawn of his sixty years.
Paradox of the Côte d'Azur, its shores run for more than two hundred kilometers along the Big Blue but few golf courses offer an opening onto the sea. Geographical constraints: in the Var, the Massif des Maures and the Estérel plunge their ocher cliffs directly into the Mediterranean. Economic constraints: in Alpes-Maritimes, the coastal strip is monopolized by thereal estate, driving up the prices per m2 in a dizzying way.
Consequently, the golf courses take refuge in altitude on uneven and rocky grounds on which the architects must deploy treasures of imagination to establish fairways and greens.
At the start of the XNUMXth century, the Monte-Carlo golf course was built on the heights of Mont Agel, at an altitude of over eight hundred meters. A challenge for the time! To achieve this feat, hundreds of workers took the road to Mont Agel from the start of spring and worked tirelessly until autumn.
At night, they slept in the cool or in the tent. After a few years of hard work, the 18 holes were inaugurated on November 16, 1911.
When the morning mists dissipate, the Monte Carlo golf course is a belvedere on the Mediterranean. Its panorama embraces the Italian Coast. It is undoubtedly the course with a view of the “French Riviera”. A must for golf courses in Provence.
The other golf courses on the coast benefiting from such a site are rare. Only the route of the Frigate, in the Var, offers happy visitors a few drives towards the Big Blue from hole n ° 2. On this golf course with its grueling relief and complicated greens attacks, the sea is not the only companion in the game. There are also the vines of Domain of the Frigate around which revolves a few holes of the course. Independent of the golf course, this wine production in the Bandol appellation is tasted on the clubhouse terrace. Marriage of oenology and birdies.
The Mediterranean is also admired from the second half of the Sainte-Maxime course or the extension of the old Beauvallon golf course but these coveted views are like windows. It is necessary to enjoy it quickly before finding again as horizon the barrier of the massifs and the density of the umbrella pines.
Other new golf courses in Provence found refuge in the hinterland, a few kilometers from the coast. As the Royal Mougins golf course, third Cannes course after Cannes-Mandelieu and the creation, in 1963, of the Cannes-Mougins golf course, the latter receiving eleven editions of the Cannes Open. Today, professional players compete for the title of the European circuit on the new undulating fairways of Royal Mougins, traced by the American, Robert Von Hagge.
Opened in 1993, Royal Mougins Yet could have been born nearly eighty years ago, when an Englishman, Lord Wilson, visited his great friend, the Count de Pourtales. On the heights of the estate, Lord Wilson discovered the small villages of Mougins, Mandelieu-La Napoule and La Roquette. It was love at first sight. This English nobleman never traveled without his golf rods. Visionary, he imagined fairways running in the Vallons de l'Oeuf and hit a few balls in the weeds. Eighty years later, Robert Van Hagge was no different when the Norwegian developer Otto Berg presented him with the estate he had just acquired.
From his drawing board, the architect created a grass sculpture where the light plays cat and mouse with the verdant slides of its fairways and greens. Real visual traps for overconfident players. High-risk golf course, the Royal Mougins Golf Resort obliges from the second hole, a par 3, to a heroic shot in plunging towards the green. This hole is called the Leap of the Angel. But beware of reception!
This work of balancing the swing can be found on the "nature" course of Saint-Endréol where the French golf architect, Michel Gayon, wanted to play on the nerves of golfers. From the tee of the hole 13, the view plunges, thirty meters below, towards a green surrounded by stones, a real green velvet castle protected by a river whose attack with iron requires precision and alignment. perfect towards the hole.
This is what specialists call the "signature hole", the postcard hole, symbol of this Var hinterland golf course. A par 3 that moves the golfer between emotion and admiration. And, in competition, to the exasperation when the balls one after the other plunge into the water obstacle, a real magnet for too sensitive souls. Fortunately, architects know not to abuse these famous signature holes, a photographer's delight but the average golfer's nightmares.
Whatever, the ride to Saint-Endréol golf course well worth some swing straying. Because the strength of this journey is the immersion in a nature that is still preserved - for how long - of a sprawling real estate in this region of France. A walk of more than six kilometers in the middle of pines and brooms, accompanied by the heady chirping of cicadas. In Saint-Endréol, we turn our backs on the Mediterranean for a moment and the horizons are called Rock of Roquebrune, hills of Rouet and mountains of Haut-Var in Provence.
The strength of the Côte d'Azur, a true golfing paradise, comes not only from the high number of its golf courses but above all from the quality of its architectural achievements. Because no other region of France has attracted so many major architects:
Without forgetting the father of all, Robert Trent Jones, creator of five hundred courses in the world, inventor of modern golf architecture. On the Côte d'Azur, he signed his first achievement in forty hectares of pine forest in the heart of the Estérel massif. A creative work that he will complete with his masterpiece, the Spirona golf course, at the southern tip of Corsica, a few kilometers from Bonifacio.