The Gil Hanse design at Les Bordes is a new course oozing old-world charm

les bordes new course 9th hole

The New Course at Les Bordes opened for play in 2021.

Courtesy of Les Bordes

One of the highest compliments you can pay a golf course architect is to say that their new work looks quite old.

Gil Hanse hears that often about the New Course at Les Bordes Golf Club.

The course, which Hanse conceived with his design partner, Jim Wagner, is one of three layouts at Les Bordes, which is situated in the Loire Valley of France, south of Paris, and has the look and feel of a tasteful time capsule.

It’s no wonder, really. There’s a lot of history to go around.

The property once belonged Baron Marcel Bich, co-founder of the ballpoint pen-maker, Bic, who used the grounds as his private estate. Among the baron’s favorite diversions was hunting. Another was golf, which took root at Les Bordes in 1987 with the opening of an 18-hole course by the Texas-born architect Robert Von Hagge.

Over the years, Les Bordes hosted a handful of professional and amateur events, but even when it entered the public eye, the estate retained a near-mythic aura about it, a mystique that only grew after Bich’s death, in 1994.

In 2018, new ownership took over, and Hanse and Wagner were brought in to add to the golf offerings at what was now a private club, accessible only to its members and their guests.

The 7th hole at Les Bordes' New Course in France
The 7th hole on Les Bordes’ New Course. Courtesy of Les Bordes

The site, Hanse says, was an architect’s dream, its sandy soil blanketed by heather, broom, ferns and pines.

“That palette is something Jim and I both love,” Hanse says. “Having spent most of my life in the Philadelphia region, seeing Merion with the broom on it and Pine Valley with the bracken and pine trees all around, that really excites us. To see it right there, knowing that our responsibility was to protect it rather than destroying the edges, that became a critical component to the design.”

As it happened, the acreage Hanse and Wagner had been handed also bore the imprint of an abandoned course, which the baron had commissioned and then let go to seed. Some of its playing corridors remained. But while Hanse and Wagner drew upon portions of those pathways, the course they created was a work of its own, an entirely fresh design. The New Course opened for play in 2021 and debuted that same year at No. 97 on GOLF Magazine’s ranking of Top 100 Courses in the World; two years later, it jumped to 83 on that same list.

With any project, Hanse says, one of his foremost goals is to dream up a design that is challenging for highly skilled players but approachable to the average golfer. That is how he describes the New Course.

No matter your index, Hanse says, “you can just go out and play golf. You’re going to be able to get it around and it’s unlikely you’re going to lose any balls and you’re going to enjoy yourself.”

To score well, though? That’s another matter.

“The level of precision required for that is high,” Hanse says. “It means finding the right angle of the fairway. It means hitting the proper quadrant of the green.”

teams at the bridges cup
At 2023 Bridges Cup, an elite mid-amateur event and Les Bordes shared the spotlight
By: Ashley Mayo

Something similar could be said about a second course Hanse and Wagner designed at Les Bordes — a 10-hole par-3 layout called the Wild Piglet, which shares many of the New Course’s finest features, in miniature.

All of these traits were on display a year ago this month, when Les Bordes hosted the Bridges Cup, a team competition between elite mid-amateurs from the United States and Europe. The quality of golf was high, and the artistry of the venue made the friendly, if hotly contested matches, all the more compelling. In the wake of the event, several participants remarked that the course sits so naturally in its surrounds, it almost seems to have been around forever, even if playing it never gets old. 

To hear more from Hanse about his work at Les Bordes, check out the video above.

Josh Sens Editor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.