Although a very fashionable activity for urbanites, golf has tended to move out into the country over the past twenty years. France’s demographic upheavals and the willingness of the Fédération Française de Golf to popularise a sport that demanded wider appeal, have largely helped to develop golf courses outside towns and cities in country settings all over France.
The rise of rural sport
The demographic landscape has changed in recent years as the urban population has been increasingly drawn to country life. The result has seen revolutionary growth in sporting activities in the rural environment. A new lease of life has been given to traditional games even as new sports have emerged. One new sport, disc golf (a hybrid between golf and frisbee), enjoyed resounding success since the 1970s. A national rural sports federation was thus founded in 1983 (Fédération Nationale du Sport in Milieu Rural, FNSMR), providing a framework for the birth of a rustic version of golf known in France as swin golf.
Golf for all
In 1982, an enthusiastic golfer named Laurent de Vilmorin, realising that golf was the preserve of a particular social class, decided to democratise the sport and share his enthusiasm with as many people as possible. To this end, he invented swin golf. The sport draws its inspiration from golf as well as from ancient games like lacrosse, pall-mall, and chôle. It is played on rural courses of 9 or 18 holes with a single, three-sided club and a soft ball that is larger than a standard golf ball (but weighs the same). Swin golf first saw the light of day in 1993, and subsequently became affiliated with the Fédération Française de Golf (FFG). Thanks to the moderate cost of equipment and course fees, swin golf has actively contributed to make its older cousin more popular. On the foundation of swin golf, the FFG began developing the concept of rustic golf in the 1990s. The idea was to increase the clientele for golf courses by creating simpler ones in the countryside, featuring facilities and activities aimed at players who are less demanding in terms of infrastructure and services – all at affordable prices. This policy led to the creation of many countryside courses as well as the rising popularity of golf among the rural population.
Incredible natural settings
To date, there are 250 so-called ‘rustic’ golf courses scattered all across France. At the edge of the Parc National du Mercantour, the rustic 9-hole course at Auron offers a mountain setting among pine and larch trees at an altitude of 1,600m (5,200 ft). In the town of Souraïde, located in the Pyrenean Valleys of the Basque Country, the Epherra rustic golf course boasts a tricky, 18-hole course with a fantastic view of the Basque mountains that is absolutely magnificent. Encircled by the River Brenne at the foot of Mont Auxois (where Vercingetorix was finally defeated by Julius Caesar), Venarey is a 7-hole course open to players of all levels – an exotic experience! Don’t miss out on these incredible natural settings!