Of all the places to indulge dual passions for wine and golf, few rival Margaux, the southernmost of the four great Médoc appellations. To be sure, the courses in and around this historic village in southwest France are more respectable than world-class, but when combined with afternoons and evenings spent savoring the region’s cherished reds, they make for a wonderful sojourn. If Margaux’s wine were to spring to life as a golfer, it would resemble Hogan: perfectly balanced, with a graceful finish. And the same type of soil that yields great vintages is also well suited for links-style golf. Architect Bill Coore (working without his partner, Ben Crenshaw) took full advantage of the heather and gorse that thrive in this terroir when designing the region’s best layout, the Châteaux course at Golf du Médoc.
What’s surprising to first-time visitors is how small and unassuming the famed Médoc villages are. They seem to exist in a time warp: before billboards, fast food and self-promotion, just well-tended vineyards and classic French country architecture. Anyone accustomed to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys will also be struck by how flat the area is and how noncommercial and generally modest it appears to be. Traditionally, these wineries sold their entire production through brokers, not bothering to encourage aficionados to visit. Those visitors who did come would sleep and eat in the city of Bordeaux. But that’s all changed. Today, the châteaux cultivate tourists, and with French authorities actively promoting golf in the Médoc—even offering a discounted pass to its four courses—there has never been a finer time to visit.
Playing The main stop for golfers in Margaux is Golf du Médoc, which is home to two eighteens. Coore recently returned to his Châteaux course to oversee a slight alteration of the final hole to accommodate a new hotel. This attention to detail and the elegant fit of Coore’s design with the distinctive landscape make the layout a pleasure to play. The 418-yard par-four sixth, for example, demands a hefty drive over water and a nimble approach to a green that, although guarded by bunkers on three sides, allows a run-up shot from the left. The Châteaux’s sister course, the Vignes, designed by Canadian Rod Whitman, is part links, part parkland and plenty sporty. Bring your fairway woods and hybrids: There are several lengthy par fives.
Another fine option is Golf International de Lacanau Océan, set in a pine forest thirty miles west of Bordeaux, close to the Atlantic (the air carries a salty whiff of the sea). Lacanau plays across undulating terrain, and its doglegs deftly test golfers’ course-management skills.
Within minutes of the village is Golf de Margaux, designed by a French architect named Oliver Dongradi and opened in January 2006. The course lies along the Gironde estuary, and water frequently encroaches, most spectacularly on the par-four fourteenth, where approach shots are played to a small peninsula green. Changeable breezes off the river add to the challenge. Although fully playable now, the course will benefit from another year or two of ripening.
Staying Bordering that young course is Relais de Margaux, an established resort that offers large, comfortable rooms as well as two upscale restaurants and a sleek spa. The smaller, quieter Golf du Médoc Hotel & Spa, which opened in May, has seventy-nine rooms, a full-service spa and a restaurant that overlooks the home hole on the Châteaux course.