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Le Jeu Provençal

"Spring is the best time to play Provence," Levy said approvingly. "Spring and fall. The air is so soft and warm. We play golf here year-round--the lowest it gets is in the sixties, but in the summer the heat is terrible. It looks like Pelican Hill, don't you think?"

Le Frégate was nothing but hills. At Levy's suggestion, we had taken a golf cart. We motored up steep inclines flanked by juniper, pine, heatherlike bruyères and a flowering shrub dotted with yellow blooms called a cyste, and almost collided with the oncoming golf cart of a kindly local golfer whose passenger was a handsome yellow Labrador retriever.

"That's Hashish the Golf Dog," Levy instructed. "He brings back lost golf balls.

"See that house on the hill?" he continued. "That used to be a hunting palace." French golf courses are often built on former aristocratic hunting and fishing estates whose stone chãteaus still carry the elegant symmetry of the classical period. Provençal courses can also feature remnants of traditional rural architecture related to ancient bories, drystone huts with tiny windows, reinforced doors and thick walls that bespeak the natives' ongoing battle against the merciless summer sun. And the violent mistral, which in its summer form is an eerie, hot wind that drills down the Rhône River valley, exploding across the inland coast and, as the saying goes, making "wives go after their husbands with butcher knives."

At number fifteen, Levy declared, "It's a gambler's hole. An easy par, a tough birdie."

Do they call birdies "birdies" in France?Mais oui--French golf terms, Levy assured me, are the same as English ones. Quel disappointment! One would have hoped for something in a l'oiseaux. A dogleg surely should be called a croissant, but no (though it usually ends up as "dogs legs" in French golf guides). "See the hirondelles--the swallows--in that bush?" Levy asked. "They're eating fennel seeds." That led to talk of lunch. Whatever you do when you play golf in France, do not off-handedly remark that you're hungry. A French golfer takes this proclamation seriously, even in midgame, and you are likely to be instantly herded toward the clubhouse, where you will not have to settle for a sandwich.

We hurriedly finished the sixteenth hole, "a gentil little par three," and the seventeenth, a tough par-four "dogs legs" left with an excellent view of Le Frégate's resort, which was designed to look like the region's ancient villages perchés such as St.-Paul-de-Vence.


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