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Le Jeu Provençal

And to think that such luxury is about a half-hour's drive from three of the regions top golf clubs--the venerable Cannes-Mandelieu (founded in 1891 by the Grand Duke Michael of Russia), Opio Valbonne and the sumptuous Cannes-Mougins Country Club.

Cannes-Mougins's offices, locker rooms, pro shop and superb clubhouse inhabit the buildings of a seventeenth-century olive mill. Its grounds are perfectly maintained by a dozen gardeners, and some of the holes are on the former hunting estate of a nobleman. The rest of Provence calls. YOU forgo other nearby courses and head west toward Aix-en-Provence. The directions sound so simple, the ones the French give to their golf courses. On the map they look so easy. The devil is in the details, which can result in conversations like this:

Man: "Could it be?We're on A8?Can I finally get out of third gear?"

Woman: "How do we know we're on the street we're supposed to exit from?"Man: "We don't."

Woman: "Are we still in Grasse?"

Man: "There is no way out of Grasse. This is the French Truman Show." Finally someone sees a sign pointing to somewhere no one has ever mentioned--in this case Digne--and insists on following it. An hour later, having climbed deep into the limestone hills above the coast, Golf de Taulane appears like a baronial apparition against a cornflower-blue sky, inspiring, finally, the trip's motto: Finding golf courses in France is like believing in God--you just have to pray they're there.

The Taulane golf course rides the border between the Alpes-Maritimes and the Var. With the more westerly Bouches-du-Rhône, these three areas are the official regions of coastal Provence. Technically départements, they are larger than counties and smaller than states--with their own particular geographies.

One cannot imagine the cool beauty of Golf de Taulane, the walls of its eighteenth-century chãteau shimmering pale and lemony against that turquoise sky, high in the French pre-Alpes. Now a four-star hotel, the Chãteau de Taulane was built in 1750 by the Marquis de Lisle. More than a century later, Gary Player designed Taulane's par-seventy-two golf course, his first in France. Its sunny disposition and haute alpine air are as refreshing as anything in the Rockies. Its signature fountain sprays heavenward from the center of a small lake like the bidet of the mountain goddess. But the circular bunker near the third green is what really gets your attention: a tawny highway of sand forever circumnavigating a lone Provençal pine.

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