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Give your sporting hobby a super-rich upgrade this summer

This summer, the ranch introduces the €16,500 Polo Challenge, an accelerated course that will transform novices into skilled players in two weeks, culminating in a game on one of Sotogrande’s championship fields, in front of a crowd. It’s akin to being invited to play tennis at Wimbledon, or race against Lewis Hamilton at the Monaco Grand Prix. If Martina is available, I may be seriously tempted to sign up.

Take a private jet to the world’s most fiendish golf course

By Tim Southwell

What do you do when you’ve worked hard, built up a hedge fund and made a ton of money? Well, if you’re a golf fanatic, you buy the estate of Bic ballpoint billionaire Baron Marcel Bich and declare that you’re going to create the best private members’ golf club in the world. And that’s just what Driss Benkirane, founder of private equity firm RoundShield Partners, is doing.

The 1,400-acre Les Bordes estate in the heart of the Loire Valley was established by Baron Bich in 1986. He commissioned legendary golf architect Robert Von Hagge to create what would become one of the finest courses in Europe: the Les Bordes Old Course. When Bich told Von Hagge “just create me a masterpiece,” he was taken at his word from him. A million dollars was spent crafting a single hole (the 16th). But the Baron’s faith was well placed. The Old Course was unlike anything France had seen. The holes meander through the Sologne Forest, intersected by vast bodies of water that a player must tackle head-on if they are to score well. Swathes of bunkering were dug and mountains of earth moved to create dramatic changes in elevation. In all, 12 of the 18 holes bring water into play – from the first tee shot on the 1st to the challenging final approach to the 18th green – and its 7,009-yard layout is as marvelous today as when it was created.

For years the estate was the Baron’s private sanctuary, but such was its allure, he put on occasional amateur and professional events. The French player Jean van de Velde (notorious for blowing the 1999 Open Championship when he ended up standing in the Barry Burn with his trousers rolled up on the 18th hole) holds the course record of 71.

But now Les Bordes has been thrown open to a membership of up to 500, as part of a development that will cost Benkirane and his fellow investors an eye-watering (and undisclosed) sum. Six Senses is handling the conversion of the estate’s 19th century Chateau Bel Air into a hotel.

Before an 8am tee time, I checked the weather: fair, with mist rising from a nearby lake. A swan glides past. A quick breakfast in the clubhouse and we’re on the first tee. The Old Course is so difficult that anyone who breaks 80 gets their name added to a short honors board. There are long carries, huge bunkers and fiendish-looking island greens.

After three holes, I had the wide-grinned, manic face of the geek in rapture. By the 13th tee (I was playing the back nine first), I was beginning to run out of golfballs: the fairways are elusive and the lakes quite greedy.

After Baron Bich died, in 1994, Les Bordes drifted until, 27 years later, Benkirane and his private equity funding came in. Under its new owners, a 7,391-yard golf course has been added to the estate, designed by golf architect Gil Hanse, whose creations include Castle Stuart, Streamsong and the Olympic Golf Course in Rio. Its layout has been compared to Pine Valley in New Jersey, widely considered to be the best example of penal golf-course architecture (that is, where there is no alternative route to avoid a hazard).

Fortunately for us, Hanse was determined to soften the New Course. It’s every bit as beautiful as its older sibling, but much easier. “I can’t think of another golf landscape that looks and feels like the New Course at Les Bordes,” says Hanse. “There are so many different facets to heathland courses, and I’m always influenced by Pine Valley. I think some of the scale of National Golf Links is apparent here, too. If you roll all this into one, that’s a pretty good recipe.”

The fairways are more generous and the carries are not so long. Low handicappers can score well, while the rest of us can enjoy a first-class experience. Benkirane, who plays to a handicap of six, says he’s close to realizing his golfing dream of him, with “two world-class golf courses born out of two very distinct design schools. The Old is the quintessential modern target-golf design, whereas the New, ironically, is inspired by the golden age of golf architecture.”

The wider plan for Les Bordes is to create a plutocrat’s playground with riding, go-karting, boating, fishing, tennis, natural swimming pool, organic farm, gallery and amphitheatre. All that is due to open in 2024. In the meantime, i”s golf nirvana and remarkably tranquil. “I love the nature and sense of peace and relaxation that one feels upon setting foot on the estate,” says Benkirane.

Most members of Les Bordes will arrive by private jet at Aéroport Orléans, 30 minutes away, but plans are afoot to build a runway adjacent to the property for the really time poor and cash rich.


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