People love golf. People love second homes. People love traveling to exotic locales and enjoying great food and beautiful surroundings.
Increasingly, you can do these all at once without having to sacrifice any part of the equation.
In recent years there has been a proliferation of developments overseas that are not only attractive to Americans, but also set up specifically to appeal to them. If you have fantasized about living in French wine country or on a gorgeous tropical beach and care about golf, the options are better than ever – and in some cases more affordable then equivalents here in the United States.
For more than a decade I have been an international member at Ireland’s Ballyliffin Golf Club, which boasts two excellent links courses, the kind that avid golf travelers go out of their way to play, real stunners. Joining was a very good deal for me financially, but making the trip is not so easy because it is an old-school classic club, with no lodging or real estate, and convincing my wife to join me is a challenge because there are no resort amenities besides golf and a clubhouse restaurant. This is why the paradigm of overseas golf clubs has been changing, and I just witnessed the future of great golf lifestyle in France’s Loire Valley.
Les Bordes Golf Club is a truly awesome development in the heart of the famed Loire Valley, a world-class wine region and beloved tourism destination filled with landmark chateaus and great cuisine, just 90 minutes from Paris. Les Bordes is one of the most impressive golf communities I have seen anywhere in the world, and I have seen a lot of golf communities. Its non-golf amenities rival the likes of facility standouts Martis Camp in Tahoe or Shooting Star in Jackson, WY, but with twice as many golf courses for far fewer homes than either. The membership is about a quarter American and another quarter from the United Kingdom, making the language barrier non-existent. The largest group of members is French, taking advantage of living within easy driving distance, along with a smattering from Northern Europe and the rest of the world. It is easy to see why they all think it is worth the trip – a surprisingly easy trip given all the international non-stops to Paris – despite the fact that just about every U.S. member already belongs to one or more (sometimes many more) marquee private golf clubs here.
For starters, Les Bordes has two stunning courses, easily the best 36-holes in Continental Europe. The Old, which has been in play for four decades, is considered the career jewel of architect Robert Von Hagge, no small feat when you consider that he laid out about 250 routings worldwide. It is ranked the second best in all of France and sixth in Continental Europe by website Top100GolfCourses.com, while many other credible course lists have consistently put it in the Continent’s Top 3 for the past 40 years. Like so many must-play stunners (Shadow Creek, Kauri Cliffs, Whistling Straits, etc.) it was developed as a personal point of pride by a very wealthy businessman who spared no expense to make it the best, in this case the owner of Bic, as in razors, pens and lighters.
For most of the past 40 years, Les Bordes Old quietly anchored the very limited development of a 1400-acre baronial hunting estate that includes such niceties as 12th century monks’ priory, a stunning chateaux and incredible old growth forest, in turn part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage region. After this long, staid history as a small golf club, a new ownership team has ambitiously and suddenly put the place high on the list for anyone considering international golf ownership. Two dozen swank cottages offer members and their guests overnight, on-site and very convenient accommodations, while non-golf facilities include extensive equestrian offerings, a tennis center, a lake with sandy beach and stand up paddleboarding, miles and miles of hiking, mountain biking and horse trails, and a virtually endless slate of family-friendly amenities, including a petting zoo and electric go kart track, not something you often find at even the world’s best resorts.
But the big hook is a brand new eighteen by Gil Hanse, currently one of the hottest golf course designers in the world (among many other accolades he won the international competition to design the course for the Rio Olympics). His New Course just opened (less than two weeks ago) and has already received stunning reviews. I personally would give the Old a slight edge, because it is full of jaw dropping visuals and impressive tee shots one after another, a building crescendo of golf drama, but the New embraces the currently chic retro-links or heathland style found at acclaimed places like Streamsong and Sand Valley, and is both very different in feel and excellent in its own right. Most critics will likely rate it ahead of the Old and it may very likely become the Number One course in Continental Europe. The New is walking only, the Old allows carts, and both offer caddies, a great touch.
Hanse also built a brand new 10-hole short course that is exceptional (I played all three layouts), and while this is another red-hot trend being added to most of the top golf resorts, this is one of the best of its kind I have seen. Members have quickly taken to going around it again and again for an afternoon of fun, often with a cocktail in hand. Hanse also added a new putting course bigger than the practice green outside the clubhouse – which was already the largest on the Continent. The climate in the Loire Valley is ideal, and golf is enjoyed here year-round, but just in case, they also have a state-of-the-art indoor golf simulator.
Les Bordes has a wonderful, intimate, charming feel, with a simple clubhouse with excellent food, and members enjoy dining and drinking outside on the large patio overlooking the Old Course while socializing. It is a world apart and big step up from the characterless golf mega-developments I’ve seen that sprawl across the south of Spain, the traditional hub of foreign second home ownership in Europe.
The golf is truly exceptional and world class, but there is a lot more to come. Acclaimed luxury resort brand Six Senses is building a spa and wellness focused 88-room boutique resort based out of the estate’s Chateaux with surrounding low-rise buildings, plus its own residential offerings, opening in early 2024. The former Monk’s priory is being redeveloped into a “village center” that will include a patisserie, craft center, farmer’s market, restaurant and more, and between the golf club and resort hotel there will be several new options for dining and drinking, with more excellent eateries nearby and the closest town less than 10 minutes away.
The Les Bordes Estate is also offering its own pre-designed luxury home products, the Cour du Baron residences. Phase one includes 48 2-6-bedroom homes in three styles, designed by top architecture firm Michaelis Boyd (Soho House) and award-winning interior designer Morpheus & Co. (Six Senses Courchevel, Clube Thirty Nine Monte Carlo). The homes are done in a charming stone farmhouse style that really suits the natural surroundings, each with ample outdoor spaces to connect it to the forests, many with pools. The homes are stunners, and compared to an equivalent spot in the U.S., bargains. A brand-new luxury 3-bedroom home can be had for under $700,000 – fully furnished. Golf memberships are even bigger steals, from around $3500 annually – the same fee charged by a fairly average single course private club near me in rural New England with no facilities other than a basic clubhouse and snack stand. You do not have to own property to join the golf club, and you will still have access to the overnight cottage rentals, also designed by Michaelis Boyd. In less than two years, members will also have the option of staying at the Six Senses.
I was blown away by the quality of both the golf and the facilities, as well as by the laid back, non-fussy, family friendly escapist aesthetic. Rather than the haughty tone many private clubs take, Les Bordes is going for an intimate home-away-from-home feel, where members know all the staffers and it feels like one big happy family. Golf weather is good all year round, and Les Bordes would be a fantastic place to spend the holidays.
But while Les Bordes is a stunning example of great golf and great resort facilities in a wonderful setting overseas, it is hardly the only one, and there are some standout options closer to home.
Mexico has long been a top choice for American second homeowners, and for golf, this is especially true of the Los Cabos region, filled with excellent courses and lavish communities anchored by big name luxury hotels. But Cabo has become a bit of a victim of its own success, very expensive, especially for Mexico, and often crowded. For this reason, I have become fascinated with lesser-known Islands of Loreto, an incredibly beautiful area on the Sea of Cortez, on the same Baja Peninsula but about 200 miles north of Los Cabos. The Bay of Loreto National Park is a marine sanctuary that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and spans nearly 800 square miles. It offers pristine diving, kayaking and exceptional offshore sport fishing. Called the “world’s aquarium” by legendary undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, it is home to 850 species and the most diverse whale population on earth.
In addition to golf, the big appeals here are eco-tourism, and mountains rise from the sea, offering great hiking. The charming town of Loreto was founded by Spanish missionaries in 1697, with its cathedral, historic central plaza and cobblestone streets still intact and oozing charm. Streets are lined with shops and restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine.
Danzante Bay is the golf community here, with a jaw dropping course, TPC Danzante Bay, that hugs the edges of cliffs overlooking the bay. The TPC network (Tournament Players Club) is a group of courses developed by the PGA Tour, originally designed specifically to host tournaments and be spectator friendly, though many are now just private clubs or resort courses without Tour events. The most famous are TPC Sawgrass, home to the “Fifth Major,” the Player’s Championship, and TPC Scottsdale, host of the world’s most attended tournament, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The Rees Jones designed Danzante Bay is the only TPC course in Mexico, and in addition to be being pretty amazing in its own right, members of all TPC clubs get access to the other courses and free golf at the private TPCs. The network includes 30 facilities across the U.S., Asia and the Caribbean, some with multiple courses.
Danzante Bay has four “neighborhoods” of second homes, a private members beach club, and a resort that allows both overnight stays and public access to the golf course, Villa del Palmar. The resort features four restaurants, an enormous spa, five pools, fitness center, tennis court and there is even a dog park. Pre-designed homes start at $1.7 million, with lots from $370,000 and golf memberships at $5000 ($7500 for family).
A much different coastal experience can be found north of the border, hugging the Atlantic on Cape Breton Island in Canada’s Nova Scotia. Located on over a mile of sandy beach, Cabot Cape Breton offers one of North America’s very best golf resort experiences and has become a pilgrimage destination for avid golfers worldwide. Both of its 18-hole layouts make the top half of Golf Digest’s list of the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, and are true links courses, walking only, with caddies available, the closest thing to the British Isles on the eastern seaboard.
Conde Nast Traveler magazine ranked Cape Breton Island as the Number One Island in all of North America in 2020, and when not playing golf, a key attraction here is the world-famous Cabot Trail, a 186-mile drive that showcases some of the most spectacular scenery in all of vast Canada. Watersports – thanks to the Gulf Stream the area has the warmest waters north of the Carolinas – include the beach, kayaking, paddleboarding and excellent fishing, both deep sea charters (the largest concentration of bluefin tuna in the world!) and salmon fishing on the Margaree River. Cycling is popular, especially on the nearby Celtic Shores Coastal Trail.
The resort itself has clay tennis courts, three restaurants with a focus on the area’s amazing seafood, and a 72-room lodge, plus 19 fully furnished two- and four-bedroom contemporary villas. But this is a much more purely golf-centric proposition than Les Bordes or Danzante, with a season that runs from mid-May until the end of October. Cabot Cliffs was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and is ranked the Number One course in Canada by just about everyone, including Canada’s own major publication Score Golf. Golf Digest follows suit, but also ranks it the 11th best course in the world, no small kudos. Cabot Links is by Canadian golf architect Rod Whitman, and each of its 18-holes offers an ocean view, with five playing directly adjacent to the beach. Golf Digest ranks it 35th on earth. Short courses are all the rage, and The Nest just opened, a par-3, 10-hole routing perched on the property’s highest point, with stunning views.
The quality of the golf draws people to the resort, but a lucky few also call Cabot home. All 41 homes to date quickly sold out, but a new offering of 3-4-bedroom Dunes Cottages will be released soon starting at $1.3 million.
There are hundreds of other overseas golf communities with second-home or retirement living, but these three stand out as modern examples of the trend towards anchoring a multi-pronged resort experience with exceptional golf, not just any old course.