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EXCLUSIVE: Partners Seek Due Credit For Late Architect’s Role In Ryder Cup Venue’s Design

Robert von Hagge
Robert von Hagge (left) and Hubert Chesneau during construction of Le Golf National (photo courtesy of Richard Baril).

UPDATE (JANUARY 20, 2018): Hubert Chesneau responded Saturday to Global Golf Post’s request for clarification regarding who designed the Albatros Course at Le Golf National with the following e-mail:

Thank you for contacting me to clarify an important point regarding the design of Golf National especially because this point has notably generated several times incomplete or false assumptions.

I will try to enlighten you in a few lines on the history of the design of Golf National.

I worked for 20 years, in Paris, as an architect of buildings, sports facilities, golf courses, I have been a golfer, French Amateur team Captain, volunteer and elected member in boards and French Golf Federation Executive Committee, then General Director until 2006.

In September 1985, I presented to C.Cartier, FFGolf President, a project for a National Golf Center, including 3 courses of which one aimed at hosting championships including the French Open, the Albatros, to be built according to a golf stadium concept.

My former job as an architect (of buildings) had made me discover the difficulty that earthworks companies in Paris region were trying to extract and evacuate their volumes of earthworks. My idea, was, on a flat and bare ground, to create a suitable topography for a layout bordered with grassed tribunes by organizing the supply of 1.8 million cubic meters backfill.

Following the decision by Executive Committee of the French Golf Federation in September 1985 to develop its own golf centre, the project which I had proposed was approuved in May 1986 by the Commitee (sic), and I was entrusted with the design and construction of the courses with the ability of seeking consultants of my choice.

In addition to P. Thevenin, consultant for the topography engineering, I chose R. Von Hagge (sic) who, at that time, was building two golf courses in France, to be my consultant for the Albatros course.

We reached an agreement in February 1987 and I really appreciated Bob’s contributions and advice during the final elaboration of the course and his few construction site visits.

Alas, led by some of his collaborators, a controversy over the “paternity” of the drawing came to light until Bob and I decided (Sept 2008) to put an end to it and to remain on the original responsibilities of each one:

Hubert Chesneau, Architect and Bob Von Hagge, Consultant.

Unfortunately Bob is dead and can not confirm my words, but you will understand that I want things to be clear and accurate and that I am attentive to the respect of these facts.

Moreover you could also consult the FFG which, besides construction and financing, remains the owner and operator of Golf National.

The Architects of Le Golf National, Albatros Course

The late Robert von Hagge, the American golf course architect who played the major role in the design of the 2018 Ryder Cup venue in France, has disappeared from Le Golf National’s story like some lost ball.

Though in 1987 von Hagge was contracted to work with the French Golf Federation’s altogether less experienced Hubert Chesneau, Chesneau now refers solely to himself as the architect of Le Golf National’s Albatros Course.

Von Hagge died in 2010, but there are some who, believing as they do that the course has “von Hagge’s stamp all over it,” would like the record set straight ahead of the Ryder Cup.

Hardly surprisingly, various connoisseurs preferred not to have their names used on so sensitive a matter. One high-ranking official described the question of who was responsible for what at Le Golf National as “a difficult one,” adding that arguments had been on the go since the outset. He suspected that any accurate apportionment of credits might be tough to obtain from federation HQ.

Similarly, a famous French player summed up events with the word “mysterious.”

Yet to von Hagge’s partners at the Texas-based architecture firm which still bears his name von Hagge, Smelek & Baril there is nothing mysterious about it. Their late partner has been wronged.

Rick Baril was present with von Hagge at that meeting in 1987 where Claude Roger Cartier, then president of the French Golf Federation, explained why the federation had requested the assistance of what was then von Hagge Associates. To quote from a note Baril made at the time, “Our involvement, according to President Cartier, is ‘needed and intended to provide the French Golf Federation a guarantee of success for this important and unprecedented project.’ ”  

Such praise was hardly surprising given that von Hagge was at the time being feted for his work on such projects as the Blue Monster at Doral and Les Bordes in France.

Michael Smelek furnished details of von Hagge’s original deal with the federation. “When the arrangement started, we agreed to discount our fee in exchange for the publicity which would go with being associated with what was to become a French Open venue. What we did not know then was that the course would host the Ryder Cup. With that coming up, it makes it still more important to us that the facts should be made known and that we get our share of the credit, not just for Robert’s sake but for the company’s.”

They probably feared for the worst on the day the course opened in 1990. By one account, Chesneau, a one-time federation director, was among those dignitaries driving around after the mayor of Paris in a buggy while von Hagge was left to follow on foot.

“Unfortunately, Chesneau has pretty much promoted himself as the designer all along,” Smelek said. “We had endless discussions about it in the early days but these stopped long ago. Now we are dependent on someone in your line of business telling the true story.”

The Gradual Disappearance of von Hagge’s Name

Initially, both Chesneau and von Hagge were named in any literature forthcoming from the federation. But before too long, von Hagge’s name tended to be reduced to a smaller print, and then it was hit or miss as to whether it was mentioned at all.

Now, it has come to this.

In a history of Le Golf National that appears on the facility’s website, Chesneau tells the story of his role as architect when, in fact, his strengths lay more in the realm of organizing materials needed to contour the land. Only late in his account does he give von Hagge the briefest of mentions. It refers to how the two of them exchanged sketches, something which is apparently the norm in such collaborative ventures.

The exchange of sketches did happen, only as von Hagge’s partners have stressed, the sketches used were von Hagge’s after von Hagge had felt compelled to point out that Chesneau’s routing of the course was unsuitable. “Which it was,” said Baril.

“Following on from there, Hubert followed our instructions and there is an example of this in the few remaining documents which were not destroyed in an office fire.”

Smelek explained further.

“If you look at the other courses von Hagge designed at the time, you can see that Golf National has his stamp all over it. It is highly unlikely that Chesneau could have come up with that design on his own. With the best will in the world, he did not have the background for it. You cannot suddenly produce a course of the calibre of Golf National.”

Baril was prepared to give praise where praise is due. Asked to name a contribution to the design which Chesneau could rightly call his own, he picked out the green of the par-3 eighth. “The eighth green was Hubert’s. If I remember correctly, it bore a likeness to one on a favourite links course of his. It’s a great green and always seems to be featured in French Open broadcasts.”

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Chesneau did not respond to an e-mail from Global Golf Post calling for clarification regarding who designed the course, but the federation’s media manager named Chesneau as the architect. When called upon to say where von Hagge came into the picture, the manager referred to him as “a consultant.”



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