Official Charity

5 days in Champagne: 19th-24th September 2010

hotel

It is stunning. 16 members take up Chairman Rick Jones' offer of five days in Champagne and arrive Sunday evening from a gray, wet Britain as autumn sunshine lights up glorious Lac de l'Ailette. While everyone settles into a room with a view and changes for drinks on the terrace, a huge harvest moon ascends in time to catch the last rays of the setting sun.

dawn mist"That's nice, but what about the golf?"

Day 1 - Golf de l'Ailette

Monday morning dawns crisp and clear with mist rising from an unruffled lake. Only the splash of herons and call of coots break the stillness.

The first day's organiser, Roger Harrington, is up at first light to beat the others to the Golf de l'Ailette course before their 9:00 start time. Unfortunately, he also beats the pro, the administrator, and most of the greenkeepers. The cleaner helpfully lets him into the car park. When the course opens at 8:45 he scrambles to arrange cards, buggies, and and get everyone ready for the off. Anyone looking for balls, tees, water, or souvenirs is out of luck - the pro shop is closed on Mondays.

jackets off"Yes, but what about the golf?"

The morning mist leaves a heavy dew on the newly-mown grass while jumpers and jackets swiftly donned for the chilly first three holes are soon discarded as the very last sun of summer warms the fairways. (Left) Gerry Young, Dave McCormick and Peter Barford get their kit off.

one"The GOLF?"

Oh all right. Rick Jones caps a winning score of 36 Stableford points with a "hole in one" on the 18th (photo right). It would have been more but he takes another 6 strokes, including a penalty drop, to get to the pin.

Day 2 - Golf de Reims Champagne

reimsHaving scouted his course the day before (and benefitting from starting after the staff arrived), organiser Gerry Young is fully prepared for Tuesday's outing to Le Golf de Reims Champagne, offering detailed directions (better than any sat-nav), scorecards, and helpful tips for navigating quirky French backroads.

The Clubhouse is in a lovely chateau, which golfers enjoyed - briefly - from the outside. Though the first teetime is 10:30, the kitchen shuts a scant 3 1/2 hours later at 2 p.m.(ish) so lunch is off the menu.

The golf is tricky because scorecards do not match the SSIs or distances shown at each hole. However, Shelley Harrington finds form (if not formule) and wins the day with 38 points.

Day 3 - Les Vendanges

windmillWednesday 22nd - the autumnal equinox. The players take a break from golf and immerse themselves in champagne - some more than others. The region is in the midst of the grape harvest: les vendanges. Roads and vineyards are thick with lorries, tractors, vans, coaches, and thousands of itinerant workers frantically struggling to empty the vines - by hand - before the first rains. Those who finish early celebrate by throwing clusters of grapes at cars, buildings and passers-by.

peter swingsSome of the BGS group head to the cellars of Champagne du Rédempteur for an intimate tasting. Founder Edmond Dubois was jailed in the early 20th century for defending the rights of local growers to claim exclusive use of the champagne appelation, hence the name "saviour". His great-granddaughter Claudy and her husband run the business. Claudy personally leads a tour of the facility, which includes wading through pools of champagne haphazardly spilled across the floor.

laonPeter Breakell generously offers to teach the youngest Dubois how to swing (right). The question is, did he pull or did he fade?

Others spend the free day visiting the nearby city of Laon, with its impressive cathedral, and WWI memorials dotted around the countryside.

Day 4 - Back to the Lac

hunt,harrington,breakellThe autumn sunshine holds long enough for Mike Houghton to organise the final day's golf back at Golf de l'Ailette (below with Mike Bell and Rick Jones). Terry Hunt remembers it better than the others and plays better too, winning with 32 points. Roger Harrington takes his hat off to him (right).

jones bell houghtonNo "kitchen closes at 2.00" nonsense here. The three teams of four (playing in four 3-balls, got that?) enjoy a leisurely lunch which includes prizegiving for the three one-day winners; the team trophy for Peter Breakell, Mike Bell, and Rick Jones, captained by Rona Barford; and awards for most improved players Roger Harrington and Val Jones.

tippyShelley Harrington is overall winner - despite scoring 7 blobs on the first day and tipping over her buggy on the last. Here, Rona Barford and Val Jones try to repeat the feat.

The team also presents a special gift to Rick Jones for organising an outstanding trip.

Gala Dinner

dinner tasterDave McCormick leaves nothing to chance for the gala dinner, inviting an advance party of Shelley & Roger Harrington, and Wendy & Mike Houghton to join Margaret and himself at Chateau Bernard for a menu taster the day before (left).

Sue's birthdayThe night itself is topped off by a birthday surprise for Sue Bell (right with Gerry and Alison Young). The date is clearly emblazoned, so no excuses for forgetting next year, Mike.

Day 5 - time to go

On Friday morning the rains arrive. With no golf scheduled, everyone packs their bags and heads off. As Lac d'Ailette dissolves into the cloud, they spare a rueful thought for the vendangeurs and look forward to the next visit.

See the Photo Gallery on the Stories page.