‘French Golf Mistress’ – July, 2005
A good walk spoiled by rules…..
There are at least two places you will find snails on a French golf course. One is in the restaurant, where they will be marinated in garlic and served hot. The other is on giant posters on the course, encouraging people to play faster. While players tuck into the snails on their plate, they ignore the signs on the fairway. The French are adapting slowly to the game of golf.
Horror stories from Brits all over the country reach me. French players are pushing in, wearing strange clothes and even driving their golf carts into the bunkers to take shots. “They have a typically French attitude towards rules which is to ignore them,” says one exasperated Provence-based golfer. “For example if they miss the ball, they don’t count the shot.” Another Brit based in the Languedoc complains that they play winter rules all year round. This sounds heinous – but what does it mean? Apparently it’s all to do with the rule that you can pick the ball up in winter to wipe mud off it without counting it as a shot. The French, however, do this in the summer as well, when there is no mud on the ball. Worse, they are also accused of picking up balls in the rough.
I visit Souillac Country Club in the Dordogne to investigate these slanderous accusations. The club is part-owned by Brits, but has 250 local members. According to club President Sylvie Delcamp, they are trying to follow the rules. “But it is really something you invented and we try to follow,” says the glamorous Madame Delcamp (nicknamed Golfing Barbie by the male members).
Sylvie admits that the French aren’t so hot on dress code and that their manner can be a bit more laid-back than your average British player. They often wear shorts and T-shirts, although Sylvie tells me bare chests are frowned upon (unless it’s hers I presume).
During competitions the locals repeatedly have to be told to take things seriously and not to cheat. The French golfing association even runs courses to teach players etiquette and instil in them the importance of replacing divots. “But the upside is that we don’t have your snobbish attitude and ridiculous rules against women,” says Sylvie. “In Britain it is a more macho game.” In France 40% of registered golfers are female, compared with only 20% in the UK.
I talk to Pierre, a local farmer, who has been a member of the club for two years. He plays once a week and is astounded by the Brits on the course who show a dedication to the game he has not seen among his compatriots.
“They are on the course at 8.30 and they leave at 17.00,” he says. “They don’t even stop for a proper lunch and what’s more they do this every day. Even on weekends. It’s incredible.” If you want to ensure an empty course in France then you should play at lunchtime. The French see golf as something to be done before and after food, not during it.
A local agent I speak to says golf is one of the reasons people move to France. “They can buy a house next to the course and play golf all the time,” says Melanie van der Meer from Vallée de la Dordogne. “There is really no reason for them to leave the club at all.”
Mike Connor, a solicitor from Manchester, bought a three-bedroom cottage at Souillac in September 2002. He paid €200,000 for it. He and his family come out for all the school holidays. “For us it’s not really the golf that attracted us, it was the fact that we could have a house that would be looked after when we’re not here and also see the same people and their kids every holiday,” he says. “It’s great for the kids and totally safe.”
Brian Groocook, an agent who is based in the Var and specialises in properties on golf courses, says there is an increased demand for them. “This is due to the fact that you can literally just lock up and go without organising maintenance and also the fact that security is so good. The course has to be protected all the time, from the wild boar among other things, so your home is going to be safe,” he says.
I ask Pierre of he can imagine living at the club. “Oh no, I would miss my cows,” he says. “It’s a nice course though. Apart from the Brits complaining about us pushing in.”
Brian Groocock, email@example.com, Tel: 0033 6 78 63 59 91
Melanie van der Meer, Vallée de la Dordogne, www.immoboulevard.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel : 0033 (0) 555 91 11 36
VAT and British contractors
A friend of mine who moved here six months ago decide to have a geo-thermic heating system installed in his home. Because he doesn’t speak much French and the system is a complicated one, he decided to use a UK-based company. Not only have they made a real mess of the job, but they charged him VAT for it as well. As he lives in France and the work was carried out here he should not have charged VAT on it. Using contractors from back home is not always the easy option.
A reader has written to me from the Mayenne saying that she is being pursued for unpaid premiums by her French house insurer. She wrote to the company to cancel the policy before signing up for a cheaper one. However, she failed to send her letter by registered post. When cancelling any insurance policy in France, be it car or home, you have to give two months’ written notice and send this notice by registered post.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Smullö that will be published in spring 2020.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019