A new breed of country club

Mary Wilson finds golf developments in France where a warm welcome extends to all the family
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The Independent Online

On the borders of the Lot and the Dordogne, in rural south-west France, it is possible to play a round of golf at the Souillac Country Club with all the family, and not feel embarrassed if you miss a few shots.

On the borders of the Lot and the Dordogne, in rural south-west France, it is possible to play a round of golf at the Souillac Country Club with all the family, and not feel embarrassed if you miss a few shots.

There are some developments where I have been harassed by course attendants for having too many people on the greens, for taking a buggy on the fairway rather than the path, and even for not wearing the right clothing. So it was a relief to discover that my husband and I and three children were in no peril as we set off in our shorts and trainers to play the 18-hole course that winds its way through an ancient oak forest. We did take longer than we should have done, but we were quite happy to let better players through, and we took advantage of the four tee-off positions - competition, men, women, and children. We all played from the children's course, and if we lost a few balls in the undergrowth, it really didn't matter.

Souillac Country Club is owned by a consortium of British entrepreneurs who have, over the past nine years, built it up from a run-down nine-hole golf course with four timber lodges and a tired clubhouse with swimming pool, into the very attractive resort that it is now. It has two communal pools - a shallow one for children, a larger, deeper one for everyone else - a smart clubhouse with an excellent restaurant, two tennis courts (there will eventually be four), table tennis, volleyball, and a children's club in the summer.

Of the 120 lodges, 94 have been built and 80 sold. Each cluster of nine or so lodges has its own heated pool, so the main one can be enjoyed by day members or golf-club members, of whom 250 are French. Sales have been mostly to the UK, with a smattering to Dutch, Irish and other expats.

The lodges are very comfortable, with either two, three, four or five bedrooms, well-equipped kitchens and large living areas. Many overlook the fairways, with the last 26 being built in two more "hamlets" at the back of the development, some with far-reaching views over the surrounding woodland and countryside. The newer homes have plasterboard interior walls, instead of tongue-and-groove, larger living rooms with bigger windows, and upgraded fixtures and fittings.

Steve and Sally Vickers are the only permanent residents at the development, having bought their home there last July. "We moved here from Dubai, and what we like most of all is the greenery, the peace and quiet, and the wonderful unpolluted air," says Mrs Vickers. "I also the enjoy listening to all the birdsong in our garden. There is a very natural way of life in this area. It is relaxed and the people, both on the complex and outside, are so friendly.

Many owners rent out their properties, using the company's management service, and quite a number have bought under the "para-hôtellerie" scheme operated by the French government, which allows owners 180 days' use each year and rental income, which should at least cover running costs and a holiday per year. This scheme is initially for nine years, and means that the purchaser can recoup the 19.6 per cent VAT. (However, if you don't renew the contract or sell before 20 years, you have to repay the VAT pro rata.)

John Oakes bought his lodge in 2000. "We knew the area and thought that the location was excellent. We needed to be near Toulouse airport as we fly in from Ireland, and we were impressed by the quality of the lodges. We bought under the para-hôtellerie scheme because we knew that we wouldn't be able to occupy the lodge more than a few weeks a year, so it suited us."

Fourteen properties are currently for sale priced from €281,050 for a two-bedroom lodge, to €472,420 for a four-/five-bedroom lodge. If the properties are sold on a para-hôtellerie basis, the prices drop to €235,000 to €395,000. Rental charges range from €950 to €1,650 per week for a three-bedroom lodge. You can fly to Limoges or Toulouse, but when one of the cheap airlines, possibly Ryanair, start flying to Brive in 2007, the journey from the airport will be reduced to half an hour.

At Saumane-de-Vaucluse, further east, near Avignon, another development, the Provence Country Club, is just as child-friendly. This is a development of 179 one- and two-bedroom apartments, built in clusters on a pine-covered ridge overlooking the 18-hole golf course. Here it is also fine to play golf in shorts, and there is a regular Wednesday children's golf session.

Facilities include a clubhouse, conference room, pool, tennis courts and restaurant, and property here can be bought on a leaseback scheme with guaranteed rental income. For €125,296 (ex VAT) you could purchase a one-bedroom fully furnished apartment and buy into a luxurious lifestyle without a huge outlay. You have the option of buying purely for investment and receiving higher rental income - up to 5.3 per cent with no personal use; of having four weeks' usage per annum with an income of 4 per cent; or seven weeks usage, which reduces the income to 2.5 per cent. Again, with this scheme you have to repay VAT pro rata if you sell before 20 years.

Souillac Country Club (00 33 565 27 56 00 or 0871 780 1444; www.souillaccountryclub.com)

Provence Country Club (Savills 020-7016 3740)

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