PARIS, France -- It's a Ryder Cup tradition like no other, in Europe, at least: to bemoan the host course; to sigh that it is less than world class; to wish that the European Tour were not so economically reliant on the match that it didn't have to hawk the host venue to the bidder with the deepest pockets.
The ritual moaning already has started this year, a golfing tinnitus that won't go away. It ignores that the move from acknowledged masterpieces to resort courses is exactly coordinated with Europe's success (and with it the Ryder Cup's leap from dying mismatch to worldwide phenomenon). It stubbornly overlooks that the Tour needs every Euro it can earn from this week because it bankrolls the next four seasons. Grumbling doesn't alter harsh financial necessity.
The 2018 host course at Le Golf National, designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge, splits opinion. To many, arguably the majority, it is as good a Ryder Cup test as there has been in decades, one always built with the match in mind, possessing a roller-coaster finish like no other. To some, it is characterised by contrived threat and modern confection: If you want thrills, head for Euro Disney.
Each argument might ponder the course's similarities with the nearby Palace of Versailles: Both were landscaped from scratch; both feature manicured lawns; and while one has a Hall of Mirrors, the other has a series of water hazards designed to reflect fear. Ultimately, both were created to attract attention and dazzle the world.
Whichever way you choose to look at it, the Albatross Course is a very modern examination, but one that is actually rather more nuanced than it seems at first glance.
"You have to be patient," said Tommy Fleetwood, winner of the Open de France in 2017 and a vital member of this year's European Ryder Cup team.
The course is famed for the closing stretch of four holes, three of which (15, 16 and 18) cross a lake and can be viewed from amphitheatre banking that surrounds them.
For those newly introduced to the layout, the first two holes won't alter the perception that this course is all about water: the first and second holes make an anti-clockwise circuit of a lake, anything pulled left will sink quicker than the hopes of the man who hit it.
Yet between these two stretches, water is less of a factor. It is there, but it ceases to be the overriding threat. Trees, which early and late in the round are nonexistent, begin to frame the holes. The undulating terrain is echoed by the links-like humps that line the fairways, ideal for the huge galleries that will follow just four matches per session throughout the first two days.
Indeed, "links-like" is a phrase often used to define the test, and whilst there are certain visual and shaping elements reminiscent of a seaside course, the bent grass and mostly raised greens in the midsection makes executing links-like shots less than straightforward.
What's more apparent is that the course restrains the players somewhat, as an impressed Justin Thomas explained during his Open de France visit in June, when he finished tied for eighth.
"It's lived up to the hype," Thomas said. "A tremendous golf course, a great test of golf, with a lot of 3-woods and 5-woods off tees. There's a very big premium on hitting the fairway. Once you're there, you're able to attack on some holes."
Spain's Jon Rahm, a Ryder Cup rookie with two course top-10s to his name, offered his take.
"It's not long. It's not go to the tee and hit driver as hard as you can. It actually makes you think," Rahm said. "It's very difficult, and you pretty much need to hit every golf shot there is, but it's fair if you're smart enough."
Oftentimes, it is not that shorter clubs are taken from the tee to only steer clear of the long grass, but because there is no realistic option with driver.
If this element of restriction sounds familiar, perhaps it is because it echoes Tiger Woods' description of TPC Sawgrass. Through gritted teeth, he argues the home of The Players' Championship calls for everyone to hit to the same places. It might be coincidental, but Francesco Molinari, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter own superb records at both venues.
Thomas considers the test a fair one.
"It's not like Augusta, where every single round you learn something," Thomas said. "It's all right in front of you. No hidden tricks or anything like that. Just a difficult golf course you have to plot a way around and execute the shots."
And so, to that closing sweep, which perhaps aptly for the final lap of a race takes place almost entirely in front of the banked masses, as if in a track and field stadium. This presents wonderful possibilities and also potential problems.
Fans can pack the banking down the right of 18, knowing that they will see 15 and 16, as well, so should a match end early they will not have missed out. The problem might be that with a lake plumb in the middle of these three holes, the best part of 50,000 people will be vying for a glance of the action in very limited space. Many, you suspect, will miss out or beat a hasty retreat to the tented village. It also will be a little awkward if a disproportionate number of matches conclude on 17.
Within the ropes, the players are both excited and terrified by what faces them.
"It's a nightmare waiting to happen on every hole," Tyrrell Hatton said.
Fleetwood added his thoughts.
"I struggle to think of a better finish," he said. "You've got 24 of the world's best players, some of the toughest holes in golf, in one of the biggest sporting events there is. I'd probably like my matches to be over before 15, but I would still relish the challenge of playing them."
"The last four holes are great," he said. "The wind is a factor too. The 16th is an elevated tee and you have to hit a solid, flighted shot into a crosswind. There will be drama. It's definitely a great stretch to close."
If and when matches reach 18, the tension will tighten.
"Extremely difficult," said Rahm of the final hole. "A really narrow fairway with trouble right and water left. If it's into the wind, it's a really good driver just to have anywhere close to a 7-iron to an island green. Every single shot is challenging. I mean, God, it's hard. Got to be in the top five hardest I've played."
"It's a very daunting hole," he warned. "Luckily, the person you're playing is feeling the exact same way."
The final challenge? The putting surfaces, whose subtle borrows often leave players frustrated at the Open de France, with a man who thrives on them one year appearing utterly flummoxed the next.
Will those greens be purposefully slowed, a policy widely believed to favour the Europeans? Will the rough be grown high and close to fairways for similar reasons? Captain Thomas Bjorn played a straight bat to such notions at the Open de France in July, insisting the setup will be very similar this week, "Weather permitting."