British expatriates created the original sporting facilities at Golf de Biarritz Le Phare in 1888, establishing an 18-hole golf course for gentlemen, a 9-holer for ladies as well as a croquet lawn, cricket pitch and a number of tennis courts.
The following year, Tom and Willie Dunn were asked to modify the golf courses and their improved design lasted just over thirty years, until Harry Colt was called in to add bunkers and extend the length of a number of holes.
A large portion of the Colt layout was lost during World War II so, unfortunately, the present day course bears little resemblance to the one that was once in play. Measuring a modest 5,400 metres in length, Le Phare is now rated as a par 69 track.
Tree-lined fairways occupy two separate tracts of land, with holes 4 to 9 located on a separate parcel from the remainder of the property and it’s on this slightly detached acreage that you’ll find one of the toughest holes on the card at the 203-metre par three 8th.
The template hole
“Biarritz” originated here in France before the ravages of war destroyed it.
Known as the “chasm”, the green came into play at the original long par three
3rd hole where a menacing swale dissected the putting surface. Charles Blair
Macdonald coined the name Biarritz and the first template copy was built at
Piping Rock and replicated in various guises at a number of courses in America,
including Yale and Fishers Island.
Coming from old, compact, hemmed-in golf courses in London, I felt at home at once when I played Biarritz the first time. As is the case with many clubs in such settings, “Le Phare” as the locals call it, has lost out to urban developments, but somehow manages to hold on to two pieces of ground barely big enough to squeeze in 18 holes. When you see old photos from before WWI you appreciate that this was once, at least partly, a seaside links course. Today, it is surrounded by the city of Biarritz on all sides and with tree-lined fairways it is managed more as a parkland course. Therefore, the sandy nature of the ground that Harry Colt wrote about 100 years ago (the club proudly quotes from his letter on its home page) is no longer apparent. What is very apparent is that neighbouring streets quickly come into play if your aim is wide and you take leave of your senses. We quickly abandoned driver and 3-wood, just as you are obliged to do if you visit the small practice ground beforehand.
Leaving the big stick in the bag most of the time is actually a great idea, because the course rewards brain over brawn and placing your tee-shots not only avoids the bunkers but enables your approach, putting and recovery play to be up for scrutiny with a score still to play for. Despite this, most people in our group were surprised at the grim reading of their scorecards afterwards.
By the way, if you come to see the original “Biarritz” style green (a concept better known in the U.S. than in France) you are too late. The original par-3 3rd hole by the ocean is long built over.