Golf de Chantaco golf club was founded in 1928 by René Thion de la Chaume and the great Arnaud Massy marked the occasion with an exhibition match along with fellow countryman Jan Gassiat and a couple of Jersey professionals, brothers Aubrey and Percy Boomer.
Simone Thion de la Chaume, the 13-time French Ladies Amateur champion, accepted the presidency of the club from her father in 1930, holding the position for 44 years until handing over to Catherine Lacoste. She then guided the club for a further 35 years before passing on the presidential baton to her niece, Camille Lacoste, in 2009.
She in turn was replaced in 2013 by Veronique Smondack, Catherine’s daughter, so the club has always been managed by a member of the Lacoste family. As of 2019, the new president is Jean Marie Lacoste, the grandson of René Lacoste, and he has exciting plans for the future of the club.
The course lies just outside the little fishing town of St Jean de Luz, a short half an hour drive south of Biarritz, and it’s one of the most celebrated golfing layouts in the Basque region, largely through the charming ambiance both on and off the course that’s been cultivated over many years by its owners.
Designed by Harry Colt, the course consists of two distinct nines, with tree-lined fairways wandering through woodland on the front nine and water coming into play on the inward half. Five of the holes are configured as par threes and three are set out as par fives.
Extending to 5,833 metres from the back tees and playing to a par of 70, Golf de Chantaco hosted the Open de France Dames for professional women from 2012 to 2017 and the French Open for their male counterparts was also held here in 1970, an event won by Australian David Graham.
I was lucky to get a game here back in April as the course was closed for a big refurbishment and not due to officially re-open until the following day, when local golfing hero Jean Garaïalde, now in his 80s, would cut the red ribbon before hitting a ceremonial drive off the 1st tee.
I was also fortunate to speak to the CEO, Jean-Marie Lacoste, whose family has been steeped in the club since its inception almost a hundred years ago. Jean-Marie is very much a “hands on” person and is probably more likely to be found digging drainage ditches out on the course then directing operations from the clubhouse.
A lot had happened over the last couple of years, with architect Stuart Hallett overseeing the remodelling of the front nine holes (which were the ones to be unveiled the next day) over the preceding winter months, with the back nine to follow this winter.
Many of the tees, greens and bunkers have been renovated on the outward half, along with the installation of new drainage and paths, and these improvements to both the infrastructure and the aesthetics will obviously enhance the playing experience going forward.
Looking back on photos that I took on the day, I’d forgotten just how good looking the trees are on the rather undulating front nine , with many different varieties of well-maintained, mature arboreal species adding great character to the wonderful parkland landscape.
The back nine starts with a couple of transition holes at 10 and 11. The first of these is a very short and narrow uphill par three, followed by an even narrower downhill par four that snakes downhill before doglegging sharply right and up to a raised green – it was one of the strangest holes I’ve come across in a while and I’ll be interested to find out what becomes of it when the inward half is revamped.
Holes 12 to 16 lie along a small tributary of the Nivelle River and this water course has been enlarged to form an attractive pond in front of the par three 12th, which is played downhill from an elevated tee position. Similarly, there’s a smaller pond protecting the front of the green at the par three 14th and this short hole also requires a downhill tee shot from a terraced tee box.
The final two holes are located across the road on the floodplain of the aforementioned Nivelle River, where the ground is a little bit flat, and the club is concentrating efforts to upgrade drainage in this area (which also includes a practice facility) and give the holes greater definition.
When work on the back nine is completed next year, it will be a case of “awakening the sleeping beauty,” according to Jean-Marie Lacoste, and such a substantial investment in the course will obviously leave the club well placed to face the future going into the 2020s and way beyond.