According to the old Big Bopper song, “Chantilly Lace had a pretty face and a wiggle in her walk”. Golf de Chantilly is far more than a pretty face; it’s one of Europe’s most glorious courses.
Chantilly is set amidst the forest of the Ile de France, approximately 30 miles to the north of Paris. The club was originally founded in 1909 and it has played host to numerous French Opens, the first of which was the 1913 edition, won by George Duncan. His score of 304 is the highest in the competition's history, which bears testament to the Chantilly challenge.
The very best have teed it up at Chantilly, including the great Bobby Jones and Nick Faldo (who won the French Open here). The flamboyant English architect, Tom Simpson, laid out the course and he utilised penal bunkering in the extreme. Measuring 6,444 metres from the back tees Le Vineuil is an exacting test. You’ll not only need length from the tee but also accuracy to avoid the forest. You’ll also need to keep out of those menacing bunkers to score well.
The whole Chantilly experience is distinctly traditional and some say that it has a definite British feel. With 36 holes (Le Vineuil and Les Longères) and a clubhouse that is very reminiscent of that at Sunningdale are we sure we're in France? We are certain that the spirit of Tom Simpson and his silver chauffeur driven Rolls Royce lives here.
Chantilly was the first stop on a recent 6-day golf trip and it set a very high standard for the week ahead. I arrived later than expected in the morning due to problems picking up my hire car at Charles de Gaulle airport so I didn’t have enough time to play the Longères course as intended before I headed back to CDG to pick up my two chums who were flying in at lunchtime. I’d only time to walk the front nine and the last three holes but I saw enough to know it’ll be well worth playing if I ever get back to Chantilly.
Looking back on my photos from the afternoon round on the Vineuil, it was a murky old day with overcast skies and poor light but, at the time, I was so enraptured by the course that I didn’t notice the weather wasn’t really conducive to taking good snaps. It had been raining for a few days so I was expecting it to be soggy underfoot but you’d hardly know there had been bad weather, apart from the sodden sand in the bunkers.
Recent reviewers for this course have had exactly opposing thoughts on its difficulty. One person thought it was a tough test, another felt it didn’t offer any sort of a challenge so I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I teed it up here after lunch in the wonderful old atmospheric clubhouse. Personally, I felt there was plenty to tax my game – even though the fairways are generally wide and forgiving – as fairway and greenside bunkers are well-positioned and the greens far from flat and boring.
I loved the two short par fours played so early in the round at the 2nd and 4th (even though their right to left doglegged design didn’t exactly encourage my normal power fade off the tee) and the fairway cross bunkers at the 7th and 8th were more than enough to keep golfers honest off the tee. The two short holes at the 3rd and 6th were a little too understated for me, especially the second of these par threes which is now played semi blind due to the overgrown rough between the tee and the green.
The back nine starts with three really solid par fours. In fact, the 11th might just be my favourite hole on the card, with the fairway taking a 45 degree right turn to a brilliant, 2-tiered green, which has to be one of the finest putting surfaces I’ve ever seen. The 13th to 16th was the best sequence of holes for me, with the pair of stunning par threes at #14 and #16 making up for the slight disappointment of the short holes on the front nine.
Having the gully in play at holes 13 and 14 is genius design and the more open final three holes bring the round to a very satisfactory conclusion in front of the clubhouse. We didn’t have time to play a late evening game on the other 18-hole course due to the demands of our schedule but, if ever there was a lame excuse needed to return to one of the top clubs in Europe, I’m prepared to use it…
Played this course on the last of a 6 day tour in May 2017, in 28deg heat. Sadly it was a big disappointment. I suppose this highlights how subjective rating courses can be, but for anyone looking for any sort of challenging golf, just don't bother with Chantilly. Yes, the first impressions are very good, but after a few holes you realise that the immaculate state of everything does not make up for the fact that there are huge fairways, and very little to stop you scoring well and really very little to distinguish between most of the holes. All four of us scored better here than anywhere else, and that isn't right for what is supposed to be the best club in France. Would we revisit? Probably not.
Rating is certainly subjective. To me this is the best golf experience I have had on the continent (haven't played Morfontaine). It is "grande". Even more so if you play the original Vineuil. Fontainebleau and Saint Germain are historic and beautiful, but not "grande".
Some courses ease you into the round, and it takes a while for you to find the courses' charms. Not at Chantilly. It announces right away that it will be a great round of golf. The opening par five hole shows the strategic use of bunkers that are present throughout the course. The three bunkers on the right side make the only safe shot one that lands in the middle of the fairway, right of the clump of trees guarding the left side of the hole.
The World Atlas of Golf describes looking down the fairway from the fifth tee as the golfing equivalent of looking down a gun barrel. It plays as the #1 handicap at Chantilly and is a tough hole through a tight chute of trees. I was very pleased with my par.
Both the front and back nines at Chantilly have back-to-back par fives. The back nine is the clearly superior of the two, with the six stretch of holes twelve through seventeen being very good. The thirteenth hole was my second favorite on the course (after the 17th). It is a 400-meter dog-leg left that demands you hit your tee shot over two large cross-bunkers. Your second shot is then to an elevated and well-bunkered green. The par three 17th hole is my favorite and features shock and awe. It is a stunning par three that plays 199 meters from the back tees down into a tight tree-lined valley.
Like at Morfontaine, the feeling on the course is one of complete solitude and isolation since it is located in a dense forest. Vive la France!
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Chantilly's two courses and wonderful old fashioned clubhouse are situated in the most beautiful of forest settings north of Paris. With thick rough and strategic bunkering to contend with, Tom Simpson's charming Vineuil course is as tough a test of golf as you are ever likely to come across.
The 7,000 yards plus black tees are frankly best left to the tour pros and the whites at 6600 are probably more suited to the low single figure player however the yellows at 6200 yards are very playable for most. The brutal rough mentioned in previous reviews has not gone away but we found the width of the fairways to be fair and when balls were lost, they were wayward enough to be deserving of their fate.
We played over the Old Vineuil course leaving out holes 9 to 11 which are newer Donald Steel designs, and finishing with the traditional and high quality 16th, 17th and 18th which now play as the 9th, 10th and 18th on the Longères.
This original course is still used for some events and a more complete explanation of the course changes can be found in the Chantilly Longères page on this website.
Although the test is undoubtedly a stern one, the experience is truly memorable. There is so much space in the design with no confined areas, many large green complexes and exquisite bunkering throughout.
There are so many good holes that choosing favourites is difficult but on the front nine I particularly liked the 2nd and 4th, both well bunkered, fun short par-4's and although early in the round you discover how undulating some of the greens can be.
The 5th and 6th are both fine holes and the good looking 8th, complete with cross bunkering is a beauty. A few holes around the turn are played over more open ground but the demanding 11th returns to the forest as it curves to one of the best greens on the course, complete with wonderful run-off areas, sublime bunkering and a stunning two tier green.
You need to hold your nerve on the dogleg 12th as anything left of the green disappears into a wooded valley and the 13th requires a long approach over the valley to a sloping green. The two remaining par 3's are both excellent, the downhill 14th is played into a hollow some 200 yards away and the lovely 16th is protected by six cavernous bunkers.
The impressive back nine continues to deliver at the 17th, which is both long and visually superb and the 18th, a rolling par-5, offers the chance to finish on a high with a birdie.
Very tough to beat in France.
The course is on a rather flat site and there are some excellent contours on the green complexes. We didn’t find the course to really show too much variation until the 16th hole which after an unclear drive opened up to have a wonderful approach over a bit of an unexpected valley to a raised green in the direction of the club house. The 17th was an interesting drop shot 200 or so yard par 3 playing back down into this valley. The 18th was quite the finishing hole as well. It first required a climb up the side of the valley from the 17th green to play your tee shot back over the valley towards the clubhouse only to have to walk all the way back down and back up the other side. The 18th green is a really strong finish and maybe the best on the course with some fantastic shaping and two tiers with a diagonal ridge running through the middle providing one final challenge.
In my opinion the course will be greatly improved for members and guests if they let sheep run wild for a few years and try to thin out that rough. I’ll provide my address when this happens in order for them to return the bucket of balls we lost.
Of the 5 courses ranked above, only one thing is indisputable: conditioning in Les Bordes is unbeatable. My Pro and board members from St Germain (incidentally ranked far too low in my opinion) told me Chantilly is the best course in France: they might be telling the truth… Chantilly has recently or will host big tournaments (Qualifier for the French Open on the Longères course, incidentally won by Spaniard Larrazabal on 10 under after he went to win the French Open at L’Albatros, and The European Young Master) so the course was really at its best.
The big and undulating greens were like velvet and the rough (my-knee-high!) very penal (at best a wedge out, more often a lost ball if you are in it) and underlining beautifully the contours of the fairways . Some tee boxes could have been flatter, but that’s only if I want to be picky. As at least 80% of the members are Parisians, the course is mostly empty during the week which is a real joy for the visitor (visitors allowed from Monday to Friday noon).
Just to correct a point concerning the layout: holes 9 to 11 on the actual Vineuil Course used to belong to the Longères course, which inherited instead of 16 to 18 from the “Old” Vineuil layout with a routing differing a little. Apparently, this was done to create 2 loops of 9 on the Longères course and facilitate return to the club house. Older members that I met were not really fussed about it; I haven’t seen the “Old” 16th to 18th so I won’t judge. Only the Club Championship and some corporate events are played on the original “old” layout. As always with Simpson’s courses, bunkering is formidable.
Back to the course itself now… As a welcome, the first is a 412 meters par 4! Told you it was tough! 2nd and 4th are the only holes where you can relax a little. Stroke index 1 par 4 5th is relatively easy and straightforward; 2 par 3s complete the first 3rd of the round, par 3 6th being 196 meters long! 7th is a tough driving hole as it is difficult to picture the landing area when you play here for the first time. 8th is a beautiful par 5, with loads of bunkers (cross-fairway bunkers are always in play from the back tees!) and measuring “just” 566 meters! 9 to 11 are the newer holes mentioned above, which I didn’t know before starting the round, but could see it while playing as they felt a little immature, with the par 3 11th being almost weak. 13th, my personal favorite, runs opposite 7th and is another tough driving hole for the same reasons. 14th looks a bit bland off the tee, but at 408 meters par 4, is by no means a poor hole; and the green is wonderful, well defended by huge bunkers. Then I am not quite sure about the last 3 holes. Quite unexpected is the presence of a 90 meters or so wide ditch (or should I say ravine?) that you have to cross on 16th and 18th, and that hosts the 17th green, a 199 meters par 3.
From what I have heard and read, my wish is to return to Chantilly to play the “Old” Vineuil layout, as I am pretty sure this layout would deserve the rank 1 in France. Cédric