Chiberta is a monument to one of the world’s greatest architects, Tom Simpson, and it is also one of the few links courses on the French Atlantic coastline.
In the “Roaring Twenties”, 1926 to be precise, Tom Simpson was instructed by the golf mad Duke of Windsor to create the most beautiful course in the world. Simpson did a pretty good job. Chiberta is not quite Pebble Beach or Turnberry but it does have magnificent views across to the Biarritz lighthouse, which is sometimes the line from the 14th, a long dramatic par five adjacent to the seashore.
The following edited extract is from France’s Most Beautiful Courses by Jean-François Lefevre:
“Chiberta golf course’s golden age was in the 1930s. Its car park was crammed with long limousines whose chauffeurs gathered in a bar, specially made for them, to kill the long hours until their master would come back, their faces ruddy with sea-spray.
Then, a long period of decline set in and the fairways were overgrown with clover. Chiberta was in its death throes and lay forgotten until the 1970s, until, under the stewardship of Jean-Baptiste Ellisalde, the Anglet club determinedly embarked upon the long process of gradually winning back both the hearts of the golfers and the club’s former glory.
Today, in spite of a tiny clubhouse which some have no hesitation in finding ill-suited to such a marvellous course and a practice ground on the at the water’s edge inappropriate for training, Chiberta once more boasts a rude health. For in addition to having many members of its own, enough to make other French golf club managers pale with envy, it also welcomes visitors daily.”
My Top 100 colleague Nicolas had set the scene for playing at Chiberta, calling it “the jewel of golf in the Basque country” in his 2016 review, so I came here with high expectations of finding a decent track because of his valued opinion. I’m glad to say, I wasn’t in any way disappointed with what I found.
Both nines start and finish inland, away from where the links holes are routed, but that doesn’t detract from the course’s appeal in any way whatsoever – in fact, the par fours from the 15th to the 18th on the landward side of the coastal road present a great concluding stretch of holes.
The round begins with a downhill par five to a large, rectangular-shaped raised green that’s dominated by a magnificent old house located immediately behind the putting surface. After crossing the road, the next seven holes play out alongside the Atlantic.
The sequence from the 3rd to the 5th is especially impressive: a boisterous par four with split level fairway which is followed by a par three with a pronounced back to front raised green then a coast-hugging par five that rises up to a plateau green at the southernmost part of the property.
After returning to the clubhouse via the excellent 9th – rated stroke index 1 – with the Lac de Chiberta to the right of the green, the duneland holes resume again at the 11th, where the routing takes players directly west, towards the beach.
Three holes later, after crossing the road again, you stand on the tee at the 15th and encounter a wonderful sight, the first of four pine tree-lined holes that offer such a surprising finish to the end of the round.
It was only looking at an aerial image via google maps later that I realized these fairways play through a sizeable residential area but the house are screened so well by the trees you would hardly know they were there as you play the holes.
The 18th is a very good transition hole (like #1, #9 and #10), taking you back to the clubhouse from one of the two main golf compartments and you’ll walk off the home green on a high note, looking back on the previous four hours with a sense of real satisfaction.
I was delighted to see the design credits on the scorecard listed as “Tom Simpson (1927), Stuart Hallet (2011)” as the recent bunker restoration done here by Stuart deserves far wider recognition for the quality of the work – just a shame the club didn’t spell his surname correctly!
Dear Jim, I just read the Chiberta review. Thanks for the mention. It was actually more than a bunker restoration, we overhauled the golf course, irrigation, tees, bunkers, some hole tweaks, surrounds, putting and chipping areas etc. The project is more or less finished now. Much of the success is due to the Head Greenkeeper, Patxi ITHURRY. We did the work and he has made it look good. The playing surfaces have been transformed and continue to get better. Just proud to have been part of it.
Golf de Chiberta is located in the south west of France near the seaside town of Biarritz. Here Simpson had some pretty interesting golfing terrain to work with, a combination of rolling linksland in the coastal dunes, and some heavily treed areas with significant elevation changes.
The course he designed therefore is a delightful mixture of classic links holes by the sea, and parkland holes in sandy soil through a forest of pine.
Holes go off in all directions with an inspired routing that does not favour any wind direction for long...and takes full advantage of that rolling terrain.
Favourite holes for me include the rollicking par 5 opener over the ridge and down to a delightful green setting overlooked by a grandiose home from days gone by, the pure links holes at 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 13, and 14, and the long par 4 15th through the pines.
The routing and the combination of links and inland holes is perhaps unconventional but I thought it was great fun, and the membership seem to agree. It appears to be a very busy club!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Chiberta is the jewel of golf in the Basque country (Spain and France included). It is a links course, but as that description goes, there are 2 types of links courses in my mind: you have your dunes courses (Muirfield for example) and your sea view courses (St Andrews for example). Chiberta is in the later category. And to be more precise, it’s even in another category. Just like Cypress Point, which starts with sea side, goes into the dunes, and then into the pines, back to the dunes and the sea side, Chiberta actually goes the other way, but has all three hole types. It starts in the pines, goes through the dunes, and onto the beach…quite literally. On the 5th, you will have to let the surfers walk across the fairway, and you will be able to watch them surf as you play the hole. Don’t get me wrong; this is not Cypress Point, as this is a public course with average maintenance. But if you were to play one course in the area, it would be this one … as its ranking would suggest
Wonder and fun. Played it for first time today and loved this true links test. It is short (6200 yards from back) but tests your skills. A course one could play every day without getting bored. Loved #11 a par 4 straight toward the ocean.