Situated four miles to the west of Dinard, along the sandy shoreline of Brittany’s Emerald Coast at Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, the fairways of Dinard Golf Club date back to the late 1880s when a group of British servicemen established a number of sporting clubs that would cater for the varied leisure interests of their members.
North Berwick professional Tom Dunn was enlisted to set out a course amongst the gorse and broom on a 125-acre seaside parcel of land which was formerly occupied by only sheep and cattle. It wasn’t long before Dinard became one of the most fashionable places to play golf in France, attracting even aristocracy like the Grand Duke of Russia.
Tom Dunn (brother of Willie Dunn, who laid out the course at Biarritz around the same time) was married to Isabella “Queenie” Gourlay, “the greatest professional of her day” and he would later design more than a hundred courses, mainly in England, including the likes of Lindrick and Royal Worlington & Newmarket.
Sadly, the course has been modified many times over the years so much of Dunn’s work has been diluted. What remains constant is the layout’s lack of length because it still measures a modest 5,334 metres from the back tees. With only one par five (at the right doglegged 4th) and five par threes on the card, the course plays to a par of 68.
Because the eighteen fairways are strung out along the Atlantic coastline, out of bounds comes into play at many of the holes so accuracy is the watchword at Dinard. One of the feature holes is the 152-metre 13th, “Les Essarts,” which plays uphill from an old World War II concrete fortification to an exposed flag position on a ridge-top green.
The book 500 world’s greatest golf holes by author George Peper and the editors of GOLF magazine features the 310-metre par four 6th hole at Dinard: “Dunn laid out this seaside beauty in 1887, well before earth-moving equipment was available. The hole’s undulations are wild and untamed, as nature intended. The narrow fairway is the midpoint of a three-step elevation change, sweeping down to the ocean on the right. Mounds up to twenty feet tall can create some interesting stances for the approach, which is played to a steep-faced green surrounded by swales and native rough.”
Dinard was my favourite place to play on a recent 8-course visit to the northwest of France. The Dinard playing experience is not just about the course, which stretches to less than 6,000 yards from the back tees: it’s also about the wonderfully atmospheric clubhouse, the fantastic seaside location and the joyous feeling of still being able to tee it up at such an old-fashioned track in the modern day era.
It’s obvious a lot of care has been taken to look after small things around the course: sleeper-edged tee boxes, wooden steps into bunkers and removable wooden batons on cart paths away from the tees to guide golfers from previously over-worn areas – it’s the little things that matter and it’s very evident the club is paying attention to relatively minor items that will collectively enhance the infrastructure.
Stéphane Rouen from GK Consult oversees agronomy at the club and he’s doing a great job around the course. It’s no surprise to learn he’s also working on a number of other leading courses in France, where other owners also want to see fine grasses flourish on their property.
The elevated 1st tee box is in a cracking position, close to the main road by the side of the clubhouse and its disposition just gives you a sense that you’re in for something special when you play here. Holes 2 to 5 – featuring redesigned greens by Martin Hawtree at the 4th and 5th – are located on a separate parcel of land that lies on the other side of the road and they’re all solid holes.
The routing returns to the coast at the 6th in spectacular style, above the rocky Plage de la Garde Guérin, with the fairway dropping down over native vegetation before rising to a green set on top of a ridge. There’s room to squeeze in a very short par three hole before moving to the other side of the clubhouse, where the remaining holes are set out above the Plage du Port Hue and Plage du Perron.
It’s not quite links golf but it’s as near as you’ll come to playing it on a cliff top setting where wind-blown sand helps to keep the turf firm and fast. On the downside, there’s more than a slight concern for the many walkers in close proximity to the fairways on holes 10 to 12, where a badly sliced shot might easily result in an injury to somebody walking along the perimeter path and this certainly concentrates your thoughts on these holes.
Back-to-back par threes at #12 and #13 make great use of limited land around an old WWII gun battery, the top of which is used as a tee position for the second of these short holes. The run for home begins after this, highlighted by the fabulous par four 16th which swings right to a large elevated green. Another tiny par three gets shoehorned in at the 17th before the closing hole rises up slightly to the home green.
It’s at this point to get a chance to see the full splendour of the art deco clubhouse. What might seem to be a small building from the front elevation is actually a substantial three-tiered structure when viewed from the other side and that kind of sums up golf at Dinard for me – you may think it’s rather insignificant on first impression but give it a chance to fully reveal itself and you’ll be really impressed.
L'expérience du sublime. Dinard is correlative with Pebble Beach and Old Head where the experience is so much more than the golf course in terms of the traditional ratings criteria such as design, challenge, variety of holes, condition/presentation etc. Yes, there are ordinary holes in the above terms but that is the trade off when the topography limits design options.
Dinard is the 2nd oldest course in France and has experienced a number of iterations since the original routing was established in 1887. The Club is set amongst a sensitive natural environment and embraces ecology particularly with respect to the utilisation re-cycled water on the course which synthesises with an ethos of “just keeping the grass alive”.
Understandably, the most pedestrian holes are located at the start of the course. Although decent enough holes with some challenge (first 3 holes are par 4s ranging from 370 to 460 yards) the 4th hole is probably the first hole of note. It is a severe dog leg par 5 which gives the long hitters an opportunity to cut off the dogleg on the drive and leave a medium / short iron ton to the green. The first moment to cherish is the tee shot to an infinity fairway on the par 4, 5th hole. After cresting the hill, the golfer is confronted with the maelstrom of sea, cliffs, coves, beaches and peninsulas which is truly mesmeric.
The 6th hole is a par 4 which plays downhill into a valley before rising to the green. There are undulations on the fairway and swathes of rough comprising a high percentage of the landing area for the tee shot. This hole is celebrated in “The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes” book authored by George Peper, which is testament enough.
The 7th hole is the first of two wonderful short (110 yards) par 3s (the other is the 17th) which represent the prototype for such holes – visually striking, flat small green and a challenging bunker complex.
The 8th and 9th holes are attractive enough holes albeit fairly straight forward and act as the conduit of joining one headland to the next (much like the 9th hole at Cruden Bay).
The 10th is a straight away par 4 with a blind second shot. The hole is augmented by a magnificent building located on one of the promontories that dominate the coastline. The 11th is a straightforward uphill orientated par 4 which hugs the coast.
In my view that 12th can be included in any greatest hole conversation. It is a medium length par 3 whose green is semi blind from the tee and has a pronounced slope from left to right. Running down the right side of the hole, the cliffs are at its closest point to the course.
The 13th is also a par 3 which is played from a tee situated on an old World War 2 concrete fortification to a green which is significantly uphill from the green.
The 14th and 15th are short par 4s which are not particularly memorable and represent the consequence of the lack of usable terrain.
Although relatively far from the coastline, the 16th is the best hole from a pure playing standpoint. It is 460 yards from the tips and moves to the right towards an uphill green with out of bounds on the right. It is both challenging and beautiful with some natural dune sculpting surrounding the back of the green and the strategic use of a small number of wind blasted pine trees.
The closing hole is a straightway par 4 which takes you back to the clubhouse, which as you would expect has panoramic views of the course and coast. The staff are friendly and it was good to see golfers of all ages either on the course or practicing.
As described, there are a number of ordinary holes and possibly too many “blind shot” holes. It is a short course at under 6000 yards with a par of 68 and only 1 par 5. I was lucky to play the course with a one club wind, which the members tell me is extremely rare. In conclusion, it was an absolute pleasure to play.
In some ways the course at Dinard is the antithesis of Frenchness and could be described as “blue collar”. The location however is overwhelmingly “no collar”.
Dinard is a par 68 , not overly long at 5334m. The course has 5 par 3's and a single par 5. There is now an additional back tee on 10 which is not on the card but turns the uphill 348m par 4 into just over 400m much tougher hole. It's a course which dates from 1887. The clubhouse bar is still the original and has an old British feel.
The 12th and 14th holes have coastal fortifications from the war which have been incorporated into the course as tee boxes on 12 and cleverly hidden in the rough to the left of 14 so easy to miss.
Many holes overlook the coast or give views of the coast and have that 'deep breath' factor. The 6th is only 340 yards with a downhill tee shot to and then uphill to the green. The hole has huge natural contours and bunkers made more interesting with the cross against wind and rain when we played it. The hole runs along the cliff with views below along the entire hole.
The 11th and uphill par 4 and 12th a 168 yard par 3 run along the coast with great views. The 14th green and 16th tee also make you pause and take in the views.
The fairways are not currently in great shape, after a prolonged dry and hot spell, but that didn't matter. The greens were ok, firm links style, if a bit worn in places. The 17th green (a very short 90m par three) did not look healthy. Nontheless, it's well worth a visit if you're in the area.