Set out along the chalk cliffs to the north of Le Havre, with spectacular coastal views of the English Channel, the original course at Golf d’Étretat extended to only thirteen holes which meant five of these had to be replayed in order to complete an 18-hole round.
Englishmen formed the club in 1908 and they installed Bernard Forbes, 8th Earl of Granard, as the first President. Prominent inaugural members included the likes of Lord Denham, a future deputy governor of Australia, and Lord Wodehouse.
Julien Chantepie and Arnaud Massy, who were based at La Boulie in Paris at that time, designed the initial layout. Massy, who was the first foreign golfer to win the Open, would eventually choose Étretat to retire to and he passed away there quietly in 1950.
The club didn’t function during World War II but the course reopened for play in 1949 (once landmines had been cleared from the property) and Didier Fruchet further revised it in the early 1990s. Today, the layout extends to just over 6,000 metres.The most exciting sequence of holes arrives at the back nine, between the par five 10th and the par four 14th, where these five fairways run along the edge of the cliffs. The par five 18th is also a fine finishing hole, doglegging left and downhill to the home green.
I’d been told in advance that Étretat was “all about the views” and that’s true to a large extent, but there’s also a really decent layout stretched out here along the chalk cliffs that tower over the beach below.
I knew the late, great Arnaud Massy spent his last few years in Étretat and there’s a cracking photo of him in his younger days with J.H Taylor (probably taken at La Boulie in Paris) hanging on a pillar at the bar in the clubhouse – it’s just a pity I had to remove another item that was partly obscuring it to take a snap!
Out on the course, the early holes are played furthest inland, which makes sense on such a site, with the first visit down to the edge of the cliffs made at the par four 4th hole. The par five 6th then returns to the interior, doglegging right to a tree-lined green that sits next to the only water hazard on the layout, a small lily pond on the right hand side of the putting surface.
After returning to the clubhouse via the par three 9th, the back nine begins with one of the most epic par five holes you will ever come across. It starts with a towering tee shot from a great height on the side of the cliffs, down into a high-sided valley, before the fairway then snakes back uphill to a green which is fronted by three huge bunkers.
It’s a lot tougher than its stroke index (5) might suggest but, once you get to the green, the view back down to where you came from, with the Plage d’Étretat as a backdrop down below, is simply sensational. If you don’t manage a ”money shot” picture here then it must be either raining very heavily, the place is shrouded in fog, or you’re playing in the dark.
The following four holes hug the edge of the escarpment, with walkers looking in on proceedings as they hike along the coast, beyond the perimeter fence. Hole 15 then starts the march for home, moving away from the cliffs and into the lightly wooded area where the early holes were played in the round.
There’s a definite feel good factor to the Étretat playing experience. Some might say if you were to take away the panoramic views, it would probably be regarded as just another holiday golf track by the seaside. Nonetheless, when you consider it has a slope rating of 138 from the back markers, such an assertion would certainly be doing it a great disservice.
The course is laid along the white cliffs of the Etretat. Most holes offer a spectacular view of the Elephant's Trunk. The greens are firm and fast, the wind may pose a problem. The restaurant offers great food and vertiginous views from 3 sides. If in the area, this course is a must.