The fairways at Golf de Granville date back to 1912, when a number of somewhat primitive golf holes were first laid out by local golfers amongst the Bréville dunes on France’s Atlantic coast, forming the first – and so far only – links layout in the country.
The course was requisitioned by the military during the Great War before Harry Colt was brought in to carry out remedial work shortly after hostilities had ended. World War II also brought about closure of the course and it took some time for it to recover once enmities had ceased.
In more recent times, Martin Hawtree (in the early 1990s) and Stuart Hallett have worked on the course, resulting in its selection as host venue for the French Mid Amateur Championships in 2008.
In addition to the 18-hole Links layout, Granville also boasts a short 9-hole course, called Les Dunes, that extends to 2,216 metres with three par threes and six par fours on the scorecard.
Stuart Hallett kindly provides us with the following exclusive comments:
“I have been working with Granville since 2006, in order to progressively renovate the golf course. At that time, the course didn't look like an authentic links, and it certainly didn't play like one either. Our goal has been to revive the original character of the course despite some lost holes in the early 1990s.
We have re-seeded fairways and greens and ensured the return of fescue turf with annual over seeding by green keeping staff. An extensive restoration and remodelling program has been carried out on tees, bunkers and a number of green surrounds. Large numbers of evergreen trees have also been removed.
The 7th hole was altered from a previously poor par three to an attractive short par four and the green on the 14th hole was moved from a heavy soiled corner of the course onto sandy links ground.
We still have plenty of projects and general improvements to put into place but the course has certainly been transformed. The look and feel of the golf course is a unique experience, especially here in France. The praise of visitors and purists is constant and very encouraging for the future.
One person has made all of this possible; club President, Jean Capelle. Since taking office in 2006, he has fought tooth and nail for the course to be developed, thus giving us the freedom to work and move forward.”
There are not many places left in GB&I where you can experience truly unwatered summer links conditions on a quality course. Many clubs are simply too afraid of presenting non-perfect fairways to members and guests, but that is precisely the point! In really parched conditions, your tee-shot could roll 100 yards into a pot bunker...or hit a bump and miss the trap but end up in a divot instead. To me, golf was never meant to be 100% predictable science, like 142 yards to pin, hit PW, putt for birdie...yawn.
Reading Jim's review and seeing the photos Ross submitted in his review below reminds me that these pleasures still exist at a few clubs in France. I certainly had the pleasure of playing the course at Granville like this when I visited many summers ago.
My recommendation is to go as soon as your schedule permits. Once they install the sprinklers along the fairways and turn on the taps, the opportunity might well be gone forever! (Might still be "a good course to seek out in the area, worthy of a full day out", but no longer a unique experience)
Having said all this, I am aware that not watering at all during a very hot and dry summer (like 2018 was in many places) is not an option for a course that is not on perfectly sandy soil. In August 2018, I saw wide cracks in unwatered ground (between tee and fairway for example) at many courses on clay-based soil which took a long time to heal.
I suppose the kindest way to describe Granville when I played it last week was “a little rough around the edges” but I write that in the most sympathetic way possible – the green complexes were absolutely fine as they, thankfully, have irrigation, but the fairways were bare and rather barren, which is no bad thing for a fast-running links but the contrast between watered and parched turf was rather stark, to say the least. From what I hear, discussions on remedying this situation are ongoing.
Of course, conditioning is always such a transient aspect of course appraisal and I can always see past immediate issues – the big problem here is that it looks like this situation has gone on for a while now and it really has to be addressed now in all seriousness. Stéphane Rouen from GK Consult is currently looking after agronomy at the club and he’s doing a great job around the greens but I imagine he’d like all of the course to be in prime condition.
Granville’s a cracking Colt track from around the time of the First World War and although changes have been made to the layout, mainly to accommodate a road leading to a nearby airfield (locally known as “the Road to the Sea”) which was built in 1947, there are still a large number of holes in play (1-3, 8-10, 15, 17 and 18) that are much as originally laid out.
As Stéphane also told me, “the first half of the 4th hole and the second half of the 5th hole are all Colt, along with the 7th, 11th (previously 12th) and 16th greens, while greens 4, 6, 12 and 13 are 1990s creations and the 14th is a 2012 production.”
My personal favourite was the semi-blind par three 2nd, which has one of the best green complexes I have ever seen on any golf course. The bowled green on the par four 7th was another brilliant putting surface, as was the 3-tiered green on the following hole.
While I loved the front nine, the back nine didn’t quite match up to what had gone before, largely because of changes made in recent times to avoid fairways crossing the Route de la Mer on three separate occasions. I did however love the two volcano greens at holes 10 and 16, both of which are totally outrageous and would probably never be built nowadays.
I’m grateful to club president Daniel Paille for kindly giving me a copy of the club’s centenary publication, where pages 27 and 28 (with a map of the course from 1922) fold out to be directly compared against pages 29 and 30, which have a corresponding map of how the course looked in 2012.
This proved to be invaluable when used in conjunction with other correspondence to piece together the provenance of the layout today. Granville has certainly been touched up in the last few years but it remains firmly entrenched in a more innocent era when links play was simple and uncomplicated and it should really be on every serious golfer’s hit list.
Granville is a beautiful links course on the northern coast of France. The clubhouse building looks like a chateaux and has a very grandiose entrance. The food is also phenomenal at the restaurant and the staff there have a great sense of humour.
We played in the height of the summer just gone when the course was burnt out, giving it a real links look and feel. The greens were still green and were in perfect condition so it was great to play a links how nature intended.
The round begins with a relatively easy par 5, although from the tee it was a little confusing as to which fairway was the first one! The second is a nice short par 3 about 146 yards where you can't quite see all of the green from the tee.
It's a tremendous links course with lots of interesting par 4s, good par 5s and excellent par 3s. The 10th hole is a brilliant par 3 which is a difficult start to the back 9. The green is like an upturned saucer with massive drop off slopes all around the green. If you don't find the dance floor from the tee, you're going to have a testing chip shot. The backdrop to the hole is quirkily framed by an American mid-west style water tanker on stilted legs.
The par 3, 16th is also a good par 3 which looks quite daunting from the tee. The hole goes up a slope all the way to a hugely raised green which looks like a plateau that you have to find or you're going to be testing your short game again.
The round finishes with a relatively easy short par 4 which leads back up to the impressive clubhouse.
I massively enjoyed my first ever round at Granville with its hummocks and sea views on offer. There is also a nine hole course on the property which we managed to sneak in before getting the boat back, and whilst the conditioning was not as good as the championship course, it only added to a fantastic day in the sun.
Granville is a links style course with revetted bunkering and although on the coast has it has no views of the coast. The fairways were in a unexpectedly poor condition when we visited, giving very uneven lies. The 9th hole has trees that have been planted along the entire right side of the fairway to hide the practice ground which look out of place with the rest of the course. There were apparently plans to move the practice ground and remove the trees but this has not happened. 16 is considered the 'signature' hole. A par 3 with elevated green, fully exposed to the elements. 2 and 10 are also excellent par 3 holes. This is fundamentally a good course to play with many excellent holes. I hope they fix the fairways and let the rough grow a little. The club house has a super restaurant which is worth a visit for an evening meal.
We had an incredibly dry Spring and early Summer, and the lack of fairway irrigation clearly hurt the fairways when I visited last month.
I've played Granville a few times and enjoyed thoroughly. It's a very nice, very French town and the Links is right on the coast just to the north. A welcoming club house, fun 9 hole track for a warm up, outstanding lunch and then a really good, hard running links as the main event. Pretty fair, but if you're in the deep rough take a provisional ! Hard part 3rd, and unusually the heathy holes on the other side of an internal road are equally interesting. Great fun.