Playing the renovated Les Pins course at Hardelot earlier this month was without doubt one of the unexpected highlights of my golfing season. By recreating Tom Simpson's masterpiece, Patrice Boissonnas and Frank Pont have delivered one of the most successful renovation programmes ever seen in Continental Europe. The clever bunkering and superb original routing on this perfect piece of tumbling, sandy real estate is a fine example of Simpson at his brilliant best. Old photographs and drawings were used to recreate the shapes and contours of greens and their surrounds and an extensive tree clearance programme has created fairway width as well as the occasional tantalising view. The course agronomy has also benefitted from fewer trees as the finer grasses find it easier to become established, the only downside being the nearby housing which has become a little more obvious.
The feeling of being in golf heaven is there from the very first shot as the opening par-5 delivers magnificent strategic bunkering set amongst towering pines. As one dramatic hole follows another you soon begin to realise that this is no average golf course as there isn't a single weak hole to be found.
The collection of five par-3's which increase in length as the round progresses are particularly memorable and the variety of the par-4's is impressive to say the least. An outstanding run of holes commences at the 5th and continues to the turn, the attractive 8th may not play much over 300 yards but a large fairway bunker and small slippery green make this a much tougher prospect than it really ought to be. We then hit over a marker post, hopefully carrying a ridge to an angled fairway at the blind 9th. This is a wonderful hole where misplaced shots can easily be blocked out from a challenging approach to a plateau green.
Personal favourites on the back nine would include the 11th, a short par-4 playing uphill to a green protected by huge bunkers and the 15th which gives us the option of playing either side of a tall stand of pines. The tighter route to the right offers the easier approach but bunkers must be avoided, whilst the easier option to the left leaves a more demanding approach to a sloping raised green.
The European Tour Qualifying School has visited Hardelot between 2011 and 2017 suggesting that this is a beauty that can show its teeth when needed. Thankfully the average golfer will find it not only very playable but also great fun.
A big move forwards in the Continental Europe rankings during the next few years is all but guaranteed. Brian W
Date: October 31, 2017