Les Landes in south west France lies between the Bassin d’Arachon near Bordeaux and the foothills of the Pyrenees. During the 18th century, to counter the inward movement of shifting coastal sands from the Bay of Gascogne, a huge area of pine trees was planted and this massive forest characterizes the modern day landscape.
Moliets, Seignosse and Hossegor are all highly-ranked French courses situated within 20 miles of each other near the Atlantic coast at the southern tip of Les Landes and they are all constructed on free draining land that some would say was made specifically for golf.
Robert Trent Jones designed the course at Golf de Moliets in the late 1980s (around the same time he was creating other great French courses like La Grand Motte, Esterel and Joyenval) and he cleverly routed most of the 18 holes through inland woods, leaving a handful to be played along the coast late in the round.
Part of a seaside leisure complex that also includes the 2,100-yard 9-hole practice course named Airial, Moliets is far from being classified as a holiday golf course. Indeed, it is used by the French Golf Federation as a winter training centre and it is regularly used as a Challenge Tour venue.
Configured in typical RTJ fashion with two par threes and two par fives on both the inward and outward half, the Forêt front nine are laid out among the pine trees with only a whiff of a sea breeze to be had from the 6th to 8th holes, beside the dunes. The links element at Moliets comes into play on the Océan back nine, between the 138-yard par three 12th and the 145-yard par three 16th, with these holes playing through the dunes beside the beach.
The book 500 world’s greatest golf holes by author George Peper and the editors of GOLF magazine features the 146-yard par three 16th hole at Moliets: “Representing the transition between the oceanside dunes to the more secluded holes within the Les Lands forest, this uphill par three plays much tougher than it appears. Winds that often swirl and gust wreak havoc with club selection, and this is not the type of green where a mis-clubbed shot will be generously forgiven. The surface is shallow and firm, and flanked by two long bunkers. Unyielding gorse grows behind, ensuring that long approaches may never be found or, if found, not to be hit without taking a drop.”
A couple of downsides at Moliets are the encroaching residential developments and long walks at several holes between green and the next tee. Apart from those criticisms, a first class golfing experience will be had here for a very affordable green fee.
I can’t believe this place was actually listed as #3 in France when the first ranking chart for this country appeared on the Top 100 Golf Courses website (as pointed out by the last reviewer) in 2006! Thankfully, a semblance of sense has since prevailed and the course no longer occupies such an unjustifiable lofty perch in the Gallic Top 100.
It all starts so well on the Forêt nine at Moliets, where the pleasantly undulating tree-lined opening hole veers slightly right and up to a long, hourglass-shaped two-tier green, gaining top marks from me. The next three holes are also really decent, each following a different direction on a four-point compass, and these are followed by another trio of solid holes, the best of which is probably the uphill par three 6th.
Unfortunately, the short, semi-blind downhill 8th looks like it’s been tacked on after somebody counted how many holes had been built then realized they only had seventeen. It’s an absolutely dreadful par three which is played over a horrendous sandy waste area to a shallow green that runs away from front to back – and when the pin is placed about four paces from the front edge of the putting surface, you have virtually no hope of being able to hit and hold the green with your tee shot.
There’s then a couple of long journeys to get from the green to the next tee at the next few holes so perhaps there were permitting problems encountered after the initial routing was decided upon and things had to be altered – it’s a really disjointed section of the course which had me more than a little perplexed. Not that these golf holes were bad, mind you, as the 9th to the 12th is a good sequence but they’re then followed by another long haul to get to the 13th tee and the start of the 3-hole links section.
I’ve played the Cashen course at Ballybunion and wasn’t impressed with Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s attempt at designing that particular links layout. Similarly, the links holes designed here didn’t exactly thrill me either. In truth, the fairways looked like those at Maspalomas in Gran Canaria, where I was a few weeks ago, sitting right next to huge sandy dunes but never feeling as if they properly tie into their environment – like imposing holes on the landscape rather than having them blend seamlessly into their surroundings.
The final three holes on the Océan nine then head eastwards and back towards the clubhouse, reviving my spirits somewhat by the time I walked off the 18th green. Yet, for all the really good golf at the start and end of the round, there were just too many strange things going on between the 8th and 15th to make me think a lot more could have been made of these holes in the middle.