Armand de Gramont, the nobleman, scientist and industrialist originally known by the courtesy title of Duc de Guiche was introduced to golf at Dieppe, where one of the first French golf courses was brought into play in 1897.
The Duc set out a 6-hole course close to the kitchen garden of the castle of Vallière, which his parents had just built in the village of Mortefontaine, but it was only after meeting Tom Simpson whilst buying polo horses in England that his full golfing vision became reality.
He asked his parents Agénor and Marguerite for permission to create a 9-hole course on the polo field to the north of the village then engaged Tom Simpson to set out the Vallière course. James Braid, Arnaud Massy and Jean Gassiat officially opened the layout on the 15th of October, 1913.
Tom Simpson returned fourteen years later to fashion the 18-hole Grand Parcours layout and it’s thought he may well have made one or two changes to the Vallière at the same time. Certainly, the course has altered quite a bit from the way it was mapped out in 1927.
The original 1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th and 9th no longer exist, with three of these lost holes replaced by today's 5th, 6th and 7th. It looks like the modern day 8th now plays to the original 2nd green and the putting surface on the closing par three 9th is the green that used to grace the par three 3rd on the Grand Parcours, when it was played to at a different angle from across the current car park.
Author Geoff Shackelford had this to say after playing here:
“Memorable, playable, fun and fascinating, Vallière features some of the most outrageous man-made greens in golf. But because Simpson had the chance to nurture this design, the boldly contoured putting surfaces work beautifully so that they are manageable for even the old timers or kids who are more likely to play here.
The childlike imagination it took to build the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th greens is a sight to behold, but they are also more than worthy of architectural study: the holes are fun to play.
A couple of breathers (6th and 7th) and the overall walkability of Vallière make it a firm reminder of what our sport all too consistently lacks: nine hole courses that can be played quickly with never a dull visit.”
A 27-hole day at Morfontaine with lunch in between 18-hole and 9-hole rounds has to be one of the finest golf experiences you will ever savour on the continent of Europe – or anywhere else for that matter.
My morning round on the Grand Parcours had been wonderful, apart from the overcast skies which didn’t allow me to take any decent photos. After a very informal lunch on the terrace, with the sun finally making an appearance, it was time to tackle the club’s original, century-old Tom Simpson design.
The Vallière measures a mere 2,543 metres in length, playing to a par of 35, with the par five 8th hole actually seven metres shorter than the par four 6th! Not that distance is a major factor here – it’s all about the approach to the green and the fun to be had on and around the putting surface.
The par four 1st hole plays through a narrow avenue of trees and over broken ground before the fairway veers sharply right and uphill towards a multi-tiered green that falls markedly from back to front. The epic contours of this putting surface offer just a taste of what lies ahead.
The short par three 2nd hole plays back downhill, where a couple of heather-clad bunkers lie in wait behind the green to catch over hit tee shots. Anything short and right will also find sand but there’s an ample bail out area to the left which isn’t that obvious from the tee box, actually.
The 282-metre 3rd heads back uphill towards the highest point on the course, with trees to the right and the fairway falling from right to left. Because the approach shot is played semi-blind, there’s no hint of the manically rumbustious undulations on the offset green – and the pin was on the very top shelf, which was fantastic fun for me and my two playing partners.
Of course, what goes up must come down and the next hole, the par three 4th, plummets steeply downhill to a long, heavily sand-protected green with an absolutely massive false front and a saddle running across the width of the putting surface, making this one of the most unique greens I’ve ever come across.
The par five 5th plays slightly downhill, with the fairway narrowing considerably as moves towards another offset green that’s party obscured by the rolling nature of the terrain. To describe the wild undulations of this putting surface as severe would not be overstating things either.
After a run of brilliant golf holes, the more mundane par fours at the 6th and 7th – running in parallel on flatter ground with more conventional greens – offer something of a breather. I’ve read that “seven of the surviving greens are a real work of art” on this course so I definitely think these two must be the odd ones out.
There’s a race track immediately to the south of the property and perhaps there have been modifications made at some time since Simpson created the Grand Parcours. An old framed map I looked at in the clubhouse had another couple of holes marked out in this part of the Vallière so maybe these were also dispensed with at some point?
Hole 8 is a very short par five, bisected by a strip of rough (like three holes on the back nine of the big course), with another terrific putting surface which, according to my notes, has “shoulders right and left on the green!!!” – yet another one constructed with the most vivid of imagination.
The par three 9th returns to the front of the clubhouse and it points slightly uphill to a home green that I understand may once have been part of the 18-hole layout, played across from where the car park is currently situated. Again, it’s a putting surface that’s far from flat, which is rather a fitting way to end a truly memorable round of golf.
The Vallière course at Golf de Morfontaine – by far and away the best 9-hole course I’ve ever played and, in my opinion, a worthy contender for best in the world.