Another French golfing adventure in Brittany and Normandy
You may remember we published an article following a seven-day trip last summer to Paris ( Fabulous France – where golf is fantastique!), where we played a selection of top tier tracks within striking distance of the capital, and just a couple of months ago we enjoyed another wonderful week in the southwest of the country, sampling wine and golf in Bordeaux and Biarritz ( Bordeaux and Biarritz – bright golfing beacons in southwest France).
On the back of the last tour to the southwest, we were approached by a few people in the northwest of France who thought we might be interested to see what some of their golf facilities had to offer in that area of the country. So (with re-ranking of the French Top 100 approaching at the end of this year) it seemed sensible to cast an eye over some of these chart contenders, as well as visiting a few of the more established layouts along the coast of Brittany and Normandy.
We started our excursion from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris then set off for our start point in Saint-Malo, factoring in a pit stop en route at Golf de Sable-Solesmes, an hour's drive southwest of Le Mans.
This 27-hole layout lies just outside the small commune of Sablé-sur-Sarthe and it’s one of thirty golf facilities that you’ll find within the Pays de la Loire region. Designed by Michel Gayon and opened for business in the early 1990s, the three nines are laid out across a rolling landscape that brings stands of mature trees and several attractive lakes into play.
The Forêt and Rivière nines combine to form the best 18-hole layout here and that’s the course that we played.
We then headed onto Brittany and the port city of Saint-Malo, where we stayed the night on the seafront at Le Grand Hôtel des Thermes, which is one of a number of hotels attached to the Saint-Malo Golf Resort, situated twenty-five kilometres further inland.
This is also a 27-hole golf complex and thirty rooms are also available on-site in another 3-star hotel and all the accommodation was occupied when we were there. The resort features the 18-hole Surcouf layout and the 9-hole Old course, designed by Hubert Chesneau, former Director of the French Golf Federation.
After a 30-minute drive back towards the coast in the afternoon, we arrived at Golf de Dinard, one of the most historic clubs in mainland Europe as it was founded in 1887, making it the second oldest on the continent, after Pau. The concrete art deco clubhouse replaced the original wooden structure in the late 1920s and it’s an extraordinary old building, full of interesting golfing artefacts and memorabilia.
The course was set out by Tom Dunn, shortly before he helped his brother Willie Dunn modify the twenty-seven holes that had been established at Biarritz Le Phare in 1888. Dinard has also been altered down the years but it still measures less than 5,350 metres from the back markers so many of the old shot values remain largely intact.
One of our reviewers recently described Dinard as follows: “L'expérience du sublime.” Enough said.
A hundred kilometres northeast of Dinard and into Normandy lies the 18-hole Links course at Golf de Granville – arguably the only true links layout in all of France. Initially fashioned by enthusiastic local golfers in 1912, the course was updated by Harry Colt’s design firm nine years later.
The club’s centenary publication Granville, a links between two centuries , quotes the following contemporary extract from L’Avenir Republicain : “Messrs. Colt and Alison became involved as of 1921, in the hope that the preliminary work begun before summer will lead to the opening of 9 holes for summer holidaymakers, with 18 holes opened the following year.”
A few of the holes have been altered or replaced in the last few years, mainly to allow better access to an adjacent airfield which was built in 1947, but at least half the Colt holes (and a few more of his greens) are still in play almost a hundred years after they were first crafted.
Later in the day, we travelled another hundred kilometres across the Cherbourg Peninsula to the 36-hole complex at Golf d’Omaha Beach, which sits on the cliffs above Port en Bessin, immediately to the east of where forty thousand Allied infantry landed on D-Day during World War II.
In a local area that’s still very much steeped in the events of 6th June 1944, the two Yves Bureau-designed courses (La Mer and Le Manoir) have all thirty-six holes named after important Allied commanders from the various countries involved in liberating the country from foreign occupation.
There was only enough time to play the La Mer course – considered the championship layout at the club as it hosted two editions of the Open de France Senior tournament in 1994 and 2004 – before heading another hundred kilometres east, skirting past Caen, on the way to the seaside resort of Deauville.
After spending the night in the sumptuous Barrière L’Hôtel du Golf in Deauville, we walked all of 150 metres out the front door and across the car park to the recently renovated clubhouse to prepare for a round on the Rouge and Blanc nines at this classy 27-hole set-up.
Tom Simpson planned 27-holes right from the start here back in 1929 but nine holes were lost during World War II. By the time Henry Cotton was hired to upgrade the course in the early 1960s, all three nines were back in use and they’ve since undergone a more recent major bunker renovation.
In the afternoon, we drove an hour further north, past the busy port of Le Havre, to the chalk cliffs on the Côte d'Albâtre and the golf course at Golf d’Ėtretat, where Arnaud Massy and Julien Chantepie from La Boulie in Paris first set out the fairways in 1908. The course took some time to recover from the ravages of the Second World War and it has since benefited from major renovation work carried out in the early 1990s.
It’s an exhilarating place to play golf, high above the English Channel, with many non-golfers walking along the edge of the property, and we were lucky to have barely a breeze blowing during our round – one can only imagine what it must be like on such an exposed site when the wind gets up.
Our final golfing port of call in Normandy didn’t actually take place along the coast. Instead, we ventured another hundred and twenty kilometres inland, toward Paris, to a small commune in the region’s Eure department called Le Vaudreuil, which has been hosting the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge on the Challenge Tour since 2013.
Owner Jean-Claude Forestier took over the property in 2008 and has spent the last decade nurturing an association with PGA France to provide an up to date golf facility for young professional players who can train, practice and develop their playing skills in a state of the art environment which also boasts a boutique hotel and other accommodation options.
After playing Le Vaudreuil’s Fred Hawtree-designed layout from 1962, it was time to return to Charles de Gaulle airport and complete the latest chapter in our Gallic golfing adventures. Somehow, it feels like this particular travel book still has quite a few pages to turn before we reach the end.
Thanks to the following people for their help before, during and after our visit:
Natalia Moreau & Alexandre N’Guéma at Sablé-Solesmes, Franck Nicol at Saint-Malo, Gilles Paris & Jean Guillaume Legros at Dinard, Daniel Paille & Vincent Portier at Granville, Paul Collière at Omaha Beach, Frédèric Bessonneaud & Stéphane Rouen at Deauville, Iñigo Ceballos at Ėtretat, Jean-Claude Forestier & Guiaume Biaugeaud at Le Vaudreuil.
One of our trusted French advisors, Roland Machenaud, the editor of Golf Planète, must also be thanked for his co-operation and support.
The assistance of everyone named, who turned this proposed golf trip into reality, is much appreciated.
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