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​Top 100 Golf Courses of France 2018

22 February, 2018

Top 100 Golf Courses of France 2018

We published our new Top 100 for Continental Europe just before Christmas and for the last two months we’ve been updating all the national listings within that geographical region. This is the last of those biennial chart revisions for Europe and we conclude the exercise with one of the continent’s big hitters, France.

Organised golf has been played in this country since the middle of the 19th century, with the formation of Pau Golf Club in 1856 officially marking the start of France’s sporting love affair with the royal and ancient game. Before the turn of that century other clubs sprung up in Dinard (1887), Biarritz (1888), Cannes (1891) and Deauville (1899) but it was the course at Golf de Compiègne, near Paris, which holds the honour of being the first venue to host golf at an Olympic Games in 1900.

Of course, the Olympics have never been used as a vehicle to develop the game of golf down the years – even the most recent edition of the Olympic golf event in Brazil could hardly be described as a roaring promotional success – but what has driven the game forward, certainly among professionals, is the participation of top players in prestigious international competitions like the Open.

Biarritz-born Arnaud Massy won the inaugural French Open in 1906 before heading across the channel to Royal Liverpool the following year, becoming the first non-Briton to win the Open since it was established in 1860. Massy’s victory certainly raised the profile of the game in his native France (and beyond) but it’s a pity the Great War stymied his career when he was in his prime, even though he did go on to win the Belgian, French and Spanish Opens between 1910 and 1928.

How many of those attending the upcoming Ryder Cup on the Albatros course at Golf National – an event many consider to be the modern-day pinnacle of professional golf in Europe – will realise the full extent of the personal contribution that Arnaud Massy made towards the game’s popularity on the European continent? It’s really rather sobering to compare and contrast the fortunes of the top pros back in the day who barely scratched a living compared to the superstar lifestyles of the players who’ll be teeing it up in Paris this September.

To matters in hand, and the unveiling of our new Top 100 for France, where the Grand Parcours at Golf de Morfontaine retains the number 1 slot, which is not surprising when you consider it was also recently presented as our number 1 course in Europe. Designed by Tom Simpson in the late 1920s and improved over the last few years by Kyle Phillips, this stellar 18-hole layout was regarded by a recent reviewer as ”not just a masterpiece to the eye, if you like heather and forest courses, but also a fantastic test of golf... you need to play all the shots here.” And the person posting the review was also of the opinion that if the course was located in the New York area then “it’s a world Top 20 course in every ranking and would have hosted a few majors by now.”

Two courses each move up one place to number 2 and number 3 respectively, and, like Morfontaine, they too are very distinguished old Tom Simpson designs. The Vineuil at Golf de Chantilly lies an hour’s drive to the north of Paris city centre and Golf de Fontainebleau sits the same distance from the heart of the capital in the opposite direction. Both occupy similarly fabulous forested locations but it must be said the course at Fontainebleau is considerably tighter than its counterpart on the other side of the city. Ranked #5 and #6 in Europe, these are unquestionably two of the top tracks on the continent to guarantee a truly memorable golfing experience.

Around 250 kilometres north of the capital, on France’s fabled Côte d'Opale, lie the seaside resorts of Neufchâtel-Hardelot and Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. It’s here that Open Golf, the well-known golf facility operator, manages a couple of Golden Age courses which have just undergone what can only be described as a new millennium renaissance following substantial financial investment by the company. Les Pins at Golf d’Hardelot (up seven to number 7)and La Mer at Golf du Touquet (up three to number 10) are early 1930s layouts from the design firms of Tom Simpson and Harry Colt that have just received substantive makeovers by architect Frank Pont and Patrice Boissonnas (whose family own Open Golf Club) involving tree removal, green enlargement, fairway widening and bunker reconstruction.

Both courses made prodigious positional gains during our recent European re-ranking process so it stands to reason that they should now enter their national Top 10 for the first time. Brian Ward, our correspondent for the Midlands and North of England, played here last summer, terming Les Pins as “one of the unexpected highlights of my golfing season… not only very playable but also great fun” while Brian also said of La Mer: “much has been stripped back to leave a significantly more open and exposed aspect to this fast running and beautifully bunkered layout.”

Several courses make impressive moves in the right direction within our new chart: Tom Doak’s understated design at Grand Saint-Emilionnais Golf Club near Bordeaux entered our French listings at number 23 last time around and it now rises seven places to 16 while the Harry Colt-designed Vert layout at Golf de Saint-Cloud in Paris, site for more than a dozen French Opens, advances four spots to number 20.

A little further down the chart, the course at Golf Country Club de Cannes-Mougins on the Côte d'Azur, which Tom Mackenzie has recently been renovating, climbs seven places to number 35 and the historically important La Vallée course at Golf de La Boulie in Paris, site of Arnaud Massy’s aforementioned triumph in the first Open de France, moves eight rungs up the ladder to number 44.

Mention must also be made of two outstanding leaps into the top half of the table from courses at either end of the country.

The club at Golf de Wimereaux (up twenty-five to 46) dates back to 1901 but the coastal course near Boulogne-sur-mer that’s in use today is much changed from the one that was first brought into play over a century ago, thanks mainly to the ravages of World War II, after which the links was abandoned for fifteen years. Twelve hundred kilometres to the south, not far from Saint-Maxime on the French Riviera, Michel Gayon’s early 1990s Provencal production at Les Domaines de Saint-Endréol continues to make a big impact on our new chart – having entered at number 85 two years ago, it now rockets an impressive thirty-five places up to number 50.

The highest of our four new entries appears at number 80 and it’s the 18-hole layout at Golf de la Nivelle, located in the southwest corner of the country, less than ten kilometres from the border with Spain, with the tree-lined fairways laid out on hilly terrain overlooking the Atlantic harbour of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. The club was formed in 1907, with the founding members appointing the then three-time Open champion J. H. Taylor to set out their course. Not too many people might remember the club co-hosting the Open de France in the early 1970s, when the first two rounds of the tournament were played on two different courses. In 1971 La Nivelle and Biarritz-Le Phare were used for this competition (with the final two rounds played at Biarritz-Le Phare) then the following year this arrangement was reversed.


To view further details of our newly updated France Top 100 rankings click the link.

As ever, we like to know what you think about our re-ranked national listings in Europe so please make use of the “Respond to this article” link at the top or the bottom of this page if you have anything to say about this newly refreshed Top 100 chart for France.

Having doubled our coverage of French courses last time around, we freely admit the bottom half of the table, in particular, is something of a work in progress. By all means tell us what we’ve got right and what could be improved – we don’t produce “definitive” lists, we like to think we publish the “most informed” rankings, so your points of view really matter to us.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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