In this week’s Limerick Leader column, Ivan Morris savours some of the best that French golf has to offer.
Only three weeks before the notorious ISIS attack in Paris, my wife and I enjoyed the joyful spectacle of the Prix de l’Arc horse race at Longchamps.
On our 2-hour journey from one side of Paris to the other by train, metro and bus (the return trip cost us €7 each) it was impossible to imagine the horror that lay ‘around the corner.’
However, we were in France to play golf and well you may ask why I love playing golf in France so much? Maybe it’s because there is a deep-rooted genetic instinct due to my Huguenot ancestry?
Any comparison with car ferries that cross the Irish Sea must be put out of your mind when you sail with the far more luxurious, Brittany Ferries from Cork to Roscoff. The freedom and comfort of driving your own car cannot be underrated.
When playing golf in France, be prepared for technical challenges that test all aspects of your game. For example, the par-5, 565-yards long, 11th at Pleneuf Val Andre has an abundant wow factor and a perplexing Bermuda Triangle syndrome. Every now and again a well-struck ball from the acrophobic back tee never makes it back to terra firma safely.
You’ll have to go there to understand this otherworldly mystery. PVA twists and turns endlessly over rising and falling ground winding its way through tunnels of faux dunes and hillocks, many of them covered in ball-devouring gorse. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
Golf Club Dinard at Saint-Briac-sur-Mer is one of the oldest courses (1887) in continental Europe. Every natural feature of links architecture is incorporated in a seaside layout with rising and plummeting fairways, slick, upturned-saucer greens, attractive mounding, tangly rough, side hill lies, windswept trees, gorse, broom, moorland, dunes, stupendous cliff and beach views to rival Pebble Beach and tees built on top of abandoned gunneries and improvised rain shelters.
There is also a unique, art nouveau clubhouse straight out of a Scott Fitzgerald novel. Five par-3s, one of them measuring only 100-yards and another 112-yards, while the longest is 162-yards and only one par-5 (4th) reduces the overall par to 68 and the total length for 18-holes to a deceptively ‘long’ 5867-yards and explains why the routing includes so many strong par-4s. I would happily play at Dinard for the rest of my golfing days if it were the only option on offer.
40-minutes east is Domaine Des Ormes, where the contrast could hardly be more pronounced. Endless crops of corn, a large, fenced-in practice facility, an equestrian centre, modern hotel with swimming pool plus a stunning old chateau with a helicopter parked in front were passed on my way to the clubhouse.
Des Ormes is a formidable, modern, American style course. Power and precision rather than strategic subtlety is the exam paper.
Rhyus Kerver GC on the St. Gilda’s Peninsula, 30-minutes south of Vannes City Centre, is an ornithologist’s paradise. Brittany attracts more sea birds than any other region in France. At the end of the summer, birds that have been nesting in Northern Europe arrive in their droves before their onward migration to North Africa.
Rhyus Kerver is a marshland course right beside the ocean with one, truly top-class hole - the 490-yards par-5, 12th. It’s a relatively easy birdie if you can avoid the water that squeezes a gently rising fairway into an attractive hourglass shape. A strong odour of seaweed pervades a difficult test of golf in a unique location.
At Auray, 15-minutes from Vannes, Golf de St. Laurent is a traditional French course cut out of dense forest. Popular with holidaymakers at the nearby resorts of Carnac and Quiberon, the rural remoteness is striking.
The course is notable for its severe doglegs and intricate routing. The course may look short on the scorecard at 6068-metres but long walks between the holes small targets and numerous water hazards make for an exacting workout in both stamina and skill.
The most memorable hole is the 358-metres, par-4, which slides left to right around a large bunker that sets up a tricky second shot to a small, island green surrounded by water on three sides.
I’ll leave the final words to a fourball of jolly English gentleman, who kindly called me through at my favourite hole at Des Ormes, the par-4, 12th that plays alongside a large lake populated by hundreds of boisterous, Canadian Geese.
When I asked them if they were enjoying themselves I received a resounding - oui, monsieur! Then, I asked them how much they had paid to play at such a grandiose venue? They said they didn’t know.
“Brittany Ferries arranged everything. We just looked at the good value contained in the bottom line. We are having a terrific time at wonderful courses.” I can’t say any better than that because it was exactly my experience too.
Golf in France has a tendency to be overlooked by Irish golfers in favour of the perception that Spain is cheaper. French green fees, the vast majority of them in the €50 and less range hardly supports that view?
With hosting the Ryder Cup in 2018 on the horizon, French golf is booming. Tee times should always be booked in advance, preferably through an agent for the best deals and most preferred and convenient times.