With the golf season is now in full swing, we select some of France’s most beautiful and welcoming courses.
This beauty deep in the Loiret department tops many golf course ‘best of’ lists – for many golf writers and experts, it’s the best in Europe – and with good reason. Situated in a beautifully wooded, peaceful corner of the Loire Valley, its origins are fascinating. It was first conceived by Baron Marcel Bich (from the Bic pens and razors empire) in the late 1980s, and built on what was previously his 690-hectare hunting estate. Designed by course maestro Robert Van Hagge, it is a challenging 18-holer high on risk-reward, with water features on 12h holes and bunkers 100 yards long. The course record at one-under par is held, appropriately enough, by Jean Van Der Velde. For many amateur golfers, the experience of playing such a stunning course is reward enough. Members and invited players.
Created as a nine-hole course on a former polo terrain by Armand de Gramont, Duc de Guiche in 1913, Morfontaine today also boasts an additional 18 holes designed by Tom Simpson. Both are immaculately presented, challenging and yet fair to the half-decent amateur. It’s a little off the beaten track in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in north-eastern France (west of Reims in the Champagne region) but such hidden gems are always worth the journey. Since the course is only playable to members and their ‘invités’, it’s best to get friendly with a local… and quick! Exclusive yet exquisite just about sums it up.
Ryder Cup aficionados will know that the 2018 event will take place at this, the home of French golf at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines near Paris. Designed by course architects Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge in collaboration with Pierre Thevenin, there are three courses to play: the championship course called The Albatross, which ensures that players will need every club in their bag to master; the par 71 Eagle (with undulating fairways, it’s a great warm-up for the main course); and the 9-hole Birdie course (Oiselet).
One of the main pulls of this course is its proximity to Paris – perfect for those visiting the French capital en vacances. This is a public course and you can play the Ryder Cup course from €120.
Chantilly is 30km north of Paris, half an hour from Charles de Gaulle airport and noted for its horse-racing and famous château (James Bond fans will recognise it). But its golf course – another crafted by Tom Simpson and inaugurated in 1909 – is special too. Tough yet easy on the eye, 14 holes of its man Parcours de Vineuils course flank the Chantilly forest, while others have eye-catching garden designs and water features. There is a second course, Longères. It’s open to non-members during the week. For a relaxing stay, try the splendid Dolce Chantilly.
Whilst the courses already mentioned are undoubtedly memorable places to play, Souillac Country Club offers more than just a great golf course. Bordering the Lot, Dordogne and Corrèze regions of southwest France, not only is it a relaxed and comfortable place to stay (there are lodges of varying sizes), but also a base to explore the wonderful villages and historic sites of the Dordogne Valley and savour the best of French life. As for the golfing options, the 18-holer crafted by acclaimed architect Jeremy Pern is set in a lovely oak forest and offers splendid panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from every hole. You can enjoy a round here from as little as €40 in low season.
This archetype of luxury escapism amid the vineyards west of Bergerac features 9th and 18th holes that finish of in front of a 16th century château – what could be more inspiring? And once that 18th putt is sunk, the lap of luxury awaits, with splendid gastronomy, vineyard yours, professional beauty and relaxation treatments in the hotel spa. Meanwhile, a stay here means you can take a day away from the greens to visit the revamped city splendour of Bordeaux and historic wine village of St-Emilion. Since the creation of a further nine holes in 2008, players can now take their pick of three different configurations for an 18-hole round, with varying skill challenges in each combination.
Another south-western golf course that enjoys a stellar reputation is Golf d’Albi, another of Toulouse-based course designer Jeremy Pern’s success stories. The 18-holer sits beautifully alongside the famous river Tarn, with holes 7 and 13 snaking alongside its banks, while four hefty ponds will certainly play their part in shaping your scorecard elsewhere!
One key advantage that this course has over all others is that it is on the doorstep of a truly beautiful place to visit. With its massive, ocean-liner-shaped cathedral, lovely shopping streets, relaxed vibe and great restaurants, Tarn’s capital Albi is a pink gem of the southwest.