Golfing in Northern France
For the hordes of British golfers heading across the Channel every year, there’s a part of northern France that will be forever England. Such is the popularity of the Cote d’Opale’s golf courses, the Pas de Calais region alone accounts for as much as 70% of all golfers visiting France from the UK.
It’s a love affair that goes right back to the days of Noel Coward, PG Wodehouse and the so-called “smart set” of the 1920s. And even beyond that, in fact – the resorts of Le Touquet and Hardelot, today’s golfing hotspots, were both first developed by English Francophiles over 100 years ago. This was where the British love of golf in France first blossomed.
The romance waned for a while as golfers were seduced by younger rivals from Southern Europe and more exotic, far-off climes.
But it has been rekindled in recent years. And with the Channel Tunnel and the advent of fast ferries as well as more luxurious traditional craft in theWestern Channel, people are venturing farther afield to play in Normandy and Brittany. Courses beyond the northern Cote d’Opale have also become popular, with the likes of Chantilly in Picardy gaining favour.
The lure of northern France is the combination of the ease of getting there, the quality of the golf and excellent value. Even top courses represent good value when compared to their English counterparts. An added bonus is that when you take your own car by ferry or the Channel Tunnel you have no luggage restrictions or excess payments for taking golf clubs, as is now the norm with airlines.
Some of the popular Pas de Calais area courses can get very busy during the key seasons, in spring and autumn, which is one reason why golfers have been exploring courses and areas farther away. But most courses are little played compared to those across the Channel.
Out of season, there are some great deals to be had with discounted green fees and often added-value offers such as lunch and a buggy thrown in with the green fee. Northern France is a popular destination for golfing groups, with an average stay of two or three nights and typically six people in a group.
This is what northern France has to offer:
nord-pas de calais
The number one French golf destination by far, the shining stars of the Cote d’Opale are Le Touquet’s La Mer and Hardelot’s Les Pins courses. Golf first appeared at the two fledgling resorts in the early 1900s, thanks to Englishmen Allen Stoneham, who founded Le Touquet Syndicate in 1903, and John Whitley, who bought the Domaine du Touquet with Stoneham’s money the same year and also developed Hardelot.
Le Touquet’s first 18-hole course, by Horace Hutchinson, opened in 1904 and is now La Foret course. A nine-hole course, now Le Touquet Manoir with the 42-bedroom Le Manoir hotel alongside, followed in 1910. The glorious links course designed by Harry Colt, which would later be known as La Mer, opened in 1931. It has hosted six French Opens, his 1977 victory helping propel a young Severiano Ballesteros onto the world golfing stage.
Now owned by French golf and resort group Open Golf Club, which also owns Hardelot Golf Club, La Mer has been restored back to its original design and a wooden bridge built to serve a small railway line but destroyed in WorldWar II has been rebuilt alongside the 10th hole.
Hardelot’s first nine holes opened in 1906 alongside Whitley’s Hardelot Castle, the first tee being bizarrely situated on top of one of its towers. The layout, attributed to the legendary Harry Vardon, was redeveloped as an 18-hole course by Tom Simpson, opening in 1931. It was called Les Pins when a new course, Les Dunes by Belgian architect Paul Rolin, was added in 1991 and has also been restored to its original design.
The days of Jeeves and BertieWooster may be gone, but there is still very much a whiff of Britannia about both Le Touquet and Hardelot, as a result of their long British associations (Open Golf Club only became Le Touquet’s first French owner in 1992), and the clientele.
This area is more than just Le Touquet and Hardelot, though. North of Boulogne,Wimereux is a demanding links course which also dates back more than a century. While inland is the par-73 Aa-St-Omer Golf Club course, which is user-friendly for mid to high handicappers off the front tees but serves up a tough 140 slope rating from the tips.You can stay at the nearby four-star Chateau Tilques. Arras also has a good course.
The Flanders area bordering Belgium has excellent golf, too – notably in the form of the Golf Club de Dunkerque. Close to the town of Dunkirk, it offers three loops of nine holes.
The growth in popularity of courses in these regions is underscored by Brittany Ferries, which operates a very popular Golf Breaks programme.
The most popular courses are those around the ferry ports of Caen and St Malo, but there are some real gems to be found elsewhere in Normandy and Brittany.
Among highlights is Golf Barriere de Deauville, with an 18-hole course by Tom Simpson from 1929 and another nine holes added by Henry Cotton in the 1960s plus an on-site luxury hotel. Also in Deauville is the Golf Club de l’Amiraute, a marshland course but with large greens and wide fairways, and featuring sculptures dotted around the course.
The 27-hole Golf de Omaha Beach enjoys a stunning clifftop location overlooking one of the D-Day landing sites. Closer to Dieppe is Golf d’Etretat, also set on chalk cliffs and rated among the top 25 courses in France.
Inland delights include the highly-rated Golf Club du Champ de Bataille, in the wooded grounds of a Louis XIV chateau, and Le Golf Parc de Nantilly, a spectacular American-style course with island greens just an hour west of Paris.
Brittany is awash with excellent golf, and the Brittany Golf Pass gives discounts of between 15% and 20% on its courses. The rugged coast provides a beautiful backdrop to a number of courses.
Base yourself at the St Malo Hotel Golf & Country Club just minutes from St Malo and you can play its 27-hole parkland course and explore the northern Brittany coast to play other courses including France’s secondoldest, the 120-year-old Dinard Golf Club. Golf Club des Ormes, in the grounds of a 16th century chateau, is good for families as it has a campsite next to it.
Rennes, which has an airport served from UK airports, has 11 courses within an hour’s drive. On the west coast, near Brest, Golf de Brest Iroise is among France’s top-ranked courses and is just a short drive from ferry port Roscoff, served from Plymouth.
Brittany’s south coast has a number of good courses, among them Golf de Baden Baden, skirting an inletwhich overlooks the Iles du Morbihan, and the short but demanding Golf Ploemeur.
northern france golf facts
when to play
The main season for UK golfer from March to the end of June, and then from the end of August to the end of October. But golf can be played year-round.The weather is similar to that of southern England.
Cross-Channel ferry services are operated by several ferry companies: Norfolkline (www.norfolkline.com); SeaFrance (www.seafrance.com); P&O (www.poferries.com); LD Lines (www.ldlines.co.uk); Condor Ferries (www.condorferries.co.uk); and Brittany Ferries (www.brittanyferries.com). Sailings operate from Dover, Folkestone, Newhaven, Portsmouth, Weymouth and Plymouth to French ports Dunkirk, Calais, Boulogne,
Dieppe, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo, Le Havre and Roscoff.Find out more about ferry routes and services from the Passenger Shipping Association ferry website, www.discoverferries.co.uk.You can also take the Eurotunnel shuttle trains through the Channel Tunnel.
Britanny Ferries Holidays (www.brittanyferries.com) has a dedicated golf programme featuring Brittany and Normandy. Other packaged golf holidays are offered by tour operators including Golfbreaks.com
(www.golfbreaks.com),Your Golf Travel (www.yourgolftravel.com), Golf Planet Holidays (www.golfplanetholidays.com) and Leisure Link Golf Holidays (www.leisurelinkgolf.com). Discounted green fees are often available through golf passes, with fixed prices for playing a set number of rounds on participating courses.
Nord-Pas de Calais
All prices and details were correct when published, please check before visiting Northern France.