Every year there seems to be a new top golf courses list or top 100 golf courses list, but really, how much do golf courses change year on year?
Granted, every now and again, albeit rarely, there will be a new golf course opening which might jump up the rankings. Or a specific golf course might benefit from investment for whatever reasons. But aside from a couple of examples (like the renovations at Le Touquet La Mer and Hardelot Les Pins) I’ve rarely seen a golf course transformed to a point where it starts shooting up the rankings.
With this in mind, I wanted to outline what I think are the top golf courses in France. No doubt some people will disagree, but I welcome a difference of opinions and debating which golf courses should or shouldn’t feature can be enjoyed whilst having a nice glass of wine.
What are the top golf courses in Northern France?
Les Pins course at Hardelot golf club is the first of our top golf courses in northern France. Although opened at the turn of the century, it was largely re-designed by the well-respected golf course architect Tom Simpson who was prolific on the continent between 1909 and 1931, designing the likes of Morfontaine, Chantilly and many more.
Unsurprisingly, the course is nestled in a majestic pine forest amongst sand dunes. In fact the Pines course is very reminiscent of some of the classic British heathland courses including Swinley Forest and The Berkshire, both of which are similarly built on sandy soil and carve through pine forests.
In 2014, the course received significant investment to restore it back to the original 1931 Tom Simpson design, which after 80 or so years was quite frankly a far less appealing and very different proposition.
The project was commissioned to Frank Pont and Patrice Boissonnas who over a period of three years have done a sterling job. The project focused primarily on removing trees which had slowly but surely encroached into the fairways and rebuilding the bunkers to better reflect the style Tom Simpson courses are reputed for.
This is one of the few examples of where I’ve witnessed investment really transform and reinvigorate a golf course, and Hardelot Les Pins is without doubt one of the great golf courses in France.
Next up is Le Touquet La Mer course, another masterpiece on the north French coastline and just half an hour down the coast from Hardelot Les Pins. Designed by Harry Colt and Charles Allison in 1931, this is an absolute beast of a course which winds through treacherous sand dunes and is battered by coastal winds.
It has on occasion hosted the French Open with its most recent winner none other than Seve Ballesteros in 1977. Like the Pins course at Hardelot, La Mer course was also the beneficiary of vast investment to bring back the original design which had been similarly lost over many years of mismanagement and due to damage sustained during the second world war.
Today, post restoration work, the course has cemented its position as one of the finest links courses in mainland Europe and without doubt one of the top golf courses in France.
What are the top golf courses in Paris France?
So many to choose from but how could you start anywhere other than the iconic Morfontaine golf club. There have been many blogs and articles written about Morfontaine, there’s not really a lot more to say. But unlike many people, I’ve had the benefit of playing here back in 2013 and from first-hand experience, it is something else.
It goes without saying the course is first class. It seamlessly carves its way through the ancient woodland and there is the finest attention to detail on many of the design features, particularly the bunkers.
But it is some of the other facets I love. The quirkiness of the club, the highly-entertaining 9-hole course called La Valière, the fact you’ll be one of just a handful of people at the club, its exclusive reputation… Forget France and Europe, this is one of the best golf courses in the world.
Le Vineuil golf course at Chantilly golf club is another iconic French heathland course which harks back to the golden age of heathland courses in the UK.
Another designed by Tom Simpson, it is arguably one of his more challenging. At over 7,000 yards, with penal bunkering and waves of long rough, this is not for the faint-hearted. So much so, the course was considered the perfect venue to host the French Open with our own Nick Faldo reigning supreme for two consecutive years.
To the west of Paris are numerous golf courses we could list here including the exclusive Golf de Saint-Nom-la-Bretesche and Golf de Joyenval, both with two courses onsite and both of which are first-class. We could also talk in great detail about the Green course at Golf de Saint-Cloud, also a past host venue to the French Open and designed by the legendary Harry Colt.
But the golf course I would like to focus on is the fantastic Golf de Saint-Germain, another Harry Colt designed parkland course hidden away within the Saint-Germain forest. Not overly long, this is a course you need to really think your way round, where often laying up can be the best decision.
There are beautifully crafted bunkers, elegant swathes of gorse and very few holes being infringed upon by others – this is really quite sensational golf. Standing proud overlooking the course, is the charming and welcoming clubhouse where a fantastic lunch is served.
Last but not least is Fontainebleau golf club an hour south of Paris. Set in a vast woodland, the Fontainebleau forest is known throughout France for its natural rock formations – some of which are so big they attract hundreds of amateur rock-climbers.
These same rocks appear in abundance throughout the course and assuming you don’t hit one, provide a welcome change of scenery and a unique design feature unseen elsewhere. The course itself is superb, with many strategically placed bunkers, elevated tee boxes, multi-tiered greens and year-round good condition. Like most of the courses listed above, this is another of continental Europe’s top golf courses.
What are the top golf courses in South of France?
There are some truly sensational golf courses dotted throughout the south of France and we start in an isolated part of the French Riviera, about 45 minutes drive from the coast at the Golf de Vidauban.
Also known as Prince de Provence, the history of this course is quite something. The site was bought by the famous American golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr with a view to building numerous golf courses and hosting many a great tournament. However, many years of legal wranglings and court cases mean today this is just the one course without even an ‘official’ clubhouse.
That said, for the golfing purists, the one course which is here today is quite simply outstanding. It’s like all the best holes of the best golf courses in the Algarve, pulled together and dropped in the south of France. The condition is meticulous. Every one of the holes is genius. Yet sadly, there are only a handful of members and very few if any people will get to enjoy it.
Not far from Golf de Vidauban, still within the Cote d’Azur, is the divine championship course Le Chateau at Terre Blanche Golf Resort. Designed by the former European Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas, the course seamlessly blends into the surrounding landscape and has been receiving plaudits ever since it was opened in 2000.
It is an expansive championship course in immaculate condition, featuring pristine fairways, greens and tee boxes as it craftily weaves its way through clumps of woodland, around water features and over undulating terrain. However, be warned, at over 7,200 yards this is one tough golf course.
Shifting across to the Atlantic Coast, there is again a whole host of golf courses you could choose to highlight. Golf d’Hossegor is a fantastic heathland course just up the road from Biarritz. Moliets golf is superb, half parkland and half links. But on the same coastline positioned right between these two aforementioned courses, is Golf de Seignosse.
Designed by Robert Von Hagge, the same golf course architect who was the sadistic mastermind behind the Albatros course at the Golf National, Seignosse is a stupendous course. Located on a hilly site covered in pine woodland, the course twists and turns its way making fantastic use of the terrain. Wayward shots may be found, but good luck circumnavigating the endless pine trunks.
There is a superb elevated tee on the back nine, a handful of strategic water features and endless doglegs making this one brutal, but fun course!
Further up the coast towards the cosmopolitan town of Bordeaux, is the Golf du Médoc, a golf club and resort which features two superb courses, one of which is Les Châteaux, a French Open host venue in 1999 when Retief Goosen overcame the Australian Greg Turner in a playoff.
It was apt that the wine-loving South African prevailed here at Médoc as the course is located right in the heart of wine country. Each hole is named after a local wine producing chateau, most of whose wines can be bought in the restaurant and clubhouse.
The course is parkland but with many heathland features shining through. Incredibly detailed bunkering and gorse are dotted around the course, whilst on numerous holes, you’re encouraged to get the driver out with wide, inviting fairways. Les Châteaux is quite rightly considered as one of the top golf courses in France.
There are so many top golf courses in France and the above is just a handful I’ve highlighted. For a more comprehensive list, check out my page the best golf courses in France.