I suppose it’s like when I choose a wine, I’m no connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like. I’m not too worried about who makes it, so long as it’s enjoyable and keeps me coming back for more.
Now, after a couple of days enjoying a round or two in on the Côte d’Opale on the Northern coast of France, I’ve begun to rethink my lack of caring for golf architects and the trials and tribulations they face so my day on the golf course is made much more interesting.
I spent time discussing the ins and outs of golf course design and playing a few holes with Patrice Boissonnas on one of his latest projects to reinstate Harry Colt’s masterpiece La Mer course to its original design. His passion and determination has most definitely put him on the first step of fulfilling his dream to increase his status in the highly competitive world of golf design.
His quest at La Mer began in 2011 when he was charged with the job of restoring the original course to the golden years of the 1920s an 30s when royalty and high fliers from around the world, flocked for the golf courses of Le Touquet to test their skills as well as the fashionable beaches and casino to enjoy the high life.
The history of La Mer started in 1928 when Harry Colt, who was responsible for the designs of grand masters like Turnberry, Sunningdale and Wentworth, was commissioned to build a links course among the dunes and grasslands at Le Touquet. It opened in 1931 and within 10 years had hosted the French open twice. Subsequently staging it again in 1976 and 1977.
During the Second World War, allies bombed the German concrete bunkers along the coastline and with them La Mer, and five of Colt’s celebrated fairways and greens. By the time the course was rebuilt they had disappeared beneath trees and undergrowth. When it was rebuilt, new holes were created to take their place.
Today, thanks to the dedication and passion of Boissonnas, four of the ‘lost holes’ have been uncovered, rebuilt and crafted to recreate the original design. Along with them, previous work on the rest of the course has been readjusted to fit Colt’s ethos. After completing four holes, the fight to restore the ‘last lost hole’, the 17th, continues as Boissonnas and ecologists argue the pros and cons of removing the forest which has grown through the fairway of Colt’s original.
Armed with a copy of the original design and aerial photographs, as well as finding the remains of bunkers guarding the 17th green, he is convinced he has found the route of the original fairway and will not rest until the final ‘missing link’ is reattached.
Until that happens golfers will approach the 17th up a precipitous final 100 yards to a towering green, which runs completely against Colt’s design ethos.
As it is, the course is stunning. From the opening par 5, first, 469 metres off the white tee, to the 384m par 4, 18th, it is clearly evident why so many golfers rate this course so highly. Winding its way through and across towering dunes and formidable grasslands, it is a classic out-and-back links with deep greenside bunkering and immense run-offs.
For me there isn’t a best hole or a favourite because each one has its own distinct character. And, fortunately for me, it’s not a course which plays solely to the low handicapped long hitter, it gives the higher handicapper a fair chance of reaching the green in regulation. What it does successfully is repay good shots for golfers of all levels and any loose ones will cost at least one shot – which is what Colt intended while designing all of his courses.
But, if you play this course and have a higher handicap, make sure you play at least half a dozen from the white tees, just for the thrill of it. By seeing the course from this perspective you begin to appreciate a little of what goes into designing a golf course and, seeing the layout of a particular hole, appreciate how much the designer has used the natural contours of a land and how much has been manufactured using bulldozers.
The difference is always intriguing and, while I doubt I will ever become a connoisseur of golf course design, it will perhaps help me understand a little more why I like one course more than another and why I keep going back for more.
Meanwhile back at the clubhouse, nearly a century on from those heady days in the Roaring 20s, Le Touquet Golf Resort, is ushering in a new golden age for European golf travel with the opening of a remarkable clubhouse designed to blend in to the links. Its striking roofline features pyramidal peaks, reminiscent of the dunes themselves, while offering hospitality and every modern comfort.
The clubhouse and its acclaimed restaurant The Spoon, is part of a long-term investment programme at the resort, which will see its hotel Le Manoir undergo a transformation, with plans to turn it into a boutique-style hotel. A stylish restaurant, echoing the modern golf clubhouse, has already opened and the communal areas are undergoing renovation during this winter.
Le Touquet Golf Resort, part of the Open Golf Club group, is less than an hour's drive south of the Eurotunnel terminus, making it easy to access using the A16 autoroute, and every possibility of a day out to play the courses or more relaxing weekend to play a couple of them.
While you are in the area you can’t miss a trip to Open Golf Club group’s two sister courses Les Dunes and Les Pins (The Pines) at nearby Golf d’Hardelot.
Les Pins, originally designed by the much-praised Tom Simpson in 1931, has also undergone some major restoration, again under the guidance of Boissonnas and fellow designer Frank Pont, who used old photographs and aerial views to restore it to Simpson’s original 1931 routing and design, recreating the shaping and contours of greens, surrounds, fairways and bunker edges.
While work is still ongoing, the course is a delight and the success of its redesign is proven as it has recently been adopted as a venue by the European Tour Qualifying School.
Golf d’Hardelot has reinforced its position as one of Europe’s must-visit golf destinations after its iconic Les Pins course was elevated to #24 in Golf World magazine’s newly published ‘Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe.’
The meteoric rise up the rankings (from 98th in 2013) is the result of one of Europe’s most successful course renovation programmes.
Ken Strachan, General Manager of Golf d’Hardelot, said: “Becoming one of Continental Europe’s Top 25 courses, after such a historic leap up the rankings in 2015, underlines the focused investment we have made to further enhance the experience for our visitors and members.”
For more about Le Touquet Golf Resort visit www.opengolfclub.com/en/Golf-du-Touquet.
For information on Golf at Hardelot visit www.hardelotgolfclub.com/en/