By Clive Agran
There is much to admire about France. It’s un-crowded, the roads are excellent, the scenery is delightful and the weather is generally quite a bit better than ours. The food is excellent and the wine is plentiful and inexpensive. On top of all that, it has some outstanding golf courses, which is somewhat surprising since the French don’t seem all that interested in golf. They’re fanatical about football, crazy about cycling, love tennis, but golf is barely more popular over there than petanque is over here.
France also has the considerable merit of not being very far away and is easily reached by sea. Ferries have considerable appeal for golfers fed up with flying and the unfairness of iniquitous surcharges that budget airlines often extort for carrying clubs. A car is the only sensible way for golfers with their heavy bags to get around, so taking your own on a ferry saves renting one at the other end.
The ferry also saves times and money. Sailing overnight enables you to tee off early on the first day of your trip and squeeze in a full day’s golf on your final day. That’s two night’s accommodation very much cheaper than any hotel.
With Brittany Ferries running regular services from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo and Roscoff pretty well the whole of the top third of France is comfortably brought into play for the sail and drive golfer.
My group departed from Portsmouth and found the ferry a lot less stressful than flying. In fact, it was fun. The restaurant was outstanding, we slept well and felt the holiday had started long before we even arrived at Caen in the early hours of the morning.
We drove (on the right-hand side of the road) straight to Golf D’Houlgate and were the first to tee off on this delightful course which provided a beautiful introduction to golf in Normandy. In the middle of ‘Bocage’ country, this pretty parkland course provides plenty of elevation, outstanding views and precisely the sort of reasonably gentle introduction you need on your opening round.
The attractive half-timbered clubhouse is built, as they say, in the vernacular and the lunch we enjoyed there was terrific. Bar snacks, chicken and chips in a basket and other culinary abominations are eschewed in France in favour of beautifully prepared food and pukka cordon bleu cuisine. For the French, the twin appeal of golf is that it fills up the downtime between meals as well as sharpening the appetite. So a three-and-a-half hour round can be followed by a lunch or dinner of almost equal length.
Feeling pleasantly replete, we drove for just under half-an-hour to the outskirts of the delightful seaside town of Deauville to Golf Barriere de Deauville. Set on a hillside overlooking the town and with two cracking courses, this classy venue offers resort golf par excellence.
Take time after your round to explore some of the many pleasures Deauville has to offer. Horses and horse racing are more than just a hobby here. An exceptionally pretty seaside town especially popular with fashionable Parisians, Deauville has a thoroughbred history that supports its claim to be the equestrian capital of France. The secret, as they say, lies in the soil. Aided by the climate, the rich pastures around these parts are perfect for horses and there are no fewer than 30 racetracks in Normandy that host 240 flat, national hunt and trot meetings a year.
Two of these tracks are in Deauville. Established in 1864, La Touques is the principal one. With a new all-weather surface supplementing the existing grass, it holds nearly 50 flat meetings a year, puts on five of the highest calibre (Group One) races and can accommodate 10,000 spectators at a time. If you can time your trip to take in a day’s racing, you could finish up fiscally in front.
Just along the coast is Omaha Beach. The Americans landed here on D-Day - June 6, 1944. The wonderful golf course overlooks the beaches where about 5000 brave men died on that one day. There’s a pill-box and other reminders scattered about on the two lovely courses, all of which help put missed putts into perspective.
Although less historic, Coutainville is another in a succession of pretty seaside towns strung along the coast of Normandy. Quite quirky, the golf course is great fun and not too long.
Rather more demanding is the magnificent links course at Granville Golf Club. Over a century old, it has a wild beauty, very natural feel and provided a fitting climax to a great trip.