Published: 11:01, 30 October 2017
Tourists have been heading to the magnificent beaches of Le Touquet Paris-Plage, on the Côte d’Opale, for more than 130 years.
It all started in 1882 when, after a couple of failed agricultural ventures, it was decided to build some villas and instead, turn it into a seaside resort. In the early days, however, Le Touquet was virtually deserted in the winter and it was only when John Whitley and Allen Stoneham decided to base the resort on sports, the area burst into life.
Soon there was a casino, a golf course and tennis courts. By the 1920s and 1930s it became a fashionable, luxury playground frequented by film stars, royalty and British aristocracy, who in the heady, carefree post-war atmosphere, visited the resort as part of their summer tours along with Cannes and Biarritz.
It was in 1928 celebrated golf course designer Harry Colt, whose pedigree includes grand masters like Turnberry, Sunningdale and Wentworth, was commissioned to build the links golf course La Mer among the dunes and grasslands at Le Touquet Golf Resort. When it opened in 1931, it was deemed his best course and golfers flocked there to test their game.
Today the town of Le Touquet plays host to 250,000 visitors during the summer and many more also head to the Golf Resort to take on the mighty La Mer and its siblings La Forêt and the nine-hole Le Manoir throughout the rest of the year.
Le Touquet Golf Resort’s golfing credentials have never been in question, having hosted numerous French Opens spanning six decades. The first event took place on La Forêt in 1914, followed by a second staging in 1921, then was hosted four times on La Mer between the mid-30s until late 70s (1935, 1939, 1976 & 1977).
During the Second World War, allies bombed the German concrete bunkers along the coastline and with them La Mer, and five of Harry Colt’s celebrated fairways and greens. By the time the course was rebuilt they had disappeared beneath trees and undergrowth and new holes were created to take their place.
Today, thanks to the dedication and passion of golf designer Patrice Boissonnas, four of the ‘lost holes’ have been uncovered, rebuilt and crafted to recreate the original design and routing. Along with them, previous work on the rest of the course has been readjusted using Colt’s ethos and design.
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. 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. Boissonnas will not rest until the final ‘missing link’ is re-attached.
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.
Now, 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 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 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.”
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