Pack your clubs and test your skills at the pic­turesque cour­ses along the coast.

France - - Contents -

L ike all true re­li­gions, golf has its holy places. The faith­ful ar­rive at St An­drews from all cor­ners of the world, and line up for ex­pen­sive hu­mil­i­a­tion at Pine­hurst and Peb­ble Beach. Those of us who love to swing a club in France are drawn to the sun­shine and sand of Nou­velle-Aquitaine, where south­ern heat tem­pered by an At­lantic breeze prom­ise per­fect con­di­tions for a sea­side game.

Shad­ow­ing the well-trod­den pil­grim­age road to the Pyrénées and San­ti­ago de Com­postela, my jour­ney through France will be punc­tu­ated by bo­geys and birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties, fol­lowed by a cruise on the ferry back from Spain after the last putt has been missed.

Where to start? Ev­ery Chan­nel port has top-notch golf on its doorstep. My land­fall is Saint-malo, where the overnight ferry docks be­neath the walls of the fortress city at 8am on a bril­liant June day. From here it is an easy hour’s drive along the coast to Pléneuf-val-an­dré, the pick of Brit­tany’s crop of cour­ses.

In a new car that of­fers ev­ery com­fort short of a mas­sage, I ar­rive at the golf club with no ex­cuses, for once, in­stead of stag­ger­ing to the tee with joints creak­ing like a rusty door hinge.

Rhythm is an im­por­tant el­e­ment of course de­sign, and Pléneuf starts qui­etly with a gen­er­ous par five – un­less you visit on a com­pe­ti­tion day, as I did, and they wel­come you with in­struc­tions to be­gin at the tenth.

This is like start­ing Verdi’s Re­quiem at the Dies Irae. Down the left, a hedge marks the course bound­ary. A bank of dense prickly scrub, more maquis than rough, in­trudes from the right. The green is out of sight and the fair­way nar­rows to a rib­bon pre­cisely where you would like your ball to be, for a view of the flag. Never mind par: to com­plete this hole with the first ball that you hit off the tee is cause for re­joic­ing.

In happy con­trast, one of the most in­spir­ing mo­ments in French golf comes next: a pul­pit tee on a spur high above the beach looks down on a beck­on­ing sward of flat and hazard-free fair­way be­hind the sweep of the sands. Un­wind, and launch a shell through the gap be­tween a lone pine and the pic­turesque ruin of an old farm­house.

So the round goes on, mea­sur­ing its doses of men­ace and gen­eros­ity. After the usual ragoût of shots and too many putts, it is time to head south on the re­gion’s toll-free au­toroutes, cross the River Loire at Nantes and fol­low the Vendée coast as far as Saint-jean-de-monts, a fam­i­lyfriendly beach re­sort with a golf course of great char­ac­ter, cre­ated and de­signed 30 years ago by lo­cal en­thu­si­asts.

Not for them, the quiet start. The first hole curls from left to right around the only lake on the course. It is one of those risk-re­ward mo­ments that call for a deep breath, com­mit­ment – or a splash and three off the tee. Same story for the ap­proach to the green, only with a shorter club in hand, de­pend­ing on how brave and suc­cess­ful you were with the tee shot. Use an old ball would be my course man­age­ment ad­vice.

The course then plunges into an oak for­est for half a dozen tight holes be­fore emerg­ing into rolling dunes for as fair a stretch of links golf as a Scots­man could wish for, with salt on the breeze and a pretty view of the Île d’yeu.

To com­plete the hole with the first ball that you hit off the tee is a cause for re­joic­ing

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