Morfontaine has retained its spot as the best golf course in continental Europe in the latest Golf World Top 100, but is it as good as England’s finest heathlands? Darius Oliver assesses how the No.1 stacks up against Sunningdale, Swinley, Woking and co…
The Morfontaine versus Surrey/Berkshire heathlands comparison is an interesting one, because they obviously share similarities, but the best courses around London certainly have their own character and style – just like Morfontaine. I’m a little biased toward Morfontaine as a club in some ways, simply because it has that outrageously contoured short course (Valliere) which none of the Surrey/Berkshire courses have.
So as a prospective member, if they were all accessible and a similar distance from home, I would probably lean towards Sunningdale firstly because it has two courses – but then it’s between Morfontaine and St George’s Hill because they’re beautiful and have 27 holes. Morfontaine might just get the nod though, because of the Valliere.
Swinley Forest is up there as well and a wonderful experience in part because it’s so exclusive, like Morfontaine. I’m also a huge fan of Woking, one of the best golf courses in England.
Tom Simpson is a link between some of the English heathlands and Morfontaine. So many of his courses have been altered over the years, and much of what I’ve seen were redesigns of older courses anyway so perhaps not truly reflective of his overall portfolio. But I really enjoyed his drawings and the work I’ve seen that remains is great, and original, so I admire him more than most from the Golden Age.
I’m sure he would be right up there with Harry Colt and Dr MacKenzie had the likes of Chiberta, Spa (Royal Fagnes) and Ravenstein, for example, been restored when I played them. Hardelot too, which looks great in photos now but was a shadow of its former self when I was there 15 years ago.
In terms of how many continental European courses would get in a Top 100 alongside GB&I courses, that’s a hard one to answer because there are probably 15-20 British courses in that bottom rung that I haven’t seen so can’t properly compare – but I would say there would likely be seven continental European courses in my collated Top 100.
Morfontaine, Chantilly, Royal Hague, Kennemer and De Pan, a huge favourite of Top 100 editor Chris Bertram, would certainly make the list, and I suspect that I would sneak Fontainebleau and Falkenstein in as well. Falkenstein needs a serious restoration, but still beats some of the UK courses I’ve seen near the bottom of those Top 100 lists.
I know I’ve rated it much higher than others and can see all its faults, but in my view a course with a few great holes beats a course that has few weaknesses but few out and out highlights. From what I remember, if Falkenstein was sensitively restored – which I believe is now happening – and able to play firm and fast, it would be amazing.