A period of not being able to play golf has made most of us appreciate golf courses like never before. Where previously we may have moaned about the greens being a bit slow or the sand in the bunkers being somewhat compacted, now we're hugely grateful just to be out there.
But that doesn't mean that some golf courses aren't better than others. And whilst reviewing, rating and ranking golf courses always leads to fierce debate, we can say with some certainty that Le Grand Parcours at Morfaintaine is the best golf course in Europe.
Le Grand Parcours means 'The Grand Course', a name that is entirely apt.
It stands at the very top of the Golf World Top 100 Courses Continental Europe ranking, making it the finest experience the union has to offer and a must-play on every golfer’s hit list. First opened in 1927, adding to the nine-hole Vallière that had existed since 1913, Le Grand Parcours winds its way through wooded heathland. Laid out by the legendary British designer Tom Simpson, the combination of English-style heathlands, native rock outcroppings and unspoilt isolation he had to play with have resulted in a truly unique course. Although a woodland course at heart, the trees are used to delightfully frame fairways, provide quiet seclusion, and offer teasing glimpses of other holes.
It isn’t overly long, at 6,580 yards off the tips and with a par of 70, but Le Grand Parcours demands accuracy off the tee and is very much a second shot affair. Its greens are significant in size and fast and true, sometimes breaking clearly, sometimes very subtly. Simpson left many of the natural rocky outcrops in place, which only add to the character of the course.
Le Grand Parcours stands around 30 minutes north of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, close to the city but buried away in the Parisian countryside.
Since its opening almost a century ago, the Grand Course has been enjoyed by the great and the good, the rich and famous. Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and the kings of Spain and Belgium have all teed it up and ticked it off there.
They may have found it a little easier to get on than you will, Morfontaine being private, exclusive and reserved for members and their guests, but that isn’t to say you cannot get in and get on.
You may be able to play Morfontaine by employing the services of high-end French travel specialists Private Golf Key, though it will need to be as part of a bigger, more expensive tour of the region’s courses – but that’s money well spent.
A cheaper, more opportunist option is to call the club directly and plead to get on whenever they can squeeze you in. It’s a long, long shot, but tales abound of visitors getting on in July and August, when most of the club’s members are away on holiday.
Success, however unlikely, would see you ticking off one of European golf’s most coveted courses. Let’s hope you’ve used this time in isolation polishing up your O-level French. Bonne chance!
What makes Morfontaine so special
Design: A masterpiece both technically and visually, particularly if you’re a fan of heather and tree-lined golf courses. It is an almost perfect case study of how you can use the natural lie of the land to frame holes instead of relying on expansive fairway bunkers. However, the bunkering around the greens is still absolutely exquisite.
Memorability: Something that is not widely referenced is the sense of fun and adventure that the course provides. Examples of this are sheer joy of hitting shots off such pristine turf, negotiating Simpson’s rollercoaster greens and soaking up the scenery and atmosphere of the club.
Presentation: Le Grand Parcours is Immaculately understated throughout and manages to appear both manicured and very natural-looking at the same time. It was design genius to retain the rocky outcroppings and build the fairways and greens around them.
Consistency: One sensational hole follows another. The course starts at a relatively slow pace over gentle terrain before gaining in momentum and excitement with a great mix of short and long holes.