The top 20 of the Continental European ranking is, as you would expect, emphatically a strong offering. There are plenty of courses so good that it looks as if they are being harshly judged and could be a few places higher. But while Continental Europe has this collection of high-calibre courses, in truth it rarely surpasses or even matches the courses of Britain and Ireland. Chantilly, though, could be one such occasion. It might well be at least a match for the best of its type in GB&I.
This is a woodland-parkland course that loses little if anything in comparison with Little Aston, if we take that to be the leading course of that type in Britain and Ireland. Chantilly oozes class, and why wouldn’t it?
It is located in the feted suburb north of Paris, with Le Chateau de Chantilly – the handsome former royal residence complete with standard moat – only a couple of minute’s drive from the golf club.
And Chantilly engaged that aristocrat of course architecture, Tom Simpson, to design their main course, the Vineuil. The Vineuil has a little sister, the Longeres, and it should also be played when here, because take a wrong turn off the premier course and you would barely notice you had joined up with the No.2.
A round here is accompanied by no other sounds than club hitting ball and errant shot striking a tree in the forest.
Indeed, a re-configuration of the last three on the Vineuil saw its previous 18th seamlessly ceded to Longeres. Both courses are routed through the middle of an ancient estate, where it feels like you are a million miles away from one of Europe’s key capital cities.
A round here is accompanied by no other sounds than club hitting ball and errant shot striking a tree in the forest. The tranquility is matched by the immaculate presentation, including possibly the best greens in Paris, arguably the continent’s finest area for golf.
There is an aristocratic feel to the whole club, from the relaxed atmosphere to a Tudor-style clubhouse modernised with glass panels and from the low number of fellow golfers to the enjoyable ‘balles & foursomes tout la journey’ sign by the 1st tee.
Simpson, who finished Chantilly in 1909, began it with a drive over a ravine towards a fairway eaten into by two drive bunkers on the right.
Played over undulating ground with significant elevation change and flanked by mature trees and rough that can be thick and sways ominously in the wind, this is a typical scene at Chantilly. The back nine is probably the better half, not least because of the outstanding 13th and terrific two-shot 14th.
Then there is a strong climax, an uphill right-to-left dog-leg played to a two-tiered green heavily guarded by bunkers.
The run for home is a strong one and begins at the 16th with a drive to the edge of an elevated fairway on a right-to-left dog-leg before sending an approach over the ravine to a round green that slopes back to front and is guarded by four traps.
That takes you back close to the clubhouse but there are still more fireworks to come, with the high-calibre short 17th played downhill to a green sited in the ravine that is crossed on 16 and guarded by eccentrically-shaped bunkers.
Then there is a strong climax, an uphill right-to-left dog-leg played to a two-tiered green heavily guarded by bunkers. If there is a categorically better woodland-parkland in Britain and Ireland, I have yet to see it.
Perhaps if we consider Loch Lomond in this category, dreamy lochside setting and all, it may have the edge. Otherwise Chantilly chalks up a rare mark for continental golf.
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