The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US will be spending the weekend in Biarritz, a glamorous seaside resort on the Atlantic coast in South West France. It’s a strange place for the G7 summit to take place. Not only is the French seaside utterly mobbed at this time of year, but it’s a distracting place to be focusing on business. Its diversions are many.
So, as the diplomatic dealing and horse-trading over globally critical matters intensifies, don’t expect these VIPs to stick wholly to the job in hand.
Boris Johnson, the playboy Prime Minister, may find himself dreaming of the topless sunbathing France is famous for: the beaches here are in no way conservative.
Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau may find himself dreaming of the Atlantic rollers which crash onto the nearby sands because the Canadian premier is a keen surfer and the waves here draw thousands in their Volkswagen vans.
And President Trump must also be forgiven if he finds his mind wandering, his thoughts turning to the great golf he could be enjoying in this part of the world if only he and his regular playing partner, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, could somehow slip away.
Some seriously good golf courses are to be found nearby. The local course, Biarritz Le Phare, is by no means the pick of them being hemmed in by housing, but it has charm and it has historic significance. First its charm: short and sweet and smack in the centre of glorious Biarritz. And that historic significance? A Tom and Willie Dunn design, modified by the great Harry Colt, this is where Arnaud Massy, France’s sole major champion, learned his golf and it’s also where the Biarritz green was created, a design classic no longer seen here but recreated at countless courses across the globe. By the way, Biarritz is the second oldest course in France.
About 6km north up the coast is Chiberta, a links of sorts, and a great, great course, Tom Simpson by design, which appealed to me (as a former student member at Royal Aberdeen). There’s a lot of fun to be had on this course which is all firm fairways and pot bunkers. No dunes per se, but the feel is sandy. The holes between the trees are beautifully balanced by the exposed coastal stretches.
Next north is Hossegor which is Jean Van de Velde’s home course. It's very charming, kind of Surrey and Berkshire borders-like, with something specifically of Swinley Forest about it, save for the encroaching real estate. It's pictured below.
Just beyond it, Seignosse is my favourite of the courses in these parts. It does have a road running through it, but don’t be put off. It’s mostly beach buggies and bikes passing by, making for the surf beaches nearby which can be seen from the course's highest points. Donald would love this course, the work of Robert Von Hagge whose design skills reached their apogee at Les Bordes (see chapter 18 of The Meaning of Golf!) Here at Seignosse Von Hagge did great things too. It is flamboyant and formidable and pictured below.
Further up the coast, but still distinctly on the Bay of Biscay, is Moliets, a Robert Trent Jones Sr layout. It’s spectacular in parts, strange in others. But like most of the courses in this part of the world it’s still something of a joy, wending its way through the trees and eventually emerging near the shore.
Let’s take Donald and Shinzo no further north than this. But were they to head just south of Biarritz they might tee it up at Arcangues where this little known course plays close to a stunning chateau and amongst trees which are not the pines found elsewhere, but mature specimens you might see at Sunningdale. (Again, there are surprising similarities with the heathland courses found west of London.)
South once more and at Saint Jean de Luz we find Chantaco. The third oldest course in France, Chantaco is a Harry Colt charmer, a course you could play each morning through the summer and read day old English language newspapers in the bars of Saint Jean each afternoon over glasses of pastis and be very happy indeed…
Then, in the hills behind the pretty village of Ciboure, pretty much overlooking the harbour at Saint Jean de Luz, Golf de le Nivelle, designed by JH Taylor in 1907, is your final golf stop before the Spanish border. And it is holiday golf of the very best sort, serious fun.
Finally – not one I’ve visited but one I long to see – the golf course at Pau (pronounced poo, sorry) is the oldest course in Continental Europe (a phrase which will become unnecessary post-Brexit). It’s an hour away up in the Pyrenees, just the place for world weary world leaders to escape to, and somewhere I hope to escape to sometime soon. It’s a Willy Dunn design and retains its original features as well as, I understand, Olde Worlde English atmosphere. Maybe Boris would like it…
I’ve just returned from Biarritz, just making it out before the place went into security meltdown. There were hundreds of uniformed folks with large machine guns. Kind of scary. But the golf and the surf were fabulous. And across the border, into Spain, the golf and the surf weren’t bad either. And the food was better too…
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