Those of you following the blog this summer already know how enamored I was with North Berwick's West Course and Gullane after getting to play them in the firmest, fastest conditions imaginable. My other golfing highlight of 2013 and beyond came soon after when lucky enough to visit the ultra-exclusive Morfontaine. And as we close out another incredible year in our sport, longtime readers know I try to make it an annual post to highlight a special place in the game.
Thanks to marketing executive-turned golf architect Patrice Boissonnas--who has partnered with Dutch architect Frank Pont on restoration projects in France--I was able to get inside the secluded Morfontaine. About an hour outside of Paris to see its 27 holes of Tom Simpson-designed golf, the heathlands-style main course is certainly worthy of the accolades it has received over the years. Sure, it could also use some minor restoration work to return a few bunkers that would help differentiate some of the par-4s. But as far as quibbles go, that's about it. The course answers the most important question I ask of any design: would you want to play it every day?
Without question, Morfontaine would never grow old. (As usual, I concur with everything Darius Oliver wrote in this Planet Golf review of Morfontaine.)
However, as architect Mike Clayton instructed and Oliver notes in his review, the first priority at Morfontaine is to play the Valliere course, a just-under 3000-yard nine in front of the homey clubhouse. Golf Digest listed the Valliere #3 on its best nine-hole courses outside the U.S., behind only Royal Worlington & Newmarket G.C. and another favorite of mine, Musselburgh Links.
Memorable, playable, fun and fascinating, Valliere features some of the most outrageous man-made greens in golf. But because Simpson had the chance to nurture this design, the boldly contoured putting surfaces work beautifully so that they are manageable for even the old timers or kids who are more likely to play here. The childlike imagination it took to build the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th greens is a sight to behold, but they are also more than worthy of architectural study: the holes are fun to play. A couple of breathers (1st, 6th, 7th) and the overall walkability of Valliere make it a firm reminder of what our sport all too consistently lacks: nine hole courses that can be played quickly with never a dull visit.
One last thing to note before turning your over to my photos of glorious Morfontaine: note the many colors of its turf. The course is an organic one in design and maintenance, with only minimal irrigation and few attempts to turn it into a monochromatic green. By no means is Morfontaine less of a club because of its range of hues and textures. It's a model for what golf should and will look like in the future.
My photos start with the short nine in sequence, followed by shots of the main course. And yes, in case you were wondering by the looks of the par-3s, only perhaps Royal Melbourne has as many incredible one-shotters on a single golf property.