The Le Phare course at Biarritz in the south-west of France is a charming old parkland layout that is one of the most historic tracks in this part of the world. Originally holes here touched the sea, one was a long par three across water to a tiered green that C.B. Macdonald saw and then copied when he returned to America to build the National Golf Links of America. These ocean holes were lost after World War II and now a residential precinct surrounds the course in these same areas. Today's course is therefore landlocked, cramped and sadly a little dated, but it does retain genuine traces of its original charm.
This charm is best seen in holes like the 11th and 14th, stunning examples of golf from this vintage and perhaps proof that some in France 'get' great golf. The average or outdated holes, such as the 4th, 6th and 9th, keep the course from reaching loftier heights, but the highs are substantial and most are found through the main property which houses 12 holes. These include gems like the 11th, a 350m stunner that technology has certainly diminished, chiefly because its cascading green site, set on a natural spur and spectacularly bunkered, is far less intimidating with a wedge in your hand than it was in the old days with a mid-iron. There isn't anywhere to move the tee here and the club has sensibly resisted narrowing the fairway so golfers will just have to live with a wonderful old relic that most of us can still admire and enjoy playing as intended, it's the longer hitters who might miss the challenge and charm.
Other features of note here include the 10th green site, set beyond a deep pit gully, and adjacent to the 13th and 17th greens, which also incorporates a deep gully fronting the target. The short 14th is another beauty, this short par three one of the finest of its length on the continent. From the tee your short iron needs to cross a gully toward a sublime green site that looks tiny and is protected by classic frontal pit bunkers. The putting surface is actually larger than it appears, but there is no safe place to miss so it's certainly a hole that can cause its share of grief if unable to hold your nerve.
There is plenty here at Le Phare that wouldn't be acceptable on a modern golf course, such as the 15th tee playing across the 14th green and the 10th, 13th and 17th greens in such close proximity, but these features add to the sense of timelessness and give the course a genuine British feel.