According to the old Big Bopper song, “Chantilly Lace had a pretty face and a wiggle in her walk”. Golf de Chantilly is far more than a pretty face; it’s one of Europe’s most glorious courses.
Chantilly is set amidst the forest of the Ile de France, approximately 30 miles to the north of Paris. The club was originally founded in 1909 and it has played host to numerous French Opens, including the 1913 French Open. 1913 was the first year the Open was held at Chantilly and George Duncan emerged victoriously. Duncan’s score of 304 is the highest in the competition's history, which bears testament to the Chantilly challenge.
The very best have teed it up here at Chantilly, including the great Bobby Jones and Nick Faldo (who won the French Open). The flamboyant English architect, Tom Simpson, laid out the course and he utilised penal bunkering in the extreme. Measuring 6,396 metres from the back tees Le Vineuil is an exacting test. You’ll not only need length from the tee but also accuracy to avoid the forest. You’ll also need to keep out of those vicious bunkers to score well.
The whole Chantilly experience is distinctly traditional and some say that it has a distinct British feel. With 36 holes (Le Vineuil and Les Longères) and a clubhouse that is very reminiscent of that at Sunningdale are we sure were in France? We are certain that the spirit of Tom Simpson and his silver chauffeur driven Rolls Royce lives here.
Chantilly's two courses and wonderful old fashioned clubhouse are situated in the most beautiful of forest settings north of Paris. With thick rough and strategic bunkering to contend with, Tom Simpson's charming Vineuil course is as tough a test of golf as you are ever likely to come across. The 7,000 yards plus black tees are frankly best left to the tour pros and the whites at 6600 are probably more suited to the low single figure player however the yellows at 6200 yards are very playable for most. The brutal rough mentioned in previous reviews has not gone away but we found the width of the fairways to be fair and when balls were lost, they were wayward enough to be deserving of their fate. We played over the Old Vineuil course leaving out holes 9 to 11 which are newer Donald Steel designs, and finishing with the traditional and high quality 16th, 17th and 18th which now play as the 9th, 10th and 18th on the Longères. This original course is still used for some events and a more complete explanation of the course changes can be found in the Chantilly Longères page on this website. Although the test is undoubtedly a stern one, the experience is truly memorable. There is so much space in the design with no confined areas, many large green complexes and exquisite bunkering throughout. There are so many good holes that choosing favourites is difficult but on the front nine I particularly liked the 2nd and 4th, both well bunkered, fun short par-4's and although early in the round you discover how undulating some of the greens can be. The 5th and 6th are both fine holes and the good looking 8th, complete with cross bunkering is a beauty. A few holes around the turn are played over more open ground but the demanding 11th returns to the forest as it curves to one of the best greens on the course, complete with wonderful run-off areas, sublime bunkering and a stunning two tier green. You need to hold your nerve on the dogleg 12th as anything left of the green disappears into a wooded valley and the 13th requires a long approach over the valley to a sloping green. The two remaining par 3's are both excellent, the downhill 14th is played into a hollow some 200 yards away and the lovely 16th is protected by six cavernous bunkers. The impressive back nine continues to deliver at the 17th, which is both long and visually superb and the 18th, a rolling par-5, offers the chance to finish on a high with a birdie. Very tough to beat in France. Brian W
The course is on a rather flat site and there are some excellent contours on the green complexes. We didn’t find the course to really show too much variation until the 16th hole which after an unclear drive opened up to have a wonderful approach over a bit of an unexpected valley to a raised green in the direction of the club house. The 17th was an interesting drop shot 200 or so yard par 3 playing back down into this valley. The 18th was quite the finishing hole as well. It first required a climb up the side of the valley from the 17th green to play your tee shot back over the valley towards the clubhouse only to have to walk all the way back down and back up the other side. The 18th green is a really strong finish and maybe the best on the course with some fantastic shaping and two tiers with a diagonal ridge running through the middle providing one final challenge.
In my opinion the course will be greatly improved for members and guests if they let sheep run wild for a few years and try to thin out that rough. I’ll provide my address when this happens in order for them to return the bucket of balls we lost.
Of the 5 courses ranked above, only one thing is indisputable: conditioning in Les Bordes is unbeatable. My Pro and board members from St Germain (incidentally ranked far too low in my opinion) told me Chantilly is the best course in France: they might be telling the truth… Chantilly has recently or will host big tournaments (Qualifier for the French Open on the Longères course, incidentally won by Spaniard Larrazabal on 10 under after he went to win the French Open at L’Albatros, and The European Young Master) so the course was really at its best.
The big and undulating greens were like velvet and the rough (my-knee-high!) very penal (at best a wedge out, more often a lost ball if you are in it) and underlining beautifully the contours of the fairways . Some tee boxes could have been flatter, but that’s only if I want to be picky. As at least 80% of the members are Parisians, the course is mostly empty during the week which is a real joy for the visitor (visitors allowed from Monday to Friday noon).
Just to correct a point concerning the layout: holes 9 to 11 on the actual Vineuil Course used to belong to the Longères course, which inherited instead of 16 to 18 from the “Old” Vineuil layout with a routing differing a little. Apparently, this was done to create 2 loops of 9 on the Longères course and facilitate return to the club house. Older members that I met were not really fussed about it; I haven’t seen the “Old” 16th to 18th so I won’t judge. Only the Club Championship and some corporate events are played on the original “old” layout. As always with Simpson’s courses, bunkering is formidable.
Back to the course itself now… As a welcome, the first is a 412 meters par 4! Told you it was tough! 2nd and 4th are the only holes where you can relax a little. Stroke index 1 par 4 5th is relatively easy and straightforward; 2 par 3s complete the first 3rd of the round, par 3 6th being 196 meters long! 7th is a tough driving hole as it is difficult to picture the landing area when you play here for the first time. 8th is a beautiful par 5, with loads of bunkers (cross-fairway bunkers are always in play from the back tees!) and measuring “just” 566 meters! 9 to 11 are the newer holes mentioned above, which I didn’t know before starting the round, but could see it while playing as they felt a little immature, with the par 3 11th being almost weak. 13th, my personal favorite, runs opposite 7th and is another tough driving hole for the same reasons. 14th looks a bit bland off the tee, but at 408 meters par 4, is by no means a poor hole; and the green is wonderful, well defended by huge bunkers. Then I am not quite sure about the last 3 holes. Quite unexpected is the presence of a 90 meters or so wide ditch (or should I say ravine?) that you have to cross on 16th and 18th, and that hosts the 17th green, a 199 meters par 3.
From what I have heard and read, my wish is to return to Chantilly to play the “Old” Vineuil layout, as I am pretty sure this layout would deserve the rank 1 in France. Cédric