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  • Neil White

Chiberta



Here's a first for the golf pilgrim quest. A playing partner who played less than his age.


Andre could not speak English, but my pidgin French understood: "J'ai joué 75 coups et j'ai 76 ans."


It was a mutual appreciation society for the fella who could have passed for 60 and Mrs W, who nailed a birdie three on Chiberta's final hole to finish with 36 Stableford points.



I would have been best employed as bag carrier for either of them.


Nevertheless, despite my erratic early-season golf, escaping the constant rain and flooding in England for the south of France was well worth it.


Chiberta is a few miles outside Biarritz and in mid-March, the temperature was in the 20s and balmy enough to play in short sleeves.



This is a near-100-year-old classic, designed by much-acclaimed architect Tom Simpson. At the time of writing, it was 56th in the Continental Europe course ratings and 11th best in France.


We stayed at the hotel on the same property but not part of the golf club, although staying there entitles guests to a playing discount.


The first thing we noticed about the course was how busy it was. We later learned that it has 1,000 members, so tee times are at a premium.



Nevertheless, we were able to put our names down for a couple of rounds and enjoyed this rare mix of woodland and links.


But before we took to the first tee, we warmed up on its lake driving range with small island targets. This was our first experience of such a practice area.


While Chiberta may not have holes that are so quirky or unique, they are consistently interesting and its condition, after a wet March in the south of France and two weeks after course maintenance, was excellent.



This surprised us because its links-style holes looked tatty at the edges when we looked across them from an earlier seaside walk.


The explanation is that the rough was the raw element we had seen - with its grass yet to grow to its summer height – but the fairways were in exceptional shape and the greens were formidable but not yet at their speediest.


The opening hole is directly next to a lovely clubhouse that is set for significant renovation, according to plans posted next to its entrance.



We were paired up with two friendly members, the bamboozled subjects of my schoolboy French, more than 40 years after I last used it.


Fortunately, golf is an excellent franca lingua, and two days later, we played our second round, accompanied by an English speaker who proudly told us some of the course's history.


This included the members' attempt to buy the imposing castle-like structure behind the first green, built by rock star Johnny Hallyday, and have it redesigned as a clubhouse.



Disappointingly, their bid failed as badly as my attempt to record a par on the first, which ascends from the tee towards woods on the left before turning down towards the green.


It offered a big chance to score early, which I spurned, but Mrs W eagerly accepted, setting the tone for comfortable victories on both days.


I don't know whether it was around Simpson's day, but there is a road that sets the divider between the woodland and the links at Chiberta.



Thus, the second, on the seaside, has a blind tee shot over a dune before it winds towards the sea down to a green protected by bunkers and a false front.


Holes three to eight are played within earshot of crashing waves and present myriad challenges.


The third and fifth run parallel to the Atlantic with exaggerated humps and hollows in front of multi-tiered greens.



The fourth and sixth are two of Chiberta's tasty par-threes, demanding pinpoint club selection to avoid traps or out-of-bounds.


"That tee is built on a Second World War bunker", said our compadre as we drove off from the seventh – a gorgeous hole that cuts between trees, dips sharply and then rises between sad traps.


He also pointed out that an adjacent house was constructed atop one of the German army's Atlantic lookout posts.



Later, he told us of another house overlooking the course that formerly belonged to a wife of Vladimir Putin. Apparently, he has two properties in Biarritz but doesn't visit anymore because he isn't welcome.


I digress.


The eighth is a long par-three, demanding a straight hit to avoid out-of-bounds on the right and sandy depths on the left and has a twin on the 14th.


Arguably, the most picturesque hole at Chiberta is the ninth, its stroke index one, back over the road into the woods.



The drive needs to keep right of tall trees but away from the stellar properties down the right-hand side. The green is framed by the hotel to the rear, the lake to the right and a big bunker on the left.


After the fairly straightforward par-three 10th, the action switches back towards the sea with a tricky par-four, doable par-five (I nailed a birdie) and a lovely short par-four.


The home stretch back in the woods is a beauty, beginning with the 15th - a long par-four with trees closing in from either side and an undulating fairway.




It is followed by a straight par-four that seems innocuous, but I struggled to find the distance with my approach to a green with a false front and menacing bunkers front and right.


The 17th is a superb short par-four over heather, gorse and all sorts of trouble to a rolling fairway and a green with a narrow entrance.


No doubt Mrs W will remember the 18th most fondly after she birdied the curving par-four in her first round and notched a par on her second.



She would agree that she benefited from a more straightforward drive from her forward tee. The copse to the left is more dangerous off the men's tees.


But I am not bitter – despite facing heavy defeats twice, I loved Chiberta and was delighted to raise a glass to her excellent play in the clubhouse over a splendid lunch.



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