As the gateway to the ocean, Charente-Maritime combines water and land in harmony. With fishing, oyster farming and a maritime heritage, blue dominates… But alongside the vineyards and meadows, six golf courses in the network add their touch of greenery near the coast. From La Rochelle to Royan, via Oléron and Saintes, Golfy is well established in Charente-Maritime!
By Claude Granveaud-Vallat
It is difficult to describe the gentle way of life in Charente-Maritime. It is as if time goes by more slowly on these wind-whipped coasts, lined with “carrelets”, fishermen’s huts mounted on stilts and their square nets ready to dive at high tide to come up filled with wriggling fish.
Painted in all colours, they brighten up the tones of the sea and the sky, as much as they have always inspired painters in love with the Charente. A quietude maintained by the Charentais, men of the earth, proud of their sea!
Let’s start our walk in La Rochelle, which for over a thousand years has done nothing like anywhere else… La Rochelle the Rebel! A fishing village in the Middle Ages, freed from feudal control in the 12th century, this port city became rich through the wine and salt trade. The city resisted Louis XIII and Richelieu, an affront that was put down by a thirteen-month siege in 1628. A Protestant stronghold for centuries, the city has more recently opened up to pedestrian streets, with free bicycles and an avant-garde urban lifestyle. Between strolls through the cobbled streets, climbing the towers of Saint-Nicolas or the Lantern which watch over the entrance to the port, a sporting break is welcome at the Golf de La Prée – La Rochelle. Born in 1989, carved by the hand of Olivier Brizon and the wind, along the Atlantic coast to the north of “La Rebelle”, the course waits for the 6th hole to “touch” the ocean on the left of this generous par 4.
The course moves back to the land, taking advantage of the downwind conditions before returning to the water on the return leg, where the water comes into play on 11 and 12, holes bordered by a pond and estiers, small natural channels allowing the tide to enter the land. On the 13th, the sea is once again close to the game while the wind pushes the balls inland, ouf… The views of the Ile de Ré and the Bay of Aiguillon then move away until we reach the terrace of the club-house, a haven of peace and quiet on high tide days…
Continuing our walk, a few kilometres south of La Rochelle, the small commune of La Jarne is home to the magnificent Château de Buzay, an 18th century building. A fascinating residence with perfectly proportioned lines that can be visited. Nearby, the Golf de La Rochelle Sud extends its 9 holes in an exceptional setting. It was redesigned in 2013 by Roger Eugène, making its course longer and more technical. Apart from the dogleg on the first hole, the holes follow each other without any major problems on a flat terrain with remarkable trees.
Born from the imagination of its president Michel Duquenne and a motivated team, a new compact 18-hole course will be inaugurated on 10 June 2022. The golf bistro opens onto the course, a friendly restaurant where you can enjoy fresh, seasonal quality cuisine.
From the Minimes harbour in La Rochelle with its 3,600 moorings (the second largest marina in Europe), you can reach the island of Oleron by boat, with the charm of going to sea… Otherwise, the bridge over the ocean ensures the passage at any time. Leaving the mainland and the Seudre estuary at Marennes, you can feel that the oyster industry is the lifeblood of the country. The huts at the edge of the channels, the oyster beds, the flat-bottomed boats, it is the same on Oléron, opposite within driving range! Here the sea jobs are an economic, tourist, gastronomic, ecological and friendly reality!
Before leaving the mainland, to get a better idea of this alchemy between the sea and the land, a stopover at Aux Basses Amarres (Golfy’s “Hot Spots” partner) is recommended. In Mornac-sur-Seudre, between the estiers, the oyster beds, the busy port when the fishermen return, a Romanesque church, old 16th century market halls, cobbled streets lined with white houses decorated with hollyhocks, Franck Berthier’s restaurant is well worth a stop. The chef, originally from the Landes, has travelled and been inspired by the kitchens of the world before settling in this village ten years ago, where he adapts his menu every morning according to the season’s arrivals. If fish inspires him, he also works with meat and poultry, without forgetting the foie gras of the Landes, an habit from his youth! For oysters, he only has to cross the street to get them from Jérôme Miet, an oyster farmer and refiner (partner in “Hot Spots” Golfy). A man who has made tradition his passion and innovation his conviction, all at the service of quality oysters. Based in Mornac-sur-Seudre for thirty years, Jérôme Miet is always improving his products and now sells online. It is no coincidence that his oysters can be found on the best tables in the region, including Pascal Moreau’s, at the Golf de Royan. When leaving Basses Amarres, with a full stomach and a happy heart, a stroll through the narrow streets of Mornac is always welcome, even if it is only to breathe in the sea air…
Across the road, designed in 1990 by Olivier Brizon on the east coast of the island, the Golf d’Oléron evolves between the ocean and the oyster beds according to the tides, the oyster is everywhere! After the first three holes along the sea, the water rises in the estiers on the following ones, as many obstacles lined with red poles… Between the pines and the oyats, the small greens delight those who like to play short game. Just setting up the mussels in a spiral shape on a wooden board, tightly packed point upwards, before setting the pine needles on fire, is worth the diversions before the tasting.
From La Tremblade to Royan, the Côte de Beauté is well named. So much so that the Golf de Royan has added it to its name! Between the forest of La Coubre and the beaches of La Palmyre, facing the Cordouan lighthouse at the entrance to the Gironde, the fairways benefit from the shade of the pines to offer them a little coolness. Between the dune valleys and the coniferous alleys, the layout, designed by Robert Berthet in 1977, is not lacking in charm even if the ocean is reduced to the distant noise of the swell. You have to wait for the 14th, a par 3, to spot the sea and the Cordouan lighthouse above the trees. The only piece of water on the course, the pond on the 18th – recently redesigned and enlarged – provides the show for all those who, sitting on the terrace, enjoy the pine forest as well as Pascal Moreau’s excellent table… His dishes speak for themselves!
Before leaving Royan, take a walk and look up at the seaside villas, vestiges of seaside architecture from the end of the 19th century. Turrets, bell towers, campaniles, so many fantasies that seduced Emile Zola, Sacha Guitry or Jacques-Henri Lartigue who took a malicious pleasure in photographing them. The luckiest ones survived the aerial bombardment of January 1945 and are today preserved, mixed with the cubic constructions of the “fifties”, more geometric and coloured forms but just as cherished by enthusiasts.
The latest of the Charente-Maritime courses, the Golf de la Palmyre flirts with the sea spray along the 7th hole as well as at the start of the 8th hole, from which the Cordouan lighthouse appears on the horizon. The other holes of this design by Olivier Dongradi, inaugurated in 2009, wind through the pine trees, along the dune valleys. This is one of the reasons for the quality of these soft fairways, naturally drained and ventilated by a small sea breeze that is very pleasant during the summer heat. In the architectural style of the villas bordering the course, the Rhino’s Club is a vast club-house, a low construction decorated by Frédérique Dormeuil – the wife of Emmanuel, the owner – around the emblematic animal of La Palmyre, the rhinoceros. In these black and white walls, rhinos are everywhere, on the wall, on the tables, as many works of art scattered on the putting green. Wanting to protect African fauna is a noble cause, but using recycled water – via a filtration station – is an ecological act for this club that sees further than the tee of the 1st! In play, the water features on holes 4 and 5 are very useful in the summer even if they stress the players all year round. But everyone is unanimous in enjoying this playful, sporty and easily walkable course.
Because Charente-Maritime is not limited to its coastline, let’s finish this journey with a rural incursion. The oldest course in the region, the Golf de Saintes Louis Rouyer-Guillet was built in 1953. It bears the name of its creator, a cognac merchant who wished to replace the old Golf de Royan which disappeared during the war. Designed on its old part by Sandy Bertrand – a very good player -, this course was extended to 18 holes in 1991 by Jean-Louis Péga, a figure of the South-West. Built with limited means, the extension is slow to take hold where the “old holes” laid out in the middle of the ruins of a Gallo-Roman aqueduct have something picturesque between the valleys, the doglegs, the small greens, the undergrowth and a few pieces of water welcome to spice up the game. On the outward journey, the course evolves on a bumpy terrain between the doglegs. On these wine-growing lands, the club-house pays homage to the divine beverage, which is housed in former wine cellars, where the angels’ share can still be seen on the score cards…
A few kilometres from Saintes, in Migron, in the direction of Cognac, the Domaine Tesseron and its eco-museum (a Golfy “Hot Spots” partner) tell the story of this family of winegrowers, established since 1850. In a very playful, even poetic way, the professions of winegrower, cooper and distiller are presented with olfactory workshops, historical reconstructions and explanations in relation to the reality of the market. This house lost in the middle of the vineyards also has five guest rooms, a gîte and a flat with two bedrooms. A place to rest, to take the time to talk with the Tesseron sons, now in charge, and to discover the subtilities of cognac and pineau des Charentes.
The eyes full of pictures, the head full of memories and the mouth full of flavours, along the Ocean, this Charente stroll, aired by a light sea breeze, ends as it had begun… gently.
6 Golfy courses to discover
1 Golf de la Prée-La Rochelle
phone. : 05 46 01 24 42 • www.golflarochelle.com
2 Golf de le Rochelle Sud
phone : 05 46 56 61 04 • www.golflarochellesud.com
3 Golf d’Oléron
phone : 05 46 47 11 59 • www.golf-oleron.fr
4 Golf de Royan
phone : 05 46 23 16 24 • www.golfderoyan.com
5 Golf de la Palmyre
phone : 05 46 05 04 46 • www.lapalmyregolfclub.com
6 Golf de Saintes Louis et Guillet
phone : 05 46 74 27 61 • www.golf-saintes.fr