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Man does not live by golf alone. Even the most fanatical amongst us must grudgingly concede there are other almost equally worthy activities. One such fanatic is Clive Agran who, somewhat belatedly, has come to recognise the possibility that, in his relentless pursuit of the perfect swing, he may have neglected several important areas of human endeavour. Although insistent that golf remains supreme, here he begins a quest to find the perfect complement to the game he adores. Right, knives, forks and wedges at the ready...

When, as sometimes happens at even the liveliest of dinner parties, there is a slightly awkward pause in the conversation, my wife invariably seizes the opportunity to reveal that, when she first met me 30-odd years ago, I was in the habit of eating raw cauliflowers whole; not as a party piece, you understand, but for sustenance. This startling revelation is invariably greeted with a mixture of mirth and astonishment. Quite simply, I had better things to do in those days – such as practising my bunker play – and couldn’t afford to waste time shopping, dicing meat, cleaning and chopping vegetables, bringing things to the boil, simmering, adding seasoning, etc.

Meals, I figured, took a disproportionate amount of time to prepare as compared with how long they took to consume. Include the washing up and you could easily spend most of the day preparing a meal which could comfortably be gulped down in 20 minutes or even less. Ideally, a meal should take no longer to prepare than it does to eat, which is my idea of a balanced diet. Whole cauliflowers, even if you bother to wash them and tear off the leaves first, are exceptional in that they take less time to prepare than they do to swallow. Okay, if you don’t like raw vegetables and want a proper cooked meal, how about cheese on toast?

The makings of a great up and down during a refreshment stop at Hardelot; There are two fine courses (three if you include the oysters) at this most welcoming of golf clubs

To be absolutely honest, there’s a slight element of hypocrisy in my attitude to food and cooking in that I have no objection to other people, if they so wish, spending as long as they want preparing my meals provided, of course, they don’t expect me to help in any way. If that strikes you as somewhat oafish, I should add in my defence that I do appreciate and am genuinely grateful for a decent meal. If it weren’t for the fact that there’s invariably a bill to settle at the end of it all, I would dine out in restaurants far more frequently.

Thus the mouth-watering prospect of combining outstanding golf with top quality cuisine was made irresistible when I was invited by the very nice people at the Pasde- Calais tourist office to tee it up and scoff it down as their guest.

What a rare pleasure it was to board the P&O ferry at Dover without worrying about having to shove my hand-luggage into those nasty measuring devices so beloved by Ryanair and others. On the downside, the crossing was really too quick as there was only time for three courses in the Langan’s brasserie to prepare my stomach for the severe examination that lay ahead over the next couple of days.

the view
above being indicative of the condition and the
challenge that awaits at Les Dunes

Since golf has traditionally come before everything else heretofore in my life, 18 holes around Hardelot’s Les Dunes course was an utterly appropriate way to begin the serious bit of the trip.

In many ways, it’s an eminently suitable course at which to build an appetite. Just along the road from the more famous Pines, it has loads of elevation, which means a number of calorie-burning climbs. Although perhaps a bit shorter than you might ideally want to offset a serious breakfast and huge lunch, it nevertheless is very beautiful.

Threaded through the woods, it’s about as tight as most people are after two-thirds of a bottle of good wine. That is to say, challenging but manageable. You would probably score better if you left your driver back in Blighty but, hey-ho, the idea is to indulge and have fun so thumping into the odd pine is, as we say, in England, de riguer. This is the course to play if you haven’t, like me, had an eagle since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister as there are a couple of par fives that are genuinely reachable in two for ‘normal’ golfers. There are also a number of blind shots and rather more par threes than you might ordinarily expect. Sorry, I can’t remember precisely how many because we stopped after 11 holes for a gourmet experience, after which my recollection of the remainder of the round is rather imprecise.

The elegance of Chateau Montreuil

The good news is I can remember the lunch. Now, I once was asked to write a restaurant review for a magazine and struggled like a 28-handicapper having a particularly bad day. The problem was I used the words ‘delicious’ and ‘tasty’ more often than I did my putter around Les Dunes.

Anyway, there were deliciously tasty oysters on offer and oysters are my St Andrews, Turnberry and Royal County Down rolled into one. And, just like deliciously tasty cauliflower, are best eaten raw.

Fish is to food what links is to golf, which made more sense when I scribbled it into my notepad after a plate of smoked salmon and marinated herring washed down by a deliciously tasty white wine than it does now.

Although the golf sharpened my appetite, the food and drink didn’t sharpen my golf. From all square after 11, I slumped to defeat on the 17th. But being a losing member of the British team beaten by the Rest of Europe in the, as yet, little known Golf and Gastronomy Trophy, didn’t spoil my day or cause me to question my growing belief in the obvious synergy that exists between golf and food. Interestingly, the golf can be either good or bad and the combination still works providing the food is good.

The drive to Boulogne wasn’t really long enough to build up a huge appetite and so I went for a short walk around this pretty port before returning to my hotel, La Matelote (the sailor’s wife), for a light, seven-course dinner. Since Boulogne boasts the biggest fishing fleet in France, it was hardly surprising that the menu was decidedly fishy. And it won’t surprise you to learn that everything was either tasty, delicious or, more frequently, both. Like Les Dunes, the greens were especially good. Having eaten so much, I was seriously concerned the next day that I might have to adjust my swing plane to take account of an increased girth.

St Omer offers a glorious, rolling parkland
layout guaranteed to work up a healthy appetite

St Omer is famous for both being a regular stop on the European Challenge Tour and lying on the banks of crossword compilers most popular waterway, the River Aa. In case you’re interested, apparently it’s pronounced aaaah not ah-ah. Also incredibly pronounced were the slopes on this impressive course. The back nine alone probably burnt off most of the calories from the previous night’s grande bouffe. Encouragingly open, rather long and with a splash of water features, St Omer is an enjoyable rollercoaster ride. Take advantage of the generous slope rating and you’ve half a chance of playing to somewhere near your handicap.

An exceptionally comfortable 54-bedroom hotel overlooks the course but we didn’t eat in there as a buffet lunch was on offer in the clubhouse. As you might have guessed, it was delicious… and, er, tasty.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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