Most British golfers have more practice drumming their fingers than cocking their wrists. Our nation may be the cradle of the game and we may have more golf courses per head than any other country in the world, but we also seem to have more people who want to play on them. Progress can be infuriatingly slow, especially at the weekend, and golf rage simmers beneath the courteous, Pringle-sweatered surface.

One antidote is to nip across the Channel to France where they have an abundance of picturesque and challenging courses and next to no one playing on them. The game just doesn't have the popularity it has over here. It's partly social, I suspect (their bourgeoisie is far smaller than our middle classes) and the French are generally more interested in their cyclisme or petanque than this imported curiosity. I mean, name one famous French golfer, past or present?

In fact you are just as likely to hear English being spoken as French, especially on the courses within easy reach of the Channel ports. The two that most people spewing out of the Channel Tunnel head for are Hardelot Plage, on the outskirts of Boulogne, and Le Touquet, just farther down the coast. Both are handsome, well-equipped complexes. What they lack, for my money (about pounds 25 on each), is a certain je ne sais quoi that can be found if you stayed in your car for another hour or so.

A new system of motorways has opened up northern France to the travelling golfer, and there are some gems to be discovered. Try Nampont, for example, 20 minutes from Le Touquet - a watery maze cohabited by swans and herons, and surrounded by a rural landscape.

And what a club house. In Britain, 90 per cent of club houses seem to have been built in the late 1970s by the bloke who went on to design Brookside Close. The clubhouse at Nampont is an ancient moated fortress. The clubhouse at Champ-le-Battaille, south of Rouen, is even more impressive - a magnificently odd 17th-century stately house (pictured left) surrounded by beech forests. While at St Saens, in Upper Normandy, one putts out the 18th green beneath the turrets of the 16th-century chateau. And for natural beauty you would have to go a long way to beat the course at Etratat, half an hour from Le Havre. This links course runs along the top of the famous cliffs which were painted so avidly by the Impressionists. And then there's the welcome. The traditional exclusivity of British golf clubs seem to have bred a bad attitude, even at the pokiest municipal course. A friend was so bowled over by the friendly woman at Dieppe golf club that he nearly asked her to marry him. Her attitude turned out to be the norm rather the exception. Anyway, she was already married.

Many clubs have restaurants and some offer accommodation. Le Champ de Bataille has a first-class restaurant and pretty bedrooms for about pounds 30 a night, which sleep up to four people. A good idea is to buy the map published by Golfes de France which pinpoints every club. It'll hurt returning to your average British course, but the memory might sustain you along its clogged, suburban fairways. Gerard Gilbert

Bargain Channel crossings can be found with Eurotunnel (0990 3535 5353).