A Winter Comp With a Difference

The Scoop

There is an attractive alternative to the temporary greens and astro turf in frosty December, writes Chris Bertram

In the last 10 years, tour players have become disconcertingly similar to pop stars, footballers and actors. We might see even more of them on our screens but you have to try really hard to catch a glimpse in the flesh (and it means straining your neck and your eyes).

It’s not a development in the game of golf in which many positives can be found. So to be waiting for an omelette alongside the Irish Open champion at breakfast, or hitting balls alongside GB&I’s record points scorer in the Walker Cup is a bit odd. To be running on a treadmill next to one of the European Tour’s longest hitters is

verging on the bizarre.

This isn’t some weird dream (as it happens, that involves Per-Ulrik Johansson and the 17th at Sawgrass) – it is the reality of participating in the Standard Bank Mauritius Open.

Held over the breathtaking Le Touessrok course, this is the alternative to the kind of winter golf which proper golfers like NCG’s editor and deputy editor get up to December.

They like nothing more than throwing on their various Galvin Green layers and setting out onto the frozen tundra of a heathland course. Each to their own. Some of us prefer to play in polo shirts and shorts, and gaze out over azure blue sea as we tickle a putt towards the hole on greens so slick and smooth they add significantly to the perspiration already on one’s brow as a result of the 26˚C heat.

It’s true that significant effort has to be made to be lolling about on sun-kissed Le Touessrok in December – an 11-hour flight to be exact. And it’s not especially cheap, with it being a five-star resort (they all are on Mauritius). But if you break it down, it

actually makes some vague financial sense, given that all your food and golf is paid for in advance, so merely a few drinks

must be purchased on the island.

And for that price, you end up rubbing shoulders with Jamie Donaldson at the omelette counter, warming up alongside Gary Wolstenholme and running off the immense amount of calories you consumed at breakfast next to Victor Dubuisson.

Best of all, there is no sense of a ‘them and us’ mentality from the pros. Most have come with their families, as most of the amateurs also do, and are enjoying a lateyear holiday to escape the British chill (and possibly the stresses of Christmas?). In fact, it is all remarkably free of pretension and awkwardness.

The players have a few beers after the Pro-Am and are perfectly happy to chat round the pool as everyone’s kids make varying attempts at swimming. It’s all very impressive, just as the fact they were at least as amused by/in awe of the presence in the hotel of arguably the world’s best-known musician in the 1990s.

So it’s a very laid-back scene at both Le Touessrok and its brandnew sister hotel Long Beach, where most of the golfers stay. And yet as soon as everyone – pro and amateur alike – steps on the 1st tee, the laughter stops and everyone gets a bit more serious. No amateur wants to embarrass themself in front of their pro and no pro wants to shoot 82 (and at Le Touessrok, that is not just a possibility but a reality).

Pros and amateurs travel from all over the world to play in the event; there are lots of South Africans (it is just a four-hour flight away) and a sizable contingent of French golfers as the island was once one of their colonies and still uses the language alongside English. But you will also find golfers from Surrey and Grimsby, and you’ll discover they are all very happy to be away from sub-zero Britain. 
It’s a very laid-back scene at both Le Touessrok and its brandnew sister hotel Long Beach, where most of the golfers stay. The organisation of the event, led by exiled Scotsman Russell Hannah, is superb. It needs to be, because there is actually a heck of a lot of golf to be played. You can start with a practice round to familiarise yourself with the layout (very wise), and then it’s two days of Pro-Am action with 20 teams taking it very seriously. The pros and amateurs then split up and have their own threeround championships before it all climaxes with a gala dinner at Long Beach.

Long-time NCG columnist Wolstenholme won the main event, and thus the Standard Bank Mauritius Open title, in December when he edged out Mark Haastrup by a stroke. The exceptionally tight Le Touessrok course – it was designed by Bernhard Langer and let’s just say he laid it out in his own stringent, efficient image – is ideally suited to his metronomic accuracy off the tee and as NCG played a practice round with the GB&I legend it was clear he fancied his chances. He may even have won by more if he hadn’t left his Strokesaver – complete with notes on every hole – in our buggy as we dashed to get our boat …

Le Touessrok is laid out on an island, you see, and the boats back to the mainland stop running as dusk falls. Indeed, it looked like NCG might be camping down for the night with the man who famously beat Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup when we mistakenly (NCG’s fault – and didn’t Gary let us know all about it) headed for the wrong jetty. Thankfully, a boat which was taking wedding guests to and from the island came to our rescue and returned these two reluctant boy scouts back to the hotel.

Donaldson, who enjoyed his best-ever season on the European Tour with victory in the Irish Open and a string of impressive finishes, has been coming to this event in Mauritius for nearly a decade (it has moved around the various golf resorts on the island). “It’s absolutely fantastic here,” said the Welshman, who last year took baby son Max as well as wife Kathryn to the Indian Ocean island. “We love it – in fact there’s barely been a year when we haven’t extended our stay because we didn’t want to go home.

No-one takes it too seriously and there’s a great atmosphere but of course when we get down to it we all want to win,” he added, perhaps reflecting on his McIlroy moment in the second round when he made his tee time by 30 seconds and, with no warm-up (or breakfast), promptly topped his drive into a load of bushes.

Donaldson was typically sanguine about his modest start to round two but it was noticeable he then strung together his best round of the week, no doubt stung by such a shock to the system. The Macclesfield-based player was playing alongside two of the three Ladies European Tour players, Joanna Klatten and Julie Greciet, with Jade Schaeffer also in the field.

Other pros competing included one-time boy wonder Sam Osborne, Seniors players Gary Emerson and Stephen Bennett, as well as European Tour veteran Carl Suneson. Reflective of the laid-back holiday atmosphere, almost all of them played in shorts and it was also noticeable all of them attended the event’s functions, which as we all know is not always the case at Pro-Ams and charity events. That is testament to the friendliness of the event and how happy they are to be invited to play in the Standard Bank Mauritius Open.

Then again, let’s not be too effusive in our praise of the pros; sun, sea, sand, five-star hotels and a bit of friendly competition…

what’s not to like?

Fancy playing in 2013’s event?

If you are an amateur and the prospect of playing in the Standard Bank Mauritius Open appeals to you, you can get more details on the event by calling 00 230 402 7400 or by visiting the website standardbankmauritiusopen.com Getting to Mauritius takes 11 hours but you can at least flight direct with Air Mauritius (airmauritius.com). They fly from Heathrow several times a week with the night flight leaving at 4pm and arriving the next morning at 8am a very efficient way of covering the 9,000 miles. Fares start as low as £600 if you get in early. If you want to know more about where you would stay, visit letouessrokresort.com

or longbeachmauritius.com. The former is one of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World’, and the latter a chic hotel which, as its name suggests, sits on golden sand.

To view more of NCG’s travel guides, click HERE

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