Since I hadn’t played golf for a few weeks, I was a little concerned that my trip to Mauritius might have turned into a sequence of ‘Fore!’ sessions. As it happened, I needn’t have worried. And given the beauty that awaits on the island, it probably wouldn’t have spoiled my visit too much if I’d played like Maurice Flitcroft.
Since its opening in October 2008, the Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita has won more awards than Ulstermen have lately won majors. The reason why is as clear as the waters that lap the improbably white beaches. The whole place, about 45 minutes drive from the airport, is a glorious haven set amid dense mangroves and lush greenery. And then there’s the golf.
Designed by Ernie Els, the par-72 layout at the Four Seasons Golf Club is the first in the country to be built to USGA specifications. It measures 6,828 metres off the Black tees, although you probably don’t want to go there. As good as it is, perhaps the biggest deal about the golf facility here is that golf is free for all residents, buggy (with GPS) included. This means that not only are there no nasty surprises when you collect the bill at the end of your stay, there is no disincentive for novices to ‘have a go’; no need to think ‘Is it worth shelling out £80 for this when my son/daughter might not enjoy it?’
If I have any criticism of the layout – other than the fact that all too often the greens seemed reluctant to embrace my approach shots, the exact opposite tendency of the bunkers – it would be that several of the parfours are of similar length. Having said that, since there are five tee boxes on every hole, you could mix up the ones you play, in part depending on the wind (which, this being an island, is frequently a factor).
The round is enjoyed amid a setting of tropical vegetation, the absurdly azure splendour of the Indian Ocean and looming presence of Bambou Mountain. The flower colours are as vivid as any parrot you’ve seen and the recurring rocky outcrops are a reminder of the island’s volcanic history.
The course gives you room to play and its length and quality of conditioning surely make it the championship course of the island. Five holes are played alongside or near the sea, while on three of them (the 2nd, 14th and 18th) there remain the old walls of what were once sugarcane processing factories. Very sensibly, you get a free drop away from them rather than risking a maiming should your ball end up too close to one. A particular favourite hole of mine is the 9th. A short par-4, it has no bunkers but a sinuous trough meanders all over the fairway, rather like a Barry Burn without the water.
“Construction was a challenge, due to the nature of the landscape,” says Els. “The natural rock on the island is so hard that the course was routed largely through the existing topography to avoid unnecessary heavy construction work. One of the strengths of this golf course is that we were able to maximise the visual impact of the surrounding scenery but at the same time preserve the coastline’s natural beauty. The hole routings move in and out of the trees, along the water and back, giving players great variety and magnificent views of the ocean.”
The arrangement of the leads to a conclusion that might have been inspired by Pebble Beach – a par-3 17th played to an angled green with the ocean as a backdrop, and a par-five 18th with the sea on the left, albeit not in play here unless you possess a particularly fearsome duck-hook.
There is an associated golf academy at the Four Seasons resort, with fitness centre and a studio equipped with the latest technology, state-of-the-art video and computer swinganalysis system. There is also a great practice facility, notably the range with its nine target greens and a great chipping area on which you can practise pretty much every type of shot, from grass and from sand.
While golf is very much alive and well here, the same cannot be said for its most famous former inhabitant. The dodo, which lived only on Mauritius, is featured on the country’s immigration landing cards even though the bird has been extinct since the 17th century, less than 80 years after the island had first been colonized by European settlers. The initial visitors were Portuguese, who named the large, flightless creature ‘dodo’, which means ‘simpleton’, apparently on account of the fact that it didn’t seem very smart. Having never seen a magpie or the like on University Challenge, I’m not sure how easy it is to quantify avian intelligence, but sadly it seems likely that dodos were too trusting of those humans who arrived to occupy their previously mankind-free home and effectively, albeit unwittingly, they offered themselves up to be eaten – kind of like a 1600s Nando’s.
The most notable wildlife connected to golf at the Four Season are the Aladabra Tortoises, which live in stone-walled wells beside the 7th and 9th holes. They are huge, and move slower than Ben Crane, but, hey, at least they’re not extinct. (Mind you, who’d eat one?)
Mauritius is a tropical island. Beyond the palm-lined coast it opens up to reveal a rugged interior of sugar plantations, rainforests, waterfalls and dramatic mountain peaks. The island’s strong conservation ethos is intent on ensuring that its rich varieties of flora and fauna are protected – i.e. they don’t follow in the footsteps of the poor dodo.
The local currency is the rupee, although dollars, pounds and euros may also work. Francophobes will be delighted to learn that Britain took control of Mauritius from the French during the Napoleonic Wars. The end result is a cosmopolitan country in which English is the official language, most natives speak Mauritian Creole while the television and newspapers are predominantly in French.
The off-resort golf excursion we took was all of a 15-minute boat ride away, across the lagoon to Ile aux Cerfs (‘Island of Deer’ in French) to play at Le Touessrok. Opened in November 2003 and designed by Bernhard Langer, in the aftermath of playing the course one is left contemplating ‘How the hell did they build a course among all that?’ But somehow, from out of a mangrove swamp, Langer and his colleagues have created a spectacular golf course. Also, one that is some test of golf for all levels of player. Off the Championship tees, during a week of driving it better than I had all year, on a couple of holes I made the carry by about two yards. The alternative to safety would have been a reload.
The back nine sees the sea more in play – literally so if you hoik your approach to the 12th. It is also regularly in view, notably on the twisting par-five 11th, the course’s signature hole, where you might find yourself among beach picnickers if you hook your ball even a little bit. So golf at Le Touessrok is potentially penal, yes, but hugely enjoyable, not least because of the omnipresent extraordinary scenery. (And, of course, you can always play at least some holes from the more forward tees.)
The finale to my trip was rewarding, too. My last round at Anahita brought another highlight. On the 18th, after just missing the green in three, I saved par by laying my chip as dead as a…well, actually, as a you-know-what.
THE FOUR SEASONS RESORT AT ANAHITA
The resort has 123 residences, which variously occupy lagoon, garden and mangrove settings. All accommodation is single-storey, arranged around the existing landscape, which results in appealing features like waterfront gardens behind the mangroves. Local architects have utilised traditional materials to contemporary effect, with straight edges of wood, stone and marble softened by the rough-hewn rocks of local volcanic basalt. Soft colour schemes of green, terracotta, cream and brown further reflect the natural environment and complement the tranquil ambience of the site, while large windows and doors maximise the views and the sense of outdoor living.
Each villa features laid-back, outdoor living spaces with an al fresco shower, an extensive verandah, plunge pool and private garden filled with indigenous plants and trees. It is certainly a fabulous experience to open the sliding door to your room and see, beyond your garden, the beach 20 yards away, the sea another 10. Oh, and the staff at the resort are invariably terrific – it’s not so much service with a smile as with a beem.
Among the Four Seasons’ notable amenities are:
- Four restaurants and a lounge bar
Telephone: (00) 230 402 3131
FOR LE TOUESSROK
telephone: (00) 230 402 7720
OTHER GOLF IN MAURITIUS
There’s quite a lot of it. Although Mauritius looks of quite modest proportions on a map, that’s mostly because it’s located comparatively close to the monster island that is Madagascar. At 780 square miles, Mauritius is amply big enough to contain not only the two courses featured here but also three at Belle Mare Plage; the course at the Heritage Le Telfair Golf Resort & Spa (featured in the last issue of Gi); the Paradis Hotel & Golf Club – which has just appointed golf’s ‘Trick Shot King’, Jeremy Dale, as a brand ambassador – and seven others beside.