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Golf in Mauritius
Peter Smith

Imagine waking up after a deep, restful sleep, drawing back the curtains and there, in front of you, is the most perfect vista. A crystal-clear swimming pool, just the whisper of a breeze creating the tiniest ripple in the early morning light, then a stretch of pure white sand, a deep emerald sea and, in the distance, the outline of a surfwashed coral reef. Above, just the azure perfection of a tropical sky. Welcome – you have found paradise. Welcome to Mauritius.

Mauritius, first settled by the Dutch, lies 1200 miles off the coast of southern Africa, out beyond Madagascar. To the east, save for a couple of remote atolls, there is nothing but the Indian Ocean, stretching to the northwest coast of Australia, over 4,000 miles away.

The French took over from the Dutch and then Britain entered the scene in 1810, making the island a major stepping stone on the sea route to and from India, when full-sailed vessels laden with exotic goods from India used to stop to restock with food and water before the long haul home round the Cape and up the west coast of Africa.

French, Créole, Indian and British influences have all left their mark on the culture, leaving a wonderfully cosmopolitan feel to the place. Here, 300 miles inside the Tropic of Capricorn, it is hot, yet the steamy heat of some countries at this latitude is dissipated by the fresh breezes wafting in off the ocean, making life comfortable yet deliciously warm.

The island is a very popular destination for honeymooners from all over Europe, though in recent years golf has started to increase in popularity, adding to the relatively modest tourist industry. Other than that, sugar is the main export crop.

The BELLE MARE PLAGE RESORT is just 45 minutes from the airport and the same distance from the capital, Port St Louis. It has two of the island’s four 18- hole courses on its domain.

The main course is the Legends – 6,900 yards, designed by Hugh Baiocchi and home to the Mauritius Open each December. Either carved out of volcanic rock or shaped over the low-lying flood plain, the course is a good test of golf, with plenty of bunkers and lagoons waiting to catch the wayward golfer. The greens are generous and set in such a way as to create dramatic backdrops on your approach shots.

The outstanding hole is the par-three, 160-yard 17th, with spectacular views across the sparkling waters of the bay. You might also catch a glimpse of the indigenous Javanese deer as they sprint across the fairway, keeping out of reach of low-flying golf balls. Perhaps their rest has been disturbed too often by mis-hit shots. There are plenty of doglegs here, so the ability to shape the ball off the tee is definitely an advantage.

Right next door, Peter Alliss and Rodney Wright have been involved in the design of the Links Course, which opened in November 2002 with large mounds and hollows fashioned from the existing terrain. The front nine is more links-like in character, with four holes running alongside the lagoon and many undulating fairways with few trees. The back nine is more wooded so, despite the name, it’s not really like a links. But it is a good test of golf, nonetheless. Both courses are lush and beautifully maintained and with ten-minute starting times you’re never going to get quite the same hold-ups as on many resort courses in southern Europe, for example.

Guests at the Belle Mare Plage have a wonderful opportunity to sample the very best – from the pool and beach to the amenities of the Shiseido health and beauty club, a full range of watersports, tennis and squash and some very fine dining. There are two beach-side restaurants, the al fresco La Spiaggia and the main restaurant, La Citronelle, offering cuisine from five continents. Stay in one of the 230 rooms, 20 luxury villas or, if you’ve just won the lottery, you could book the Presidential Villa.

The sister hotel, Le Prince Maurice, has been awarded “Palace” status by Relais & Chateaux, one of only 17 hotels in the world to have received that accolade. It was recently voted ‘Best Hotel in the World’ by Hideaways magazicne. Set in 60 acres of tropical garden, the vibrant greens mix perfectly with the turquoise lagoon and the soft white sands of the beach. A mix of wood, stone and thatch gives this allsuite hotel a unique charm, elegant yet relaxed.

Beautiful dining, including a floating restaurant, offers the best in cuisine. Whether you want an active vacation or a chill-out-and-do-nothing break, Le Prince Maurice has it all. A health and fitness centre caters for your every need and there are plenty of watersports and other activities to ensure your stay is truly memorable. Golf on the two courses at Belle Mare Plage is free to guests at either of these two wonderful hotels.

In the far southwest of the island, on a private peninsula, is arguably the most picturesque course on the island, the exclusive LE PARADIS, which could best be described as a tropical version of a links. An imposing mountain backdrop and an abundance of water hazards add an extra dimension to this course that, with its wide, inviting fairways, is a good test for any level of player. The golf course is reserved for the exclusive use of the guests of Le Paradis Le Morne Hotel.

It must strike many people as strange that the island’s three best courses are closed to visitors other than their own hotel guests, a situation that is rather at odds with best practice elsewhere in the world. Keeping the courses exclusive is not bad in principle but it would surely be a preferable modus operandi if they co-operated and invited each other’s guests on a reciprocal basis.

The GYMKHANA CLUB, originally built by and for the British Army, is the locals’ club and you will always meet the movers and shakers from the capital, Port St Louis, in the newly constructed clubhouse. The course is a good mix of hazards, with plenty of trees and large bunkers. This is open to all visitors. The other courses on the island are nine-holers, though often with two sets of tees to make the full 18 interesting enough.

The ST GERAN is a Gary Player designed layout which fronts the Indian Ocean and has a David Leadbetter Golf Academy, although the course only measures 2,500 yards so it is not the sort of place to go if you want to grip-it-and-rip-it.

MARITIM BALACLAVA is even shorter at only 1,385 yards, little more than a pitch-and-putt. You can, however, use the driver on TROU AUX BICHES, where the five par-fours are long enough for you to open up your shoulders. The greens here are good and well protected, so it will be no hardship to go round this layout twice.

Being a tropical island, Mauritius does have a rainy season, but the rain tends to last an hour or so and then stop, so you could still play golf pretty much every day. Humidity can be a problem for some but you soon get used to it and quite frankly it’s quite healthy for you to perspire a little – it certainly beats forking out for an expensive detox back home. Being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed, but the best time to visit is probably in our autumn and spring. The flight from London takes 12 hours and the local time is four hours ahead of GMT. Other than the golf there are, as you’d imagine, loads of opportunities to indulge in every type of water sport, including some excellent diving or snorkelling, and a visit to Port St Louis, with its colonial architecture and wonderful markets, is a must. There are also waterfalls, the Black River Gorge National Park or, if you really want to chill out, the beach and the pools.

You will assuredly not be in any hurry to get back home.

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