For the sheer density of championship golf courses, there are few islands to touch Mauritius, where half a dozen top-class layouts are to be found within a sand wedge of a tempting range of exclusive five-star resorts, says Nick Bayly
After visiting Mauritius in 1896, American writer Mark Twain is claimed to have described the magical tropical island in the Indian Ocean as ‘God’s blueprint for heaven’ – and that was before Bernard Langer had built the stunning golf course at Le Touessrok.
Twain was ahead of his time in many ways, but he was certainly ahead of the game when it came to planning his holidays, as it is only in the last 25 years or so that this enchanting island paradise, which is located 500 miles east of Madagascar, has been on the map as a serious holiday destination.
Golfers have had to be even more patient, as with the glorious exception of the Gymkhana Golf Club, which dates back to 1844, there was nothing worth travelling half way around the world to play until the opening of Belle Mare Plage’s Legend course in 1994.
Since then, the Golfing floodgates have opened, and golfers can now pick from no fewer than seven 18-hole championship layouts, and several excellent nine-hole courses. Allied to the island’s unrivaled reputation for luxury facilities and friendly service, it is no wonder Mauritius is the destination of choice for many of today’s discerning golf tourists.
With verdant mountains, white-sand beaches, and emerald lagoons as a backdrop, the island’s courses are as varied as they are spectacular. Much of the land used to build them has been reclaimed from sugar plantations, so it is not unusual for a wayward drive to find itself hidden among tall swaying canes on one of the island’s many former estates. Once such course is Golf du Chateau at Le Telfair (www.heritageletelfair.mu), which was carved out of sugar-cane fields of the Domaine de Bel Ombre estate, while the hillside plantations along the island’s east coast were the inspiration for Ernie Els’s course at the Four Seasons Anahita, which opened to universal acclaim in 2008.
Unquestionably the godfather of Mauritian golf is Belle Mare Plage (www.bellemareplagehotel.constancehotels.com), which offers two championship courses, the aforementioned Legend, and the Peter Alliss-designed Links, which opened in 2002. The latter, which offers generous fairways and has an open feel to it, is a less daunting prospect for the holiday golfer than the Legend, which features narrow, forest-lined fairways and a scary number of water hazards. Host venue for the Mauritius Open since 1994, and for the MCB Tour Championship on the European Senior Tour, the Legend is justifiably one of the most popular stops on the professional circuit, providing pros and their families with the chance to wind down after a long season on the road.
While Belle Mare Plage is where the pros play, for sheer unadulterated holiday golf, there a few golf courses on the planet that can touch the spectacular Le Touessrok (www.letouessrokresort.com). Only accessible by helicopter or boat, this James Bond of a course occupies its own private island, Ile aux Cerfs, which is named after the deer that once roamed in its forests, but now provides a truly unforgettable experience for all who set foot on its pristine fairways.
Designed by Bernhard Langer, the 7,000-yard layout twists and turns its way through an exotic volcanic island, featuring mangrove swamps and dense tropical vegetation, before colliding with the sea in a series of stunning holes that run alongside white sandy beaches and rocky outcrops. It’s truly breathtaking stuff, which will leave you wanting to start all over again as soon as you come off the 18th green – providing you haven’t already run out of balls on this ultra-demanding layout.
After a round, golfers can hop back on the boat to the five-star One&Only resort, which boasts a number of elegant suites overlooking the eastern coast back to the golf course.
The choice of accommodation is no less impressive than the array of courses, with many visitors choosing to book into resorts that offer the best all-inclusive golf packages. Those with their own courses often allow guests to play for free, while others also offer reduced rates at nearby clubs, so it’s worth checking out which courses fall into that category when booking your holiday. For instance, premium guests at the Heritage Le Telfair receive unlimited free golf at Golf du Chateau, while those staying at Belle Mare Plage and the Prince Maurice are offered free rounds for the Legend and Links courses.
Guests staying the stunning Four Seasons Resort at Anahita can take their pick from an array of 136 villas and suites, offering between two and five bedrooms, and all featuring private pools and beach views. The resort also features a spa and four restaurants, while golfers will drool over Ernie Els’s magnificent 7,372-yard course – which is free to play for guests – that occupies a 64-acre site on the vast 530-acre property. With six of the 18 holes hard by the sea, and the remainder threading their way through a former sugar plantation, the 2012 Open champion has done a superb job here, with a stunning variety of holes whose interest is not just held by the views, but in the tactical nous required to negotiate a way around a layout that incorporates dry stone walls and a links-style stream, not too mention sea and sand.
While The Big Easy’s course is the newest on the island, the oldest is to be found at Paradis Golf Club on the south-west tip, where an impressive 18-hole layout occupies a scenic spot in the shadow of the majestic Le Morne mountain. Opened in 1990, the 6,425-yard course is a shade easier than the courses that have followed in its footsteps, and is real pleasure to play, especially the four holes on the back nine that run adjacent to the Indian Ocean.
Although blessed with a wonderful year-round tropical climate, where the temperature rarely rises above 33 degrees or falls below 17, Mauritius’s equatorial location means that the sun always sets around 6pm, so there is pressure on tee times during peak winter months – which means that pre-booking is essential – but whichever combination of courses you choose to play, you won’t be disappointed.
If you can drag yourself away from the golf courses, sun loungers and all-inclusive buffets, the island offers a number of excellent excuses to venture out. The capital, Port Louis, features a bustling central market and the historic Citadel-Fort Adelaide, while the Caudan Waterfront is great for shopping for local crafts. And if you like a flutter on the horses, Champ De Mars, the oldest racecourse in the southern hemisphere, has racing every weekend from May to November.
For the more intrepid explorer, a trip to the island’s wild interior, much of which is protected by nature reserves, is a must. Get up close to the wildlife on a 4×4 safari-style tour in Casela Nature Park or Yemen Nature Reserve in the west, where zebra, antelope and wild pig roam free. For a family-friendly nature experience, the Domaine les Pailles Park, at the foot of the Moka Mountains, offers tours in a horse and carriage, while bird watchers shouldn’t miss taking the boat ride to Ile aux Aigrettes, an uninhabited conservation site off the east coast that is home to several near-extinct species.
For watersports fans, the Blue Bay marine park is bursting with coral and brilliantly-coloured butterfly fish, while the Shandrani resort boasts a dive centre on a wild beach with a vast lagoon. The One&Only Le Saint Géran (lesaintgeran.oneandonlyresorts.com), which also has a superb nine-hole course, has a kite-surfing centre, while at Tamarina Golf, Spa and Beach Club (www.tamarina.mu), which boasts another 18-hole course, guests can swim with dolphins.
It’s not known if Mark Twain had much of an interest in golf, but if he was able to revisit Mauritius today, he would have been hard pushed not to have at least given it a try.
Air Mauritius flies direct from London Heathrow four times a week, with return flights costing from £750. airmauritius.com.