Paula Farquharson

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Anyone for Golf with a Med Sea View?

No more red tape on the Riviera - golf clubs now welcome non-members

Once upon a time the “gentleman’s” sport of golf was restricted to the domain of the elite circle who frequented the Côte d’Azur and sojourned at the splendid villas and luxury hotels. Nowadays the Riviera has opened up as a holiday destination for everyone to enjoy. And the golf clubs have followed suit in embracing the influx of visitors eager to play a round en route to the beach. Gone are the days when strict membership rules and fees prevented an enthusiastic player from indulging in his passion while holidaying here.

Unknown to a lot of people most clubs now welcome non-members and green fees are a lot more reasonable than you may think for this privileged corner of the world; although they can range dramatically from 200 Euro at Royal Mougins Golf Club to 16 Euro at Golf de Nice. A loose rule of thumb is the further away from Nice airport the cheaper the green fees; in the Var they range from 45-60 Euro.

Another important asset for this region is that the Riviera promises sunshine for most of the year and not the kind of excruciating heat you may encounter in Spain or Portugal. In addition all of the Côte’s golf courses offer spectacular sightseeing views guaranteeing you a round of golf unlike anywhere else in the world. Views of the Mediterranean Sea, medieval villages, diverse natural landscapes bordered by hovering Alps (covered in snow until May) are run of the mill for most golf courses down here.  Not to mention the dining experiences and more than adequate facilities to be enjoyed at most of the clubhouses. One example of the ‘more than just golf concept’ is at Golf d’Opio-Valbonne and the Victoria Golf Club in Valbonne Sophia Antipolis, which both have swimming pools on their luxurious premises. Victoria is also currently building a deluxe apartment complex, baptised “The Swing”, complete with tennis courts.

The wonderful aspect of this region is the abundant choice of courses with varying styles, characters, charm and technical challenge; all in relative close proximity to Nice’s international airport. In fact there are now 43 courses in the PACA region.

Monaco with its glamorous and elite image would have you assume the club is off limits except to members but au contraire. Created in 1911 the Monte-Carlo Golf Club, is open to the public although the culinary delights of its restaurant are reserved for members. At 810 metres altitude perched on Mont-Agel it may also be out of bounds for those who suffer from vertigo, but the spectacular views afforded by such dizzying height are unique and worth it. At the 14th hole hovering at the cliff’s edge you can indulge in a bird’s eye view of the Principality and at the ninth hole the snow-covered Alps are in full view even though you only sport a short-sleeved Polo shirt. In fact the first 11 holes offer magnificent mountain views and the last seven holes show the Mediterranean Sea off in full panoramic splendour. On a fine clear day at the Monte-Carl Golf Club, which is nearly always the case, you can see as far as Saint-Tropez to the west and Corsica to the south.

Indeed there’s no need to budge from the golf course to go sightseeing – another perk of putting on the Côte. There’s plenty on offer as you swing that iron; old aqueducts, medieval chapels and towers, buildings from the Middle Ages and the Roman period dot the landscape. The word “green” has another connotation here in a region abundant with old green olive trees and pine trees interspersed among the fairways like at Golf de Saint-Donat, or on the green at the hole (18th) at Opio, offering natural shade and distinguishing the Rivera courses from elsewhere. At the 16th hole in Golf de Biot you can marvel at the cluttered village of Biot rising up behind the cypress trees. 

For those of you interested in architecture the Grande Bastide at Châteauneuf de Grasse’s 12th hole offers a fine example and coincidentally also at hole 12 on the Cannes/Mougins Country Club course you can view ‘La Bouillide’ another old bastide. At Golf de Biot in 1608 King Henry IV commissioned “La Bastide du Roy” to be built, which dominates the course. 

Ultimate tee with a view
At the heart of the Mercantour Park Golf d’Isola 2000, an 18 hole course, is the highest in Europe. It is only open in July and August as in winter the greens are covered with snow. It is a superior course not just for the mountain scenery but also for its technically demanding holes. It is also open to non-members and offers private and group tuition. Amongst its facilities are a proshop, club rental, caddy rental, motorized karts for hire, a driving range and a restaurant.

Open doors
Although an exclusive, expensive course (200 Euro per day), which is host to the Cannes Open since 1995, the Royal Mougins Golf Club still opens its doors to welcome non-members who can afford the green fee. The Golf de Nice is also open to non-members and is probably more accessible thanks to its reasonably priced green fees of just 16 Euro per day.

In fact all of the clubs we spoke to were very enthusiastic about non-members playing (see sidebar on previous page).

Once inside the gates of most golf clubs there is more in store for you than just a round of golf. Most of the clubhouses are havens from the world and maintain a serene ambiance worthy of the sport. Many date from the early century and have beautiful facilities of which non-golf family members can avail as well. The oldest course at Cannes-Mandelieu, affectionately known as the “old course”, is home to a splendid clubhouse with gabled roof surrounded by centuries-old pine trees and a marvellous restaurant proposing authentic local dishes and refreshments. The club house at Golf de Biot, with its traditional Provencal terracotta building is charming and offers outdoor dining on the terrace, shaded from the sun by a pergola. Its simple exposed stone appearance, perfectly in line with the traditions of the region, belies the famous names who have stepped across its threshold, the likes of John F. Kennedy Sr, Bing Crosby, the Duke of Windsor and the Aga Khan. On a practical note if you need to upgrade your equipment or purchase a sun visor then the pro golf shop is underneath the terraced restaurant so you can shop while your salade niçoise is prepared.  

Of course if visiting with your family, a golf club can offer so much more for them, especially those clubs that offer lessons for children. Many clubs offer comfortable and luxurious facilities, like swimming pools and games rooms where you can enjoy pre and post golf round leisure time. Many club houses are historical buildings with incredible views and some are decorated with original paintings by famous artists who paid-in-kind for their round of golf. But most importantly a club house is a place to relax and thanks to the great weather conditions here it’s usually on the sun-filled terrace of the restaurant with a glass of rosé where you will find yourself. You can enjoy the scenery while waiting for the return of your golfing partner to have a lunch; quite often local cuisine unique to this region. At the expansive outdoor restaurant at the Golf de la Grande Bastide clubhouse you can even watch your partner playing his final hole to a back drop of the Gorges du Loup.

To conclude the quality of golf courses on the Côte has improved dramatically over the last ten years as the sport gains popularity in France and the clubs realize that more foreign visitors are coming to play. According to the Fédération Française de Golf (FFG) the number of players in France’s 520 courses is up 4.1 per cent in 2004 to nearly 360,000. That’s almost double the number enrolled in 1990 and makes it the nation’s seventh most popular sport.

In addition 12 new courses have opened in this region since 1990 giving the Riviera a name as a premium golf destination, many of which were designed with vaster greens and longer holes to accommodate the requirements of international championship competitions. As a result many luxury hotel complexes have sprung up on the border of the courses and golf clubs are considering real estate options.

The city of Cannes has jumped on the golf ball bandwagon and in conjunction with neighbouring golf towns of Mandelieu, Grasse and Opio-Valbonne launched the first annual Golf Festival in July of last year.

So for a day of relaxing exercise, good food and wine and breathtaking views grap your golf bag and head to ‘your’ golf club on the Riviera. 

Mediterranean Golf Clubs: Green fees and facilities...
Monte Carlo Golf Club
(Open to non-members.)
Green fees for the day are as follows:
90 Euro during the week
110 Euro weekends and holidays
45 Euro during the week for children/students
55 Euro weekends and holidays for children/students
30 Euro for half hour tuition
Description: Private and group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Caddy rental. Driving range. Restaurant

Riviera Golf Club
(Open to non-members with less than 36 handicap)
Green fees
65 Euro (all week)
40 Euro for students under 25 with student card
25 Euro for children under 18
Description: Challenging course (different levels, raised greens). Private & group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Caddy rental. Motorised karts for hire. Driving range. Restaurant

Golf le Claux Amic (Grasse Country Club)
(Open to non-members)
Green fee: 60 Euro for 18 holes & 39 euro for 9 holes (all week)
Students 45 Euro and juniors (under 18s) receive a 50% discount
Lessons: 25 Euro per hour
Clubs rental: 15 Euro
Buggy rental: 38 Euro
Description: Private and group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Trolleys and electric carts rental.  Driving range. Restaurant. Bar.

Golf de Nice
Open to non-members
Green fee: 16 Euro standard rate for the day
Lessons available: 45 Euro per hour
Restaurant opens daily except Mondays

Cap Esterel
(Open to non-members)
Green fee: 59 Euro standard rate for the day
50% reduction for junior (under 21) and students under 25 with a student card
Lessons available: rate depends on level

Golf de Sainte-Maxime
(Open to non-members)
Green fee: depends on season. To be sent to me by end of January as they are changing

Cannes-Mandelieu Riviera
(Open to non-members)
Green fee: 70 Euro for the day
Reduced rate 45 Euro for students
Restaurant opens daily except Mondays
Description:On the outward and return trip, you take a little ferry to cross the River Siagne which flows through the middle of the course. Private and group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Caddy rental. Motorized karts for hire. Driving range. Restaurant open daily except Mondays.

Victoria Golf Club
(Open to non-members)
Green fee for 18 holes: 50 Euro (40 Euro Wednesdays) or 25 Euro any day after 3pm
Green fee for 9 holes: 35 Euro (25 Euro Wednesdays)
Special promotional and group rates are available.
Lessons available: 25 Euro per half hour; 50 Euro per hour or 60 Euro for two people
Lessons juniors: 180 Euro for ten hours
Description:Private & group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Driving range. Proshop opening Spring 2005. Very reasonably priced restaurant with day’s special at 12 Euro.

Golf de Nice
(Open to non-members)
Green fee: 16 Euro standard rate for the day
Lessons available: 45 Euro per hour
Description: Par 27 - 9-hole compact course for a relaxing game in less than 1 hour. Private & group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Driving range. Restaurant.Restaurant open daily except Mondays.

Royal Mougins Golf Club
(Open to non-members (maximum 20 per day)
Green fee: 160 Euro during the week and 200 Euro at weekends (include a buggy car)
Lessons: available different rates
Description: Private and group tuition. Proshop. Club rental. Caddy rental. Motorized karts for hire. Driving range. Restaurant.

More Stories By Paula Farquharson

Paula Farquharson is an editor of The Riviera Times newspaper. Originally
from Ireland, she worked in New York and is now based in Nice, France,
where she learned to sail.

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