Golf in Cannes - the city that can offer you everything!
Mention the city Cannes and the very name evokes images of famous movie stars strolling along the red carpet during the famous Film Festival here every year. You've probably seen pictures of the Hollywood stars posing against the backdrop of pure blue skies, perfect sandy beaches, and a bay packed with pristine white boats decked out with billionaires enjoying the high life and sipping champagne in the sunshine. Cannes certainly has a well-deserved reputation as a luxury playground for the rich and famous but few of its visitors realise that it is also a fabulous golf destination. Away from all the glitz and glamour the celebrities that visit Cannes often head to the golf courses, as they are a wonderful retreat from the paparazzi. But before you think that all this sounds a little too pricey and don't read on I must mention that Cannes is a place where you have the option to live like a star and enjoy a sumptuous stay in a five-star hotel or choose a more basic abode to suit a smaller budget. Either way you are spoilt with the choice of 12 amazing 18-hole golf courses right on your doorstep.
A big benefit Cannes has over other warm weather European destinations is its close proximity to the UK. The international airport of Nice in the south of France is only a two hour flight from London and all the major airlines fly there. With a transfer time of just 25 minutes along the coast you could easily hop on an early morning flight and be sat eating your lunch on Cannes' famous beach front Croisette by midday.
Another one of the attractions is the size of the city, a mere baby in population terms, on a par with a large village, meaning everything is within walking distance - from the beach to the bars and of course the wide array of designer shops - just a short stroll from your hotel. The selection of hotels is vast and caters for the millions of visitors that stay here every year, travelling to one of the events listed on Cannes' extensive calendar of festivals and conventions. I was fortunate to experience the five-star luxury of the Majestic Hotel (part of the Lucien Barriere group) with its prime position on the Croisette overlooking the beach. Everything about the hotel is classy from the concierge who greets you at the door to the elegant décor that adorns every room inside. The bedrooms are large and lavish and the comfy beds to die for. Breakfast is fit for a King and a glass of champagne or a cheeky Vodka at the so-named poolside bar is a must. As you would expect from such a fine hotel it comes with a fine price tag, but if you are looking for a real treat then you can't go wrong.
And so to the golf courses and the same theme of class and quality continues. The closest course to the city is Cannes Mandelieu, just a couple of minutes along the coast. It's also one of the oldest clubs in France, dating back to 1891 when the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, an aristocrat who spent most of the year in Cannes, returned from playing the famous St. Andrews links in Scotland and decided to commission reputed course designer Harry Colt to design nine holes. This short and quirky little course now exists under the name 'Grand Duc' and is a kind of clever par 3-style layout framed by ancient umbrella pines. There's also an 18-hole course at Cannes Mandelieu which benefits from the same framework of umbrella pines, giving it a claustrophobic tight feel at times that requires clever thinking with a premium placed on shot shaping, drive placement and accuracy going into the greens, which are heavily guarded by the pine trees and bunkers. Although the course is adjacent to the coast you don't get a glimpse of the sea but you do get a chance to touch the water as you have to take a tiny ferry boat to cross the river that divides the second and third holes. Lunch on the clubhouse terrace is a must, with a first-class chef on site serving up a delicious selection of local dishes, as is a wander around the tastefully restored ancient clubhouse where the members still put their shoes away in old wooden lockers and competition winner's names are carved onto ancient honors boards.
If you are after a similarly gentle walking course then Grande Bastide Golf Club (part of the Open Golf group) is a good choice and is particularly well-suited to higher handicappers as there's plenty of room to be wayward! The club is a 20 minute drive from Cannes but the scenery is worth the trip. Grande Bastide can be discovered at the foot of the hills of the Nicoise hinterland and offers wonderful views of the countryside and nearby villages of Grasse, Opio and Chateauneuf de Grasse. Although the rolling fairways are generous, the greens are big and slopey and there are plenty of water hazards to catch you out.
As Grande Bastide is situated in the heart of the region where they produce many famous perfumes, if you play golf in the morning you'll have time to head to one of the nearby perfume factories in the afternoon - and yes ladies you can even make your own unique scent! I'd suggest dropping your husband off at a bar in one of the local villages to grab a lazy lunch with a glass of wine and enjoy the laid-back life of the locals.
Alternatively you could play another 18 holes in the afternoon at the nearby Opio Valbonne golf club with its beautiful rural setting. This grand course is currently undergoing an extensive and impressive redesign by the Nicklaus group and already has 9-holes open with the remainder due for completion by May. It is every bit the stadium course, with tight tree-lined fairways, tricky water hazards and Tour-spec greens - an ideal host venue for tournaments of the future, particularly as it is serviced by a huge driving range and excellent practice facilities. Golfers searching for a hidden retreat will be in heaven here, enjoying a peaceful yet luxurious stay in the Chateau de la Begude, a cleverly converted boutique hotel. You'll stay in a choice of a deluxe room or suite inside the 17 th century stone Bastide which has been tastefully renovated to the highest standard.
A similar high class of golf can be discovered at Saint Donat Golf Club. On my visit the French men's international junior team was taking on the Irish young guns - and what a fantastic test of matchplay golf this course offers. The hilly terrain makes it a tough walk (buggies are the sensible option) but the pay-off is the spectacular vistas. The course throws plenty of challenges at you from high elevated tee shots played to distant tight fairways, huge rises or falls in elevation to greens, pure fast putting surfaces and water hazards galore. Every hole is completely unique and the tall trees that frame the fairways add to the fun and challenge.
If you'd prefer to play your golf closer to Cannes then a ten-minute drive is all it takes to discover Cannes-Mougins, a country club with a hefty price tag to join and plenty of expensive cars littering the car park to prove it. Consequently lucky visitors are treated to a virtually private golf course never brimming with players. The course has been built in the heart of the Valmasque Forest and has some interesting historical monuments dotted around its fringes showing signs of the history that took place long before golf existed. Cannes-Mougins was originally laid out in 1923 but redesigned by Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas in 1977 and has since hosted the Cannes Open, a popular event on the European Tour schedule with past winners included the late, great Seve Ballesteros. Seve's master recovery and short game skills would have been perfectly suited to the layout here which requires incredible accuracy and thinking off the tee and spot-on clubbing going into the green.
Last but absolutely not least on my must-play selection of courses around Cannes are the two championship courses at Terre Blanche - Le Riou and Le Chateau. Both are world-class tournament courses, which have hosted Senior and European Ladies Tour events. Le Chateau (aptly named after the impressive residence in the centre of the course) is longer than Le Riou which requires a more strategic approach to plot your way around the course. Both are blessed with a beautiful setting and have been sympathetically designed by reputed course architect Dave Thomas to work wonderfully with the natural contours of the landscape. In fact, I would go as far as saying that these are two of Thomas's finest designs, and certainly some of the best courses I've played anywhere in the world. You really do feel as though you are playing golf in a little piece of heaven here. The holes are cleverly carved out of a very hilly landscape with sweeping panoramas, massive drops in elevation and rocky outcrops framing gentle streams or giant lakes. The bunkering is true to Dave Thomas signature magic, each perfectly placed to catch you out. The greens are tricky to master as putts are fast and slopey but the surfaces are so perfect you simply can't help but feel confident that all you have to do is make a good stroke and you'll hole your fair share. The only quirky feature on both courses is the occasional large tree that has been left right in the middle of a fairway to catch you out and give you something substantial to aim at.
Terre Blanche has its own sensational five-star resort where your room isn't situated in a big eye-sore of a hotel but rather one of the miniature villas dotted around the resort. Each comes complete with a lavish lounge, private terrace, a lovely master bedroom and grand bathroom. Suites also benefit from their own private Jacuzzi or mini plunge pool. There's an amazing spa on site where you can be pampered to your heart's content and dining, as you can imagine, is absolutely first-class.
Such is the quality of the facilities on offer that Terre Blanche has been chosen as the first European Tour Destination in the world, which means that the world's top golfers will be using it as a base to practice and play out of - a model for all European Tour golf destinations of the future.
Fancy a taste of golf in Cannes? Why not visit during the Cannes Golf Week Festival...
It takes place from September 23-30th 2012 and is a great opportunity to sample the fine selection of courses around the city. Golfers can book onto a two night package which includes B&B, a cocktail, two rounds of golf on a choice of courses around the region (Opio Valbonne, Grande Bastide, Cannes Mandelieu Old Course, St Donat and the exclusive Taulane Golf course designed by Gary Player), as well as taking part in a fun 54-hole tournament. The format is a two ball Betterball Stableford, with a handicap limit of 28 (for men and women/54 combined). Plus every golfer will receive a gift on the tee.
Prices start from 270 Euros per person and you can book direct through Golf Tour operator Parcours Voyages. Visit www.golf-parcours-voyages.com for more information.
Golf course contacts:
Golf de Cannes Mougins: www.golf-cannes-mougins.com
Golf club de Saint-Donat: www.golfsaintdonat.com
Golf de la Grande Bastide: www.opengolfclub.com/Golf-de-la-Grande-Bastide
Golf d'Opio Valbonne: www.opengolfclub.com/begude
Golf de Terre Blanche: www.terre-blanche.com
Where to stay? Hotel selection...
Radisson Blu 1835: www.radissonblue.com/hotel-cannes
Gray d'Albion: www.gray-dalbion.com
Grand Hotel: www.grand-hotel-cannes.com
3.14 hotel: www.3-14hotel.com
Martinez hotel: www.concorde-hotels.com/martinez