Interview with Marc Farry on golf in Mauritius

When golfers visit Constance Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius the resort has one major advantage over others on the island: two golf courses.

The Legend - The training ground for the Marc Farry Golf Academy

The Legend – The training ground for the Marc Farry Golf Academy

It’s a key factor in the decision-making for many because it offers plenty of variety – and more tee times – over the length of their stay.

But there is another tick in the box: the on-site Marc Farry Golf Academy, which gives golfers of all standards the opportunity to improve their game.

Farry, winner of the European Tour’s 1996 BMW International Open and a two-time Senior Tour winner, is aware that his love of the sport fits the Constance theme because he is inspired by his passion for golf.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” he said during the 2013 MCB Tour Championship, where he finished in a tie for ninth. “I’m deeply in love with the game and I’m passionate about learning new things, or remembering things I may have forgotten”.

“Golf is an amazing sport because you don’t stop. You can play so long and you can always keep improving. You know the guys out on the Senior Tour could have stopped trying to get better, but we never do – we’re always looking to enhance our game and that should apply to everyone, whatever their standard.”

Farry knows that guests want to enjoy their golf, but that they will especially do so if they play well – which is where the academy can offer assistance.

“The academy is a great support for the golf clientele. We have a very good teaching staff who can deal with the fundamentals of the swing and guests have the option of group, individual or on-course lessons.

“I’m passionate about the evolution of the golf swing. It has changed over the last 25 years. What I was taught when I took up the game has changed. That is not because it was wrong but because we have learned more, it is an evolution towards the best methods. It’s an exciting process.”

Farry is keen to stress what is distinct about his teaching methods.

The Legend, Constance Belle Mare Plage

The Legend, Constance Belle Mare Plage

“The academy staff use my vision of the importance of on-course strategy.

“At the launch press conference for the MCB Tour Championship we discussed what we, as senior golfers, have learned over the years. Perhaps the most important lesson is to be more patient and more smart with our game plans – and that fits directly with my way of teaching.

“In the early 1980s, as a young man, I hit the ball a long way. I was desperate to play well and I attacked every pin. But it was costly to be honest. In time I learned to be more patient and maybe not always take the driver off the tee.

“That remains the same with all players of all standards – anyone can play simple golf and score much better. When guests ask for lessons I show them that they don’t need to be aggressive to score well. Some are amazed until they see the results.

Legend and Links golf courses

“The two courses we have at Constance Belle Mare Plage are excellent layouts to prove my point.

“At the Legends it is tight and you can miss the fairway and lose a ball. The Links is more open but there are many shortish par fours. So on both courses the sensible play might be to hit for position from the tee.

“Some golfers think they are limiting themselves this way, but they are not. They are actually often opening up more opportunities, just not in ways they expected.

“When you see golfers understand this lesson it is so much fun.”

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2013 MCB Tour Championship winner – Paul Wesselingh

As Paul Wesselingh wins the 2013 MCB Tour Championship at Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius, it marks the latest chapter in the late rise of this remarkable player.

Paul Wesselingh wins MCB Tour Championship 2013

Paul Wesselingh wins MCB Tour Championship 2013

Back in 2001 Wesselingh was a club professional whose success on the regional golf circuit earned him a rare start in a European Tour event at the Belfry.

That tournament was the Benson and Hedges International Open. Wesselingh shot 78 in round one and then retired with a bad back; the winner that week was Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.

To say that both men have had quite a journey since that week is something of an understatement. Stenson has lost form, found it again, lost it again and then, this year, won both the European Tour’s end-of-season event, the DB World Championship, and the Race to Dubai as well (effectively that tour’s order of merit).

Wesselingh, by contrast, returned home to his family, continued to give lessons, sell Mars bars and tee pegs, and play the odd minor tour event. Then six years ago he began to think of the European Senior Tour.

He had first played golf aged seven but his handicap never dipped below three so he became an accountant, but desk work was not for him and he turned pro off five, happy to become a club professional. “I did give the European Tour School a couple of goes,” he said, “but I wasn’t anywhere near good enough.”

He and his wife Tracy had three young boys and Wesselingh preferred to see them grow up than travel the world chasing a golf dream. But by his late-forties he recognised that his golf swing had matured so he began to improve his fitness and get his game in tournament mode.

When he earned a card through tour school he finished second in his first event and won on his fourth start, at the 2012 PGA Seniors Championship at Slaley Hall. By the end of the year he had added another six top ten finishes and was crowned Rookie of the Year.

Many take the foot off the gas after such success, but Wesselingh had been waiting for this opportunity for years and was in no mood to coast.

He started the 2013 season by successfully defending his PGA Seniors Championship title and followed it up with victory in the Bad Ragaz Open.

“It was going so well that a few of the guys suggested I give Champions Tour Qualifying School a go,” he said. “But I decided to focus on the Order of Merit, headed to Taiwan and won the Fubon Open there.”

He arrived in Mauritius confident. The deep confidence that comes from long term success.

“I’ve trusted myself. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have attacked the 18th like I did in round two. You have to go for it at this level.

“The first year I was a little nervous and aware of being in the presence of some great players.”

But this year he has blossomed and when he faced his hero Colin Montgomerie in the final round of the MCB Tour Championship at Constance Belle Mare Plage he was ready to prove how far he had come.

Montgomerie is one of the Ryder Cup’s greatest ever singles performers. His ability to go head-to-head with an opponent and win is legendary. It meant that most of the gallery on the final day expected Monty to thrive and Wesselingh to wilt.

But neither happened. Well, they did, but the wrong way round. The Englishman had that deep confidence in his game and he remained patient on the early holes when the more famous golfer did the opposite. It was a stellar performance and all the more remarkable because he knew he was not just winning an event, but the Order of Merit.

That second trophy proves he has taken on so many of the players he had watched from afar throughout his 30s and 40s … and he had beaten them over the entire season. This was no flukey week, but one year of excellence. Little wonder he was emotional when the scale of the achievement hit him afterwards.

After victory there were scores to check, ceremonies to attend, photos to be taken, interviews to be had. It was a blur of activity, watched by his proud wife (who caddied for him all week) and his three sons.

When it was done, Wesselingh breathed a sigh of relief and asked if he could go now.

“You know what I’m going to do?” he smiled. “Same as I’ve done all week. Every morning I’ve swam in the sea, every night I’ve thrown myself in the plunge pool. I love this place.”

It’s a long way from the Belfry in 2001. 

Stenson and Wesselingh had very different weeks that year. But they’ve had very similar 2013s.

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Find out more about the action from the 2013 MCB Tour Championship

Visit our website to find out about luxury golf holidays at Constance Hotels & Resorts

Follow Matt Cooper on Twitter @MattCooperGolf or visit his blog Curious About Golf

Tension mounts for final round of MCB Tour Championship 2013

Golf journalist Matt Cooper is reporting on the final day of the MCB Tour Championship 2013 at Constance Belle Mare Plage, Mauritius. As play begins, here’s how things are looking.

Legend golf course, Constance Belle Mare Plage

Legend golf course, Mauritius

It would be foolish to entirely discount all but the top two on the leaderboard, but it does seem likely that the winner will come from the final group and the battle is an intriguing one.

Leading the tournament by three shots on 11-under-par is Englishman Paul Wesselingh, a three-time winner on tour this year and the current holder of top spot in the Order of Merit.
 
Up against him, on eight-under-par and three shots clear of third, is Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, an eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner and eight-time Ryder Cup player.
 
Follow Matt Cooper on Twitter @MattCooperGolf

A special golfing week in Mauritius on the Legend and Links courses

“We’ve been coming for years,” said my Constance Hotels & Resorts Pro-Am partner David pointing to the third member of our team, Patrice. “We love it here. You’ll see why over the next two days.”
Links at Constance Belle Mare Plage

Links course

 
Behind us, on day one of the tournament, was the driving range and first fairway at the Links course, Constance Belle Mare Plage. High on the hill we could see the rolling terrain, covered with rainforest, through which the course twists and turns.
 
This week is a special one for the resort and the golf courses. In addition to welcoming the world’s finest senior golfers for the MCB Tour Championship, amateur golfers from across the globe fly in to enjoy the Air Mauritius Trophy and/or the Pro-Am itself.
 
For David and Patrice, who are from London and Paris, their annual participation in the Pro-Am is the highlight of their golfing year – a week of fun competition which creates a buzz amongst guests at the hotel. “Everyone talks about the golf at night and congregates round the scores to see how they’re doing,” explains David, “it’s a brilliant atmosphere.”
 
“We also love the fact that Belle Mare Plage has two courses,” he adds. “That makes it stand out from the other resorts on the island because we can always get a tee time and aren’t restricted to one layout.”
 
They were right about one thing: as we made our way down our first fairway I immediately knew I liked the Links course. Undulating fairways creep between huge lumps of volcanic rock, water hazards and thick indigenous rainforest. 
Links course, Constance Belle Mare Plage

Patrice rushes to see where David’s ball has gone on Links

The course, designed by Rodney Wright and Peter Alliss, calls for shot-making and it works for all levels of golfers: short hitters can plot their way round, big-hitters have the opportunity to take risks and gun for par-fives in two, or short par-four greens in one.
 
After concluding our day, David and Patrice, plus Marc Farry, our professional who also has a golf academy at the resort, grinned and told me I’d enjoy round two even more. “The Legend course is going to suit you,” they laughed and I wondered if they weren’t just flattering me a little too much.
 
It turns out they weren’t: the Legends course hosts the MCB Tour Championship this week and it’s little wonder that David Frost and Tom Lehman have excelled there. The course rewards an accurate long game – which is precisely why my team-mates suspected that my pit-a-pat drives and fairway woods would work well.
Legend golf course, Constance Belle Mare Plage

Legend golf course

 
It sounds a little peculiar – given that the trees are heavy with fruit and spices, and the foliage alive with vibrant tropical colours – but the track reminds me of a classic English tree-lined parkland venue (albeit the Bermuda grass greens are very different, as is the temperature and humidity!).
 
Most of the tee shots are hit down narrow funnels and if the course has one advantage over the Links it is that there are fewer blind shots. Only once does the course open up and when it does so, it does so in style when the dramatic 17th tee presents a wide panoramic view across a cove, over which you hit to a small par-three green.
 
David’s and Patrice’s enthusiasm for the courses and the competition, plus my liking for the Legends challenge, and a second pro (Spain’s Juan Quiros) whose fun attitude lifted our spirits in the heat, all contributed to earning us a top ten finish in the Pro-Am.
 
“See you next year?” asked Patrice with a smile. You know what? I quite fancy trying to make the top five in 2014.
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“On the golf course I have two legs” – An interview with Manuel de los Santos

The annual Dunhill Links Championship is one of the highlights of the European Tour season. It takes place on three great golf courses in and around St Andrews (the home of golf) and it features not only the finest players on tour, but also movie stars, comedians, musicians and sportsmen (plus a handful of businessmen no-one has heard of).

Manuel de los Santos - “On the golf course I have two legs”

Manuel de los Santos

But back in 2009 a very different amateur took part in the event and immediately caught the attention of the watching fans, both on the courses and on television. His name was Manuel de los Santos, he hails from the Dominican Republic and he plays golf with only one leg.

Despite his disability Manuel plays to a handicap of four, thanks to powerful hitting and a delicate touch around the greens.

This week in the run up to the MCB Tour Championship, Manuel has played in both the Air Mauritius Trophy and the Constance Hotels Pro-am, after qualifying via an event in Reunion which he won with his playing partner George Necs.

The prize for that win included transport from Reunion, but Manuel lives in Paris. When MCB and Constance Hotels & Resorts discovered this, they upgraded the prize, a generous offer which has proved popular, not only with the hotel staff – who have followed his group around the course all week – but with locals too.

“It is amazing,” Manuel told me. “I was playing on the Links course and a girl came up to me. She told me that people in the local towns were saying a man plays golf on one leg and so she had to come to see it with her own eyes. I was very pleased to show her!”

It’s pretty clear that Manuel not only inspires other people, but is inspired himself by their interest. And the young girl is not alone: Manuel has many fans across the world, including Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who has given Manuel a 20-minute long-game lesson.

These remarkable encounters were far beyond his imagination ten years ago when, as a promising baseball player, he was hit by a car whilst on his motorbike. Waking from a coma four days later he discovered his left leg had been amputated.

He relocated to Paris with his wife Elena and one night watched the golf movie ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’. Next day he visited a driving range and was hooked: he had found something he could throw his heart into; which offered the prospect of improvement, competition and achievement.

“It also gives me a release,” he said after the first round of the pro-am. “Out on the course, when I am playing golf, I feel peace.”

In addition to travelling the world he competes on the European Disabled Golf Association Tour and hopes one day, like all other disabled golfers, that the sport is included in the Paralympics (there is currently a divergence between disabled golf categories and those of the Paralympic organisation).

He also loves the effect his story has on others. His wife Elena said: “Manuel is very competitive on the golf course, but it is also very important to him to let people know that we can all have our problems and yet all is not lost.”

His latest trip has offered yet more proof of what golf has given him. He and Elena are grateful to MCB and Constance Hotels for the chance to play, but also the opportunity to meet fellow golfers in the tournaments, the staff who have supported him and that young girl who wanted to witness his talent first-hand. “I love golf and I like these courses,” he said, “but those experiences are special.”

Manuel says he has a simple philosophy: “Out on the golf course I have two legs, off it I have one.”

He smiles, shakes my hand and says in farewell: “Remember, my friend – golf is my second leg.”

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Throwing off the fear of winning

Oscar Wilde wrote, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

The stage is set for the MCB Tour Championship 2013

The stage is set for the MCB Tour Championship 2013

It’s an adage the finest players on the European Senior Tour may not be aware of, but might ponder because they are all aware that late in their career they are being rewarded on the course for the many years of hard work that has gone before.

When I asked Colin Montgomerie to determine the difference between his prime and today he was open and forthright, although initially he joked: “Hang on, I’ve forgotten the question … that’s not a good sign, is it?”

More seriously he added, “I think we all relax more. I’m definitely more relaxed now than I’ve ever been. We’ve all been successful and have nothing to prove, so we relax and enjoy it. And you know what? You tend to do something better if you enjoy it.”

Of course Montgomerie had a stunning career which needs little polishing on the senior tours. He won 31 times on the European Tour (only three men have won more), represented Europe eight times in the Ryder Cup and won it as captain in 2010.

He nods when I ask him to discuss about the narrow margin between victory and close defeat.

“It’s a good question and one I have recent experience of at the AT&T Championship in San Antonio.

“What we, as golfers, all have to accept is that you lose a lot more than you win. If you win three times in a year that’s a great year, but you might have played 30 times so you lose quite a bit.

“At senior level I’ve seen a lot less fear of winning and yet there was a fear of winning on the main tour. No-one throws it away out here – we think: ‘We might as well just go and do it.’

“So the standard of play is very high because of that mentality. You can’t rely on others to make bogies, you’ve got to keep making birdies.”

The Legend, Constance Belle Mare Plage

The Legend, Constance Belle Mare Plage

“That’s what happened in San Antonio – I was two ahead with nine to play, played the back nine in level par and was overtaken by two men. Level par on these events is not good enough and it usually was on the main tour.”

David Frost understood Montgomerie’s point: “Definitely the players have lost that fear. I lost out to Russ Cochran recently – I had a lead with four holes to play, he birdied the last four holes and beat me by one shot!

“I also think that we don’t try so many things. When you’re young you try everything and it’s probably too much. When you get here, you use what got you here.”

Denmark’s Steen Tinning agrees: “You stop trying to be a world champion and you understand your limits.

“And once you are in the zone you keep going on the back nine. But it’s a long process which some of us just had to go through that. It takes a lot of years to gain that experience and I needed that time. Now I have it and I felt comfortable in contention this year.”

The stats back the Dane’s claims up – twice this year he held the lead with 18 holes to play and twice he converted the win.

Like the Montgomerie family, the Tinnings are enjoying the beach and all the facilities at Constance Belle Mare Plage this week. Both are hoping to put their lack of fear into practice if they are in contention come the final round on Sunday.

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