When I tell people I am off to Mauritius, the universal response is jealous enthusiasm. Then I pause and add: “I am going for a week of golf lessons.” In most cases, the response is an embarrassed wince.
My history of golf is this: smashing balls at driving ranges, having a random lesson every few years; generally making desultory progress. So the idea of a new company offering golf masterclasses, taught by European Tour professionals in some of the world’s most exclusive golf clubs, seems an opportune way to liberate my inner Michelle Wie. The line-up of coaches includes Englishman Mark James, a Ryder Club captain with 18 tour wins, and Italian Costantino Rocca, who has five victories.
My friend and I land late in Mauritius and are driven in a pristine white Land Rover to the island’s less-developed southern tip, through dense shadows of sugar cane fields. Falling sugar prices led to the development of Domaine de Bel Ombre, a former sugar estate that now offers hotels, villas and restaurants within “2,500 hectares of experiences”. (I like the idea of experiences coming by the hectare: “I’ll have half a hectare; it’s all I can handle.”)
Waking up in our suite at the Heritage Le Telfair, one of two hotels on the estate, the scene has all the hallmarks of an ideal holiday. The closed curtains have a luminosity that shouts: “sunshine”. From the balcony, I can see the turquoise Indian Ocean battering its endless surf against a reef. Then I remember my portentous dream: I struck at golf balls swaddled in socks. I am here to learn golf.
Over breakfast we meet Chris Moody, founder of Tour Master Classes and a former Swiss Open champion (1988). Originally from Essex, his career began when he was paid 10 shillings to caddy. He recalls specific holes from the European Tour with a digital clarity.
As we are going to spend the week together, there is a bit of awkward circling. I do not help my cause by pointing out the corporate shirt Moody hands me is man-size. (Note: women play golf too!) But it is a relief to find Moody is a man of endless patience, self-deprecating humour and is eager to share his knowledge.
He begins the day with a PowerPoint presentation setting out golf basics, such as the role of spin. It is full of the sorts of aphorisms loved by those who think life is like a game of golf: “If you think you can, or can’t, you’re probably right,” and, “You have to dance with the girl you brought.” (Such philosophy even has its own name: golfism).
Moody’s tuition focuses on golf’s mental aspects and the intricacies of the short game, rather than the simple mechanics of the swing. “Anyone can hit a bucket of balls at a range,” he says. “Only 20 per cent of golf is about hitting the ball. It’s not about the swing. It’s about the preparation, the routine and the set-up.”
Eager to start, we take a shuttle a short hop to the Telfair’s 18-hole golf course, created by Peter Matkovich in 2004. It is an epic sight, carved out of the sugar cane fields and designed to look as if you are playing through them, with views down to the ocean.
Day one is about assessment. Moody uses video footage to highlight problems. My friend, a more typical customer, plays off 18. “We’ll knock six to eight shots off that,” says Moody, possibly the most poetic eight words ever uttered to a golfer.
We begin at the driving range. I stand next to a pyramid of balls, with fantasies of whacking them deep into the far horizon of lush green hills. My delusion that I know how to hit the ball is soon undone by reality. One axe-wielding wallop, totally missing the ball, is ignominiously caught on film. It is a great “before video”. But will I get better? Moody looks worried.
Out on the course, Moody identifies further horrors. Over lunch at the clubhouse he does an impression of my swing, impersonating a clumsy elephant swaying his trunk and getting it in the way of his line of sight, so he can’t see the ball. Worse, he says: “You’re trying to create force from your arms. There is no use of the body. It leads you to sit back on your foot, flap at and then top the ball.” My friend’s issue is more straightforward: “He can’t chip from 30 yards.”
It is clear I am a project. Over the week I emit mournful noises. I cheat and nudge my ball to happier lies. I drive Moody’s wife recklessly into a ditch in a golf buggy. Our intensive routine varies from the range to the course to a chipping green. We spend one evening contentedly hitting balls on to a putting green as it is inexorably consumed by long shadows. Even the hotel’s snooker table at night offers a chance for Moody to show how to practise my swing with a snooker cue.
Some of the joy of the masterclasses is simply that of playing alongside a professional sportsman. Moody makes it look effortlessly easy. On the signature par five, 17th hole, he hits a drive 280 yards on to the fairway, then a second across a ravine that lands next to the pin. Even his trick shots are memorable: sinking three 8ft putts in a row using the nose of his putter. Moody’s commentary has its own style: “he couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo”; “a chilli dip is when you give it a nasty prod and wrap the divot over the top of the ball”; “dig it out and hit a little low squirter”.
Each evening we review the day’s progress over drinks in the Cavendish bar – named after a banana imported to Mauritius by Charles Telfair, a 19th-century Irish botanist. The hotel pays homage to his era with its colonial-chic aesthetic and a slogan, “Living in Yesteryear.” Telfair’s portrait hangs in Le Château, a restored mansion on the estate overlooking a grand 262-year-old banyan tree. It offers fine dining and is also home to the offices of Jean-Luc Naret, managing director of Heritage resorts, who ran the Michelin Guides for seven years (his golf buggy is called “Le Boss” and is speedier than everyone else’s).
By the afternoon of day three, a bit golfed-out, we head out on a boat, feeling a childish escapism at leaving the all-inclusive resort. Our trip is guidebook perfect: we snorkel, fish for rainbow runner, glimpse fishermen’s huts on the beach, watch dolphins and a spectacular sunset, made even more majestic by gathering clouds.
The next day, I am impatient to play golf. There is something undeniably appealing about ending a holiday with a tangible skill. It is overcast – “no rain, just showers,” the front desk obscurely advises. At the range, we veer between sheltering from the “no rain” and making real progress. I take my three wood and let rip a great drive. Moody turns to me with praise and an all too evident sense of relief, “Now you’re getting it.”
Indeed, my game is finally less erratic. I have a mental checklist to follow and I am even parring some holes. My friend’s chipping has acquired a methodical ease – the following week he comes second in a golf match. Challenging Moody and his wife on the par three course, we emerge victorious beneath a sky that has cleared to leave behind an intense blue. The scene is pure golf porn, with views down to the turquoise lagoon and back up to the hills beyond the château, as trees come musically alive with the songs of martens.
Caroline Daniel is editor of FT Weekend
Caroline Daniel was a guest of Tour Master Classes (www.tourmasterclasses.com). It offers a week at the Telfair from £3,150, including five days’ coaching. A three-night trip to Turnberry, Scotland, in July costs from £1,750, including tickets for the Open Championship
For further details about the Heritage Le Telfair resort, visit www.heritageresorts.mu