Mauritius Gymkhana Club the fourth oldest golf course in the world
My drive soars past coconut trees and lands on the edge of the fairway. “How far did I hit?” I ask the slim young man standing beside my bag. He glances up from my scorecard: “About 165 metres.” “What’s that in yards?” I press, testing his conversion. “About 180-181,” comes my caddie’s swift reply.
It’s our last vacation day in Mauritius, a subtropical island off the east coast of South Africa, and we’re playing a morning round of golf at the Mauritius Gymkhana Club, the oldest golf course in the Southern Hemisphere.
Although open to tourists as well as locals, for a fraction of the resort fees, I don’t think many tourists leave the scenic ocean-side courses to come to the centre of this volcano-created island to play – at least not blonde, English-speaking Canadian women from half way around the world. These tourists are from Asia, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, Europe and the UK. And this is their Caribbean. We played daily for free as guests of the Anahita Resort and Le Tousserok Resort on the southeast coast. But the Gymkhana is one of the very few golf courses on the island with caddies for hire, so when a member invited us to play, I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve only watched the pros with their caddies on TV. How much better could I play? Will this be my lowest-scoring game, ever?
Being a 29 handicapper, my game is exceptional; exceptionally good and exceptionally bad. My caddie has a handicap of seven. His name is Faez, I’m told, although introductions aren’t made. He will call me Madam.
I ask our member host if Faez speaks English, and regret it immediately. Mauritius is one of the most multi-lingual countries I’ve visited. The residents are educated in English and French, and everyone speaks French-Creole, the country’s native language.
The Gymkhana service club was founded in 1844 for officers of the British Empire, and the 9-holer was the first golf course opened in the Indian Ocean by the Royal Navy. It became a par 68 (4,373 m for ladies) in the ’50s.
I’ve never played on a course measured in metres and, despite being told to “just add 10 percent” to convert to yards, I rely on my caddie to hand me the correct wedge. I am somewhat surprised by how quickly he assesses my level of play and club distances when he hands me a club and tells me the best approach.
On the green, I wait for him to point out the break or tap the side of the cup. Some greens are hard and fast, while others were thick as lawn and I’m thinking more suited to a game requiring a larger ball and mallet. Faez pulls my cart, rakes bunkers, tends the flag, repairs divots and cleans my clubs and ball. He also records my score, although the other players are keeping their own.
October is springtime, the best time of year to visit, and it’s already a beautiful 21 C. Striding between the holes, swinging my arms like the pros on TV, I feel a growing sense of camaraderie with my caddie, sharing a grin when sinking a par putt or making a pitch over sand to the pin.
What was completely unexpected was this extra twinge of disappointment that came immediately after I cursed to myself for flubbing an easy shot. Now I’d let my caddie down too, after he specifically told me what to do.
Resisting the urge to apologize, I offer the usual ‘looked up, hit behind the ball’ excuses. “Yes,” he agrees, always pleasant and polite. Predictably, I give him several more opportunities to give me pointers, but our host says caddies are not expected to offer advise. I certainly could have used some trying to hit out of the island’s incredibly thick and coarse rough; the wiry grass looks like little palm leaves sticking out of the ground.
Only twice did Faez hand me the wrong club, which I knew was the wrong club, but played it to its anticipated outcome in the tough rough beyond the green. Even high handicappers can disagree with their caddies and choose another club.
While not as well maintained as the resort courses we played on, I loved the sense of history about this 168-year-old service club, from its 19th- and 20th-century golf course to its lawn tennis courts and terraced outdoor pool and bar. Even the mid-century clubhouse still had British and proper air to it.
Our host joked that caddies might nudge your ball to a better lie position if you looked the other way. I wondered about that when my drive on a par 4 dogleg sliced right over the treeline and dropped where Faez was waiting under the leafy canopy. I slump down the fairway, deciding which club could chomp out of that rough.
But my ball was sitting perky on the edge of the fairway, next to Faez. “Did I land here?” I ask incredulously, eyeing my nice second shot to the green. “No,” he answers, pointing to a hole dug for a tree. “You landed in there.” I’ll never know if my ball really fell into the hazard, or if this was an act of mercy.
Over lunch in the clubhouse, as the others began to total their scorecards, I realize my caddie still had mine. It wasn’t my best game ever, (should I have tipped in advance?) but I wanted it as a memento. When our host returns with my card, I can see Faez had neatly circled my pars. He tells us my caddie was going to keep it as a souvenir. And I thought the novelty was all mine.http://www.tourism-mauritius.mu http://www.letouessrokresort.com http://www.anahita.mu