Mauritius Open: sun, sea and sand saves

How the third country to adopt golf attracted the first tri-sanctioned event

Charlie Lemay's picture
Fri, 1 May 2015

Mauritius Open: sun, sea and sand saves

When the Royal Navy decided to build Mauritius’s first golf course in 1902, who could have blamed them?

If golf is meant to be a summer sport, then an island in the Indian Ocean is the perfect setting. Tropical weather, an abundance of sand, translucent water and stunning views as far as the eye can see – a golfer’s wildest dream.

Mauritius claims it was the third country to adopt golf after the UK and India, but while it has been largely anonymous on the world golf scene for the past century, the island seems to be coming out of its slumber.

It has recently earned a series of golf tourism awards and since 1994, the island nation hosted a lower-key Mauritius Open, which morphed into the Senior Tour's Commercial Bank Open in 2009. 

But what it needed to cement itself as a big player was an event backed by a leading Tour – and now it has it. 

On 7-10 May, the island hosted the first ever tri-sanctioned event, the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open at Heritage Golf Club. 

The tournament formed part of the European Tour, the Asian Tour and the Sunshine Tour schedules for the first time, and was won by South African George Coetzee.

Growing the game

Traditionally, Mauritius, a 2,000 square km slice of paradise roughly the same size of Luxembourg, has attracted swooning honeymooners and affluent holidaymakers.

But in the past decade a new tourist has swelled the permanent population of 1.3m - and they carry even more baggage. 

With a warm, humid summer from November to April, and a relatively cool, dry winter from June to September, with no official rainy season, Mauritius offers a picture-postcard backdrop for golf.

"Mauritius welcomes around 60,000 tourist golfers yearly," Mauritius Golf Tourism Association's Michael Geerdharry told GolfMagic.

"There are seven 18-hole resort golf courses to choose from, two nine-hole courses and one 18-hole private course called Gymkhana. In November 2015, there will also be another 18-hole course called Avalon."

The Bernhard-Langer designed Ile aux Cerfs course on an island off the lavish Le Touessrok Resort on the east coast is one of the most famous, while Ernie Els has crafted an iconic track at the Four Seasons at Anahita. 

“Mauritius is a magnificent destination and I’m sure the players from all three Tours will enjoy their trip, while the tournament will help showcase the beautiful island to a global television audience,” European Tour chief operating officer and director of international policy Keith Waters told GolfMagic. 

Geerdharry says golf is still viewed as a "rich person's game" on the island, but the locals are coming round to the sport, despite its image. 

"Football is the main sport in Mauritius, and popular among the youth," says Geerdharry. "Golf is played by around 1,200 locals and they benefit from a reduced green fee of €40 while tourists can expect to pay between €90 to €150, which includes a club car."

Reward

This transformation has not gone unnoticed. The new-look Mauritius Open is the cherry on top of a rising cake. 

“It is always exciting to break new ground and the inaugural AfraAsia Bank Mauritius Open at The Heritage Golf Club promises to be a superb tournament, with the three Tours coming together for the first time,” says Waters.

“We enjoy a strong relationship with both the Asian Tour and the Sunshine Tour, and we are delighted to bring these two partnerships together for the first time for this historic tri-sanctioned event.

“This relationship is embodied in two of the players in the field, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and George Coetzee, both of whom have won on the European Tour in recent weeks. They will be joined at the Heritage by a number of other European Tour champions.”

Plying their trade in Mauritius will be European Tour veteran Thomas Bjorn, 2010 BMW PGA winner Simon Khan and promising English youngster Matthew Fitzpatrick.   

Sponsor 

For new events, finding a title sponsor is a potential stumbling block. Thankfully, the Mauritius Open secured the services of local bank AfrAsia, which will both host and sponsor the event.  

“At AfrAsia Bank, we aim to be in line with supporting a sport partnership strategy that is aligned with business diversity and an international presence," chief executive officer James Benoit told GolfMagic.

"We view golf very much as a sport which is about respect, perseverance and integrity, and as one that also reflects the values we share as a bank." 

Mauritius has earned its right to dine at golf's highest table, and if organisers can put on a show then who knows where it will go from here?