SAINT-CYR-SUR-MER , FRANCE It is not po­lite in any cul­ture to be more than two hours late, but at Dolce Frégate we got away with it… just.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - FEATURE -

Af­ter a night­mare af­ter­noon nav­i­gat­ing the high­ways and bi-ways through south­ern France from Nice in our rental, we fi­nally ar­rived at our des­ti­na­tion. Around 20 min­utes' drive west of Toulon in the heart of Provence, we pulled into a grand ho­tel es­tate lined by vine­yards and with views of the ocean as far as the eye can see. It takes our breath away and sud­denly all of the stress of curs­ing at our Sat Nav is a dis­tant me­mory.

Lit­tle did we know, the Gen­eral Man­ager - or as they say in France Directeur Général of Dolce Frégate Provence - Pierre San­cho, had been in the lobby the whole time to wel­come his “spe­cial guests”. His wife and chil­dren were wait­ing at home for him. He had a bot­tle of the finest Rosé from the re­sort's vine­yards on ice and he was there to make sure our three days be­gan with a bit of magic.

He takes us to our room and we open the doors to a panoramic ocean view on the hori­zon, the golf re­sort in the dis­tance and a multi-tiered pool be­neath us. We are in par­adise.

It is a four star re­sort but ev­ery­where we turn and ev­ery lit­tle touch make us feel like celebrity guests.

Our first glass of Rosé goes down all too eas­ily and the ban­ter be­gins to flow, with Pierre as po­lite as he is cheeky. Nat­u­rally, our con­ver­sa­tion moves quickly to rugby and the All Blacks. Ki­wis and the French have a spe­cial bond over many things but the one thing that comes up in ev­ery con­ver­sa­tion is rugby.

For­mer All Black prop Carl Hay­man fre­quented the golf course dur­ing his time play­ing for Toulon and is well known among the staff.

“He loves the third half,” Pierre says with a know­ing smile on his face. He is re­fer­ring to the Otago hard man, who walked away from his All Blacks ca­reer in his prime, and be­came a bit of a lo­cal leg­end in these parts. He en­joyed the rugby as much as he did the life­style.

“What a player,” Pierre con­tin­ues. “He would never talk too much but get a few wines into him, and he would come alive in the third half.”

Who could blame him, I thought as our wine glasses are filled with some more of the re­gions finest. And it's liv­ing up to France's well­known world-fa­mous rep­u­ta­tion for in­cred­i­ble wine. Even though we've kept our man wait­ing, he is go­ing nowhere. There are many sto­ries to come in­clud­ing re­liv­ing the 1999 and 2007 World Cup All Blacks' fail­ures at the hands of France and how we were lucky to get away with a win at home in 2011.

The con­ver­sa­tion flows ef­fort­lessly and I think to my­self it is not sur­pris­ing that Pierre is the Directeur Général of this place, he sums up what it is all about. Friendly. Charming. Wel­com­ing.

An­other bot­tle of Rosé is pre­sented, but we in­sist our host must get home to his fam­ily and make sure his wife gets an apol­ogy from us. As a part­ing gift, Pierre makes sure our meal – in­cred­i­ble French cui­sine from the re­gion– is taken care of. It com­pletes an amaz­ing start in the South of France and it only gets bet­ter the fol­low­ing day as when I ex­pe­ri­ence the widely-ac­claimed golf re­sort.

It's a stun­ning South­ern France day, 30 De­grees Cel­sius and you can feel the warmth at 8am. Wait­ing on the first tee is the Directeur of Golf, Philippe Gros­set-Grange. An ac­com­plished pro­fes­sional who is as laid back as Pierre was be­fore him.

I tell him I'm on an 18 hand­i­cap and he says that makes it easy, I'll give you one shot per hole and added; “Don't worry about how you play to­day, just en­joy where you are”.

As we walk down the first hole, he ex­plains what makes Dolce Frégate unique. “We have ev­ery­thing here,” he says.

“We have a Cham­pi­onship course of 18 holes and small cour­ses for be­gin­ners, ju­niors and for train­ing. The Cham­pi­onship course it is a lit­tle bit nar­row but

The Cham­pi­onship course it is a lit­tle bit nar­row but you get the beau­ti­ful view of the sea and the course is al­ways in good con­di­tion. We have a four star ho­tel re­sort with 133 rooms, swim­ming pool, fit­ness cen­tre and a few restau­rants so you’ve got the com­plete re­sort.”

you get the beau­ti­ful view of the sea and the course is al­ways in good con­di­tion. We have a four star ho­tel re­sort with 133 rooms, swim­ming pool, fit­ness cen­tre and a few restau­rants so you've got the com­plete re­sort.”

In the heart of the many rows of vine­yards and pines, the Frégate Par 72 course is a bal­anced and var­ied lay­out. The course de­sign is ideal in the fact that it is quite tight from the tee but not too long so it's still very playable for the mid-to­high hand­i­cap­pers.

Phillippe, like Pierre, had his own All Blacks' story to share. For­mer All Black Luke McAlis­ter, who played for Toulose from 2011 – 2017, also loves his golf and is al­ways wel­come at the cham­pi­onship course for some down­time.

“He's a good man and of course we love hav­ing All Blacks and other rugby play­ers come to Dolce Frégate to en­joy what this place of­fers.”

The Golf Di­rec­tor of­fered sim­ple ad­vice to any golfers play­ing Dolce Frégate for the first time. “Don't use your driver on ev­ery hole, some­times you have to just hit an iron be­cause it's nar­row. I would be train­ing my putting be­cause the greens are very good and they are nor­mally faster.”

With the speed of the greens in mind, the key to play­ing the course well is putting your ball be­low the hole and play­ing for the cen­tre of the greens when the flags are tucked away.

Not long af­ter we be­gin we ap­proach Phillippe's favourite hole on the course. It is a de­mand­ing lit­tle par three from an el­e­vated tee which is built in and around a rock-face and pro­tected by bunkers at the rear. The three­tiered green en­sures club choice is all im­por­tant. An­other stand­out hole on the front nine is the hardest hole on the course. No 5 is the Stroke One which mea­sures from 242m to 336m depend­ing on the tee po­si­tion. It de­mands a tee shot over a lake to the left to have a good an­gle into the green which is pro­tected by an­other lake. Great hole.

As we head to­ward the end of the front nine we climb in el­e­va­tion and ap­proach the 10th a stun­ning par four that looks out over 180 de­gree views of the Mediter­ranean Sea.

Phillippe says the best time to visit Dolce Frégate is from May to June when the cli­mate is quite mild. The re­sort is busy dur­ing the peak Euro­pean sum­mer months of July – Au­gust but many don't get out on the golf course be­cause it is too hot af­ter 12pm.

To be hon­est, Phillippe dom­i­nates the early stages of our match, but I fight back to re­store some cred­i­bil­ity and en­sure there is a game to be played on the clos­ing holes. The fin­ish­ing stretch is as de­mand­ing as it is en­joy­able.

My finest mo­ment of the round comes on the par four 17th when I put my sec­ond to within a few feet of the hole and get back to all square with a birdie. Stand­ing on the par four 18th tee – eas­ily my favourite hole of the course – I am on the cusp of brag­ging rights over our pint of beer.

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