DOLCE FREGATE PROVENCE
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.
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.