The ancient game of golf has been played in Europe since mediaeval times, as depicted in this illustration from the so-called ‘Golf Book’ in the British Library:
However, it was not until the 1740s that the rules of the modern game were drawn up in Leith. Nearby St Andrews rightly stakes its claim as ‘The Royal and Ancient’, but an equally fascinating history surrounds the first club on the Riviera, which was modelled on its famous Scottish forebear.
In 1891 the exiled brother of Tsar Alexander III, the ill-fated Grand Duke Mikhail Mikhailovitch, decided to establish a golf club in Cannes, and even arranged for a regular train service to bring celebrities such as the Rothschilds and the Prince of Wales from far and wide to join in the fun. The grand duke’s links still exist, at Mandelieu-la Napoule, and many great names have played on them – including Winston Churchill, who famously lost his temper with the caddies for being ‘not lively enough’.
It was Churchill too who observed, with typical wit, that ‘Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into a even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.’
The Second World War saw serious damage inflicted on the port towns of the Riviera, and the reconstruction of the golf-courses took an understandably long time, partly because of the need to clear thousands of land-mines. But now Mandelieu-la Napoule (still known as Cannes Old Course) has been lovingly restored, and is just one of many clubs available to the serious golfer whether visiting from abroad or living in the region.
With a choice of 9- and 18-hole courses at various handicaps – many of them refurbished and redesigned by international-class planners – and ample opportunities for beginners as well as more experienced players, the Riviera has revived its reputation as a world-class centre for golf. Most if not all of the 18-hole courses offer full facilities, including hire of equipment, clubhouses, restaurant and bars, and professional instructors.