I played in a pro-am with Ryder Cup captains… this is what it was like

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley plays in the MCB Tour Championship pro am

It’s hard to pinpoint the most surreal moment from playing in the Legends Tour’s season finale. Is it hitting balls on the range and for Paul McGinley to shuffle into the next ‘bay’ and start his own warm-up?

Is it chatting to Thomas Bjorn as you wait for your omelettes to be prepared at the hotel breakfast? Is it putting the world to rights on the transfer bus back to the airport while sitting next to Joakim Haegmann and his fellow former Ryder Cup player Steven Richardson? 

Or is it finding yourself having a post-round drink on the balcony of Jarmo Sandelin’s room and chewing over the future of the game. 

OK fine, it’s Jarmo. It’s always Jarmo.

But the others, I think you’ll agree, are not normal either – and these are far from isolated incidents. 

Take for instance my first experience of the Legends Tour, when I was fortunate to be paired with German Thomas Gogele. As we drove down the first fairway in our buggy he said “do you go to the gym often? We were in there together yesterday”.

Thomas Gogele plays in the MCB Tour Championship pro am

Why wouldn’t a Tour player remember doing his elaborate stretching and lifting regime alongside this buffoon struggling through a chest routine still slightly the worse for wear from the previous night?! TBH, my hungover struggles are probably why he remembered me, but the point is still valid.

Mention of hotels and gyms means by now you will have realised this is not a normal Pro-Am experience. It really isn’t. It’s located in Mauritius, at Constance Belle Mare Plage, ranked by Golf World at No.23 in its Top 100 Golf Resorts in the World.

Bell Mare Plage in Mauritius

The second key thing to note is that Pro-Ams are much more integrated into Legends Tour (formerly known as the European Seniors Tour) than on the DP World Tour. On the main circuit, there will be a Pro-Am on the Wednesday and that’s the last the pros see of their amateurs.

On the Legends Tour, the amateurs can play all the way to Sunday!

It’s the idea of Ryan Howsam, founder of StaySure travel insurance, who added the seniors circuit to his portfolio of assets and rebranded it as the Legends Tour. Amateurs can sign up to play in one-off events or a series of them (the Alliance) and always be paired McGinley, Bjorn, Haegmann, Michael Campbell, Paul Lawrie et al at high-calibre courses such as Rosapenna and for 2023, Trump Aberdeen. The grand finale is traditionally in Mauritius in December.

The glamour (and my humblebragging) doesn’t stop there though. As well as booking yourself in to play with a Ryder Cup player or a Major champion, you can also set yourself up for a round alongside a celebrity.

Their series finale (if they win a standard event on the schedule, they reach the final) is also in the Indian Ocean, at either Constance Belle Mare Plage or its sister resort Lemuria in the Seychelles.

Robbie Fowler and Chris Bertram at the MCB Tour Championship pro am

This is where things arguably gets even more surreal. The list of celebrities is really good (gone are the days of Ronnie Corbett et al): Robbie Fowler, Gavin Hastings and Teddy Sheringham were among those from the world of sport and TV’s Dan Walker and ex-Boyzone star Keith Duffy from entertainment. You tend to think they’ll be sheltered away from the rest of us, but that’s not the case…

We did a Covid test on arrival at Belle Mare Plage alongside Sheringham and family, and chatted to him numerous times throughout the week – from his beach lounger to the bar. 

Hastings would regularly come over for a chat at breakfast (TBF he had good opportunity as we would spend 90 minutes over several courses at this immense buffet affair) to debrief on the previous day’s golf and what lay in store today.

And then there is Fowler, a Liverpool legend but who acted as much like an enthusiastic amateur to be part of the whole thing as any of us. He was another gym buddy, and it was fun to see a guy who was an England striker and is an icon of one of the world’s biggest clubs has to dig deep on a treadmill as he approaches 50 just like the rest of us.

Fowler should have won the celebrity event in 2021 but hit his approach to the 18th in water, thinking he needed a birdie when a par would have got the job done. That meant Duffy took the prize and he celebrated with enthusiasm that evening…

There was no celebrating for me despite having excellent partners in a couple of German golf nuts – they were both rock-solid amateurs – as well as Gogele and then Englishman Paul Wesselingh.

Gogele especially was a delight to play alongside, a lovely ball-striker and a thoughtful, engaging character with an interest in many topics beyond golf (but also very interested in course architecture).

I played very poorly for a few holes on the front nine and the quirky Links course at Belle Mare Plage while using hired clubs and while playing with a Tour pro isn’t especially the place to try to find your game. It is actually a horrible place to find yourself, especially with everyone else in the group playing competent golf. But Gogele couldn’t have been more encouraging and the back nine turned out to be a huge thrill as I played some half-decent stuff and he was patently loving the transformation in my golf.

We have stayed in touch and that round is a treasured memory for me. The whole environment does help of course – the Indian Ocean in December, with shorts, suncream and a cooler of drinks does help. 

Belle Mare Plage is the perfect venue for the week, with two 18-hole courses and a lot of rooms spread out along the truly epic white-sand beach. The Links is the No.2 course, routed on undulating land between piles of black volcanic rock and with more than a little funkiness to it.

Thomas Bjorn plays in the MCB Tour Championship pro am

The Legend is regarded as the top course in the Indian Ocean, set down over relatively flat land with a lovely spell towards the end where the ocean comes into play. Water features are a regular companion throughout and I am always thankful it has been widened through the clearing of shrubs and trees to make it a playable, fun experience. Both are in superb nick.

The resort itself is indubitably sensationally good, starting with a peerless location that is just completely dreamy. Add on to that wonderful food – the buffet restaurant Le Citron was our favourite because the choice was sensational but the a la carte options are also fabulous – and a superb spa, and you’ve got all you need for the week-of-a-lifetime.

The Mauritians are wonderful hosts too and elevate the whole thing. Their natural personality seems relaxed but attentive, illustrated by the gym’s trainer Steven. He is so keen to help, he will chip in with little tips on how to get the most of weights routine you’re doing and before you know it you’ve essentially had a personal training session – for free.

No-one has ever felt short-changed from a trip to Belle Mare Plage and while the setting is its biggest attraction, those little things live in the memory just as long.

Chris Bertram's team in the MCB Tour Championship pro am

Fancy playing yourself?

Enter the Legends Tour Alliance Series gives you a minimum of three rounds of golf (two competitive rounds) with accommodation included across all packages with prices ranging from £6,000. Call 0333 0068025.

For more details on Belle Mare Plage – or just to gaze at more dreamy pictures – visit www.constancehotels.com


Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor

Chris Bertram is the Golf World Top 100 Editor.

He was born and brought up in Dumfriesshire and has been a sports journalist since 1996, initially as a junior writer with National Club Golfer magazine.

Chris then spent four years writing about football and rugby union for the Press Association but returned to be Editor and then Publisher of NCG before joining Golf World and Today’s Golfer as Senior Production Editor.

He has been freelance since 2010 and when he is not playing and writing about the world’s finest golf courses, he works for BBC Sport.

A keen all-round sportsman, Chris plays off 11 – which could be a little better if it wasn’t for hilariously poor lag putting which has to be seen to be believed.

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