Golf: Riviera de Barbossi, on course for a renaissance

Riviera de Barbossi

He's too modest to welcome the comparison, but Nuno Bastos is, like his fellow countryman José Mourinho, The Special One.

This particular Portuguese is the new director of golf at Riviera de Barbossi, the Robert Trent Jones Sr course that lies between Mandelieu and the Esterel mountains. Nuno, an open and likeable man, has a big job to do – pushing Riviera up into the Premier League of Côte d’Azur courses that has the likes of Taulane and Terre Blanche.

He’s only been in the post since the beginning of the summer, but he’s attacking on all fronts.

“There is much to be done,” says the 54-year-old as he sips coffee against the delightful mountain backdrop of Riviera’s restaurant terrace. And we have started …

“We are improving the course drainage, renewing the irrigation system, and improving the bunkers. We have appointed a head greenskeeper who is a qualified agronomist to oversee the works, because it is a specialised business.

“The clubhouse and restaurant are being altered as we need to create more of the atmosphere of a traditional golf club.

“Most of all we will be striving to attract new players to the course. Golf in the South of France has become enormously competitive. Not so long ago a green fee here cost €120. That is just not realistic these days.

“Now we have reduced the prices. We are offering special packages of golf and accommodation using the Ermitage du Riou (a charming 40-room hotel on the riverside at La Napoule, part of the Domaine Barbossi), but because that is quite a small hotel we have started working with other establishments in Cannes.”

There are a lot of add-ons in the wonderful world of Barbossi. Wine tastings tickle your fancy? Come and share a glass with Tino, who runs the Barbossi vineyard next to the course. Anyone for tennis? The Barbossi courts are at your disposal.

In Nuno’s impressive brain, it’s all part of a grand plan – that’s right, it’s hard not to keep making comparisons with the current Chelsea coach. But the man is used to grand plans. He was at the birth of what has become in no time one of the world’s great golf courses, Oitavos Dunes on the Lisbon Coast, working with the dashing Miguel Champalimaud to create a venue that has, according to Paul McGinley, the potential to become the best golf course in Europe.

Nuno moved on to a very different golf project, the impressive Aphrodite Hills resort course between Paphos and Akrotiri in Cyprus.

“It was great to be part of the success of Aphrodite Hills. By the time I left we were having 40,000 rounds a year, and the golf staff had grown to 45. At Riviera Barbossi, I am aiming for 25,000 rounds within two years.

“To achieve this we must change our ways radically. We need to attract new members, a new sort of player.”

Riviera Barbossi got off to a flying start when it opened in the early Nineties. The canny developer had sold golf club memberships as part of the package to people buying the new villas that discreetly border part of the course. Instantly there was a large and lively group of members and the club’s reputation grew, attracting green fees in good numbers to boost income.

But with a change of ownership came a decline, until the Franco-Lebanese millionaire Iskandar Safa became the new Barbossi boss. He may have the lowest of low profiles, but Mr Safa has been responsible for giving the golf course a unique look. Sculptures drawn from a kaleidoscope of artistic taste, some of them gigantic, litter the course. In play, I find them unnerving at times – half a ton of twisted steel girder reminds me of how my stomach feels when I miss a short putt. But there they sit, and there they will stay, I guess.

Nuno talks of making the course a bit longer, presumably to attract pro events, but it’s quite a test already, with some difficult holes interspersed with what head pro François Lamare calls "fun" holes – teasers that invite you to play the drive in a variety of ways.

Nuno Bastos“I am aiming for 25,000 rounds within two years.” Nuno Bastos

Those who have not played Riviera for some time will be pleased by the way the order of holes has changed. The former first, an interesting par 5, is now the third, with the old 17th and 18th holes being 1st and 2nd respectively. This makes for a much more satisfying experience, closing with the superb par 5 to the west of the clubhouse lake.

And here’s a challenge for you: no course record has yet been set for the new layout. Get practising!

The last word goes to Nuno, a guy who, underneath the engaging exterior, I suspect is used to having the last word. A guy who has a lot on his plate, not the least of which is keeping his 12 handicap while working his nuts off.

“I want to make the South of France a destination for international golfers in the way that Portugal now is. I am not alone, the Palais des Festivals in Cannes has started an initiative to promote our golf to players from overseas.

“They have brought together 11 golf courses and 40 hotels to offer exciting packages to these golfers. Can you imagine how difficult it is to get all those different elements working together?

“They really mean business.”

Blaze Breaker!

The Riviera Barbossi course played an important part in saving a swathe of residential homes in Mandelieu from being engulfed by flames during the last big forest fire in the area.

On the evening of July 4th, 2007, a car caught fire on the hard shoulder of the A8 motorway a few kilometres west of the Mandelieu exit. Strong winds swept the flames across the A8 and within minutes trees by the side of the motorway were ablaze. Fanned by the wind, the fire surged out of control down the valley of the Argentière river towards Mandelieu.

More than a thousand residents in west Mandelieu were evacuated and, although much damage was done to vegetation, very few homes were affected by this large-scale fire. Why? Because the wide fairways of Riviera Barbossi acted as a superb firebreak.

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