The Brit making his Mark at Mougins.
The Honours Board was the first aspect of Cannes-Mougins Golf Club to impress me on my first visit, invited some years ago by a fortunate and well-endowed friend.
The vainqueurs of the European Open were an impressive bunch, chief among them Seve (’87), Greg Norman (’83), Ian Woosnam (’94). But as the winner’s sub-par total over the years reached the embarrassing (for the course) 20s, the show left town for longer tracks with bigger prize pots.
Bathing in the prestige of hosting a big tour event is something that all the members of this rather special golf club long to enjoy again. If any man can deliver on this and all the other aspects of a successful golf club, it’s the new director general, Mark Vickery.
Mark is a rare beast, and the headhunter who found him deserves his fee. The 52-year-old former European Tour card holder combines a scratch game with the business and people skills required to operate at the top level. His management pedigree features some gorgeous golf courses with some demanding owners – Lord March at Goodwood, and in Barbados the Rooney family at Royal Westmoreland and Dermott Desmond at Sandy Lane. Now Mark, working for his first members’ club, has hit the jackpot with 500 owners, all of them the sort of people who are used to having their opinions listened to with reverence.
“Cannes-Mougins is unique among the Côte d’Azur courses, the only one owned by entirely by its members,” says Mark. “The number of shareholders has been limited to 500, and members who move away or no longer play the game are entitled to sell on their shareholding.”
The owner-players of Cannes-Mougins are privileged in many ways. The course itself is a pretty tough test of golf in an exceptional setting. Although only 15 minutes from the centre of Cannes, the parcours is cradled in the magnificent forest of the Valmasque, a protected woodland of outstanding beauty. Here you will not find yourself distracted by fairway-side villa owners gawping at you from their swimming pool.
You play up one side of a delightful valley and back down the other, taking in as you do what Mark calls Cannes-Mougins’ Amen Corner: holes 12 (sharp dogleg left, approach over water just in front of the well-bunkered green), 13 (fiendish drive that tempts the faint-hearted to go for the shortest option over the water – leaving their second shot blocked by a mighty tree), and 14 (two big straight hits then a lofted shot over water to what appears from the fairway to be a narrow sliver of a green).
The clubhouse and surrounds are a charming rendition of traditional Provencal architecture. The facilities it houses are backed up by a full complement of staff, outside there are four caddy masters to keep the members’ clubs and trolleys shining, and if you leave your shoes in the vestiaires they will be polished to a standard that puts Augusta to shame.
Feeling peckish out on the course? Stop off at what the new director general calls “the best halfway hut outside Sunningdale” to restore depleted energy with the tastiest bangers to the south of Alsace.
The membership is split evenly between French and foreign players, with a fair sprinkling of Brits among them. Within days of taking up his new post Mark Vickery had hit on a plan to approach the future of Cannes-Mougins on the basis of the broadest possible consensus.
“The Board gave their approval to the making of a short film, introduced by the club’s president, that sets out three options for the future direction of the club,” says Mark. “This has been emailed to all members along with a simple method of voting for their chosen option. I thought that the members would find this easier to digest than a pile of paper bumf sent through the post that is easily ignored, and the response we are getting seems to confirm this.
“The options cover retaining the status quo, investment in a major upgrade of the club’s facilities and what approach to take towards the pricing and number of green fees and related topics. This way every member has his or her say in the future of this great club.”
The members may be applauding Mark’s vision and energy, but how does their French half of the membership react to having a Brit at the helm for the first time? “It doesn’t seem to be a problem,” says Mark. “ I speak French – both my children were born here – and I think that has made a big difference.”
The Reporter will be revisiting Cannes-Mougins in the autumn (2014) to see how the members’ chosen strategy is going. Mark Vickery may have the correct approach, but can he really square the circle that inevitably exists in a club which includes opposites such as:
• The local member who plays at least twice a week and doesn’t mind paying a bit extra in his sub if it means keeping the damned green fee players off the first tee at his favourite time. And … the Swede who comes for a couple of months in the summer, plays half a dozen rounds and is quite happy to see an increase in green fees to pay for better facilities so he doesn’t have to delve into his own pocket.
• The northern European golfer who is used to the formality, dress code and strict etiquette that applies at St Andrews. And … the relaxed Frenchman of the Midi who wants to play in a less straightened environment.
In the meantime we wish Mark and his team bonne chance.