The folks behind Rhône-Alpes tourism saved the best for last at The 2012 Multi-Nationalities Media Golf Tournament.
After opening the event with a round at the professional class Lyon Golf Club, and suffering through a rain-out and a mere practice round at the charming Saint Clair Golf Club, the tour concluded at the Evian Masters.
The weary tournament players took up residence at the luxurious and elite Hotel Royal. I can say with confidence that my room patio’s combined view of Lake Geneva, the French Alps, Switzerland and a helicopter pad will remain the most unique I’ll enjoy for some time.
Proudly announced as the home of one of the four major tournaments on the LPGA tour, designers built the Evian Masters into foothills nestled between Lake Geneva on its lower levels and the Alps on its higher reaches.
We started the final day of the tournament at the Evian Masters Training Center – easily the most impressive gold educational facility I’ve seen on a private course. Literally every aspect of the game can be refined at the center. There are multiple driving ranges to work on woods, long irons and shorter shots both off a tee and off grass. There are multiple putting greens and a bunker range near greens allowing golfers to work on their up and downs.
But, the most impressive part of the training center has to be the four hole mini-course players can use to tune up for their day’s round. The short run features exact replicas of the first four holes on the actual Evian Masters course – laid out very close to the exact same altitude, positioning and interrelation with each other.
After taking a run at the four-hole warmup, the reporters retired to the Evian Masters clubhouse for a lunch buffet before joining into our foursomes and heading to the first tee. En route, I had one thought: “Some people work in an office every day.”
Little did I know how hard the Evian Masters would make me labor before the day and the round was over. It is a idyllically beautiful, but cruelly unforgiving golf course – as any set of 18 hosting a professional major should be. It’s long and unrelentingly hilly. Since the course is essentially built into the side of a modest mountain, the holes that don’t run up and down hill instead run at a perpetual horizontal angle. As a result, I don’t remember a shot in which I didn’t have to adjust my stance or grip to overcome some kind of an angle addressing the ball.
In truth, the Evian Masters is too difficult a course to be challenged by an average golfer. There’s just nowhere to make a mistake and live. If you can keep the ball reasonably straight with average distance, you can survive – but you won’t score well. If you’re a once a month duffer, stay home.
The course teaches respect for the professional ladies who play here. Not only must every shot be on target, but the terrain demands top shelf fitness from every player.
The resulting round that day offered inspiring views, perfect weather and great gulps of fresh mountain air. Thanks to a team effort between my Scottish, French and Danish partners, a thick, buttery layer of profanity also seasoned the course’s rougher stretches. The fact that the previous day’s rain made carts impossible only added to the late round fatigue and short tempers.
As for how the day went overall, and considering the dramatic setting of the Evian course, I’m going to borrow from a classic Deep Purple song to set the scene:
“We all came up to Evian
on the Lake Geneva shoreline
to play golf for the tourney.
We didn’t have much time.
Me and all the reporters
were at the best place around.
But someone stupid with a nine iron
burned the course to the ground.”
“Balls in the water...
Swear words in the sky...”
Flowery prose aside, the Evian Masters did serve up the one endearing golfing memory I’ll take from the tournament. I birdied the second hole. Let me repeat that: I birdied the second hole on a professional major golf course.
A wonderfully designed effort, Hole 2 at Evian is a par 3 featuring a cliff top tee overlooking a green about 100 yards below. The trick is to pop the tee shot high into the air and drop it on the small green down the cliffside. If you under hit, you end up in a small pond at the cliff’s base. If you over hit, you’ll roll off the green and into un-hittable downhill rough.
I chose my lofted sand wedge and took a full swing. I knew I hit it well and froze in place as I watch the ball descend and hit the green like a comet striking the moon. There was a splash of residual rain and the ball hopped once briefly before resting with a plop two feet from the pin.
After fixing my ball mark from the straight descent impact my ball took to the putting surface, I stood over a nerve-rattling two-footer for birdie.
When I started the three day tournament coverage, I mentioned I wandered away from golf after my father and playing partner died six years ago. I picked it up again just in time for this French event. I hope to God my Dad was watching when I tapped in that birdie putt in the shadow of the Alps.
That night, as we enjoyed post tournament dinner and drinks, I knew I would not take home any trophy. I finished somewhere in the middle of the pack – as I hoped. The young lady from South Korea took first prize with her limited distance of dead straight control.
But more important than any score card were the friendships made and the memories captured during our golf contest through France’s Rhône-Alpes.