By Subash Bassant
Subash is the former President of the Mauritius Gymkhana Club, Founding Member of the Mauritius Turf Club, former President of the Mauritian Association of Entrepreneurs and the former Chairman of the National Library Board of Mauritius. He is an ex-Senior Civil Servant, worked as an HR Consultant, and was the Chairman and Managing Director of VIKS Enterprise Ltd.
Mauritius, previously a French colony known as Île-de-France, came under British rule in 1810. During their rule, the British Garrison set up their base and stationed their troops on the higher plateau of the Island in the district of Plaines Wilhems at Vacoas, amidst a vast wooden field with luxurious green vegetations and endemic plants. In 1902, the British used this location to set up a sports club to practise their favourite sport: polo. The Mauritius Naval and Military Gymkhana Club was first founded to serve as a Service Club for British officers posted on the Island in the first half of the nineteenth century between 1834 and 1849. This sports club, which was initially known as the Mauritius Naval and Military Gymkhana Club was eventually renamed the Mauritius Military Gymkhana Club.
In the late 1960`s, the Club was renamed the Mauritius Gymkhana Club (MGC). At this point in time, the Club was still managed by the British, even after Mauritius gained its independence in 1968. It was only in 1976 that the Royal Navy handed over the MGC to the first civilian committee. Until then, the Club President had always been the respective officer in charge of the troops based in Mauritius. Hence, the Club retained the values, ethics, courteousness, and gentlemen character required of its’ members like other old British Clubs. Similarly, on the sports side, the MGC has retained some of the old long-standing traditions such as the very famous classic Ireland golf tournament on 1st November each year, which had been started by Col. Ireland in 1931. We can proudly say here that the MGC is a legacy of the British after their departure.
From the Club records, it is estimated that the first golf tournament was organised on the grounds in 1844, which makes Mauritius the fourth country where competitive golf was officially played after Scotland, England and India. This also makes the Club the oldest golf club in the southern hemisphere and the fourth oldest golf course in the world.
The Club’s infrastructure has since been modernised with the addition of a new more spacious building and the reshaping of the greens to meet international standards. However, the design remained rather simple, as building constructed with corrugated iron. The Club house itself has been renovated several times; some people even refer to it as a mansion amidst a green garden.
The pride of the MGC is its golf course which spans 5.6 kilometres with a par of 68 yet remains a challenge for players, despite its’ short length, as precision and technical skills are required to navigate the tight course.
The course comprises of 18 holes of which 6 holes are par 3, two holes are par 5 and 10 holes are par 4. Hole 5 is the shortest at 132 metres while Hole 6 is the longest at 455 metres. There is also a Night Driving range, bunker and green for those wanting to practice at late hours or just to polish their skills. Apart from the usual rounds of golf played by members, the Club also organises a weekly Sunday tournament which is sponsored by top companies in Mauritius and is quite popular amongst club members.
Apart from the golf course, the Club has numerous other sports facilities for its members to enjoy. At the fitness centre, members can use the wide variety of equipment available at their own leisure and for their own training routines. Alternatively, they can also take tailor made courses with professional instructors. Some of the classes offered incudes Yoga, Muay Thai, Zumba, Spinning, HIIT Training, Abs Mix, Aqua Gym, Aerobic Dance, Stretching and Table Tennis. Members can also play billiards, darts, and squash. The Club has a heated pool for members of all ages to enjoy throughout the year as well as swimming classes provided by a professional swimming coach.
For tennis, the second most popular sporting activity after golf, the Club has a total of ten tennis courts two of which are floodlit clay courts while the remaining eight are grass courts which were laid in the early 1940’s and 1950’s. The MGC is proud to be the only club in the Indian Ocean to have grass tennis courts. Under the supervision of the Tennis Committee, several activities are organised including the “Ecole de Tennis” where different professional coaches offer paid training classes to adults and children.
The MGC is also home to a library which is more than a century old. Established by the British, the MGC library has over 13,000 books and magazines in both English and French for their members to borrow. Some of the books have been generously donated by the members, making it an ever-growing collection for all members to enjoy.
Other facilities which the club has includes rooms for meetings and parties used for both small and large events alike including parties and conferences. The Club also has its own car wash for members to use while using the other facilities of the Club.
The MGC has always taken pride in the fact that throughout its long history, it has always been a nonpolitical club where multiculturalism is widely accepted. It is a social club open to Mauritians of all cultures, creeds, religions and corporate bodies with the aim of making it a club of excellence. It is also a place where members, their families and guests come mainly to socialise through interactions with other members, eat, drink and above all, spend good quality time and relax.
The Club also provides facilities for expatriates and foreigners visiting the country and who are not Mauritian residents to be temporary members under certain conditions. As a long-established practice, Ambassadors and High Commissioners posted in Mauritius are privileged as Honorary Members during their whole stay in the country.
The Mauritius Gymkhana Club has many reciprocal arrangements with similar Gymkhana Clubs in Asia and Africa, allowing club members to visit their counterpart clubs worldwide in Australia, India, Kenya, Singapore, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
This is very useful as it gives an entry point in another country with similar history and tradition.
Today, the MGC remains as influential as it was when it was first started. Membership is highly coveted and to be associated with the Club is a sign of prestige. From a gentleman’s club, it has evolved into a family club where there is something for everyone.