Clark Dennis was a little dubious about making the long-haul journey for the final fortnight of his 2018 golf season.
The 52-year-old Texan had enjoyed an excellent sophomore campaign on the Staysure Tour (the European senior circuit), but as the year wound down so, it seemed, was his form and his swing.
Three starts on the PGA Tour Champions (best finish T-40) had failed to ignite, and he was unsuccessful in his quest to earn a 2019 PGA Tour Champions card at qualifying school. Dennis found himself peering ahead to a close-season spent addressing his flaws.
“I was not hitting the ball well at all,” he admitted.
The prospect of flying halfway round the world (Dallas Forth Worth-London Heathrow-Dubai-Mauritius) had him wondering about the sense of it as the aeroplane on that final leg began its descent.
“Then we arrived, looked at each other, and said: ‘Oh yeah, it was worth it.’”
In the first instance, that change of heart was a simple response to the surroundings: His family had arrived at a beautiful hotel, on a paradise island, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. In the second, he didn’t know it then, but aided by a swing tip sent across the internet by eldest son Will and an expert job on the bag from youngest son Philip, he was about to go bogey-free through the 54 holes of the MCB Tour Championship-Mauritius and win the event by a record-equalling eight shots. That, too, justified the effort.
And in the third instance, it was further evidence that the decision to embark on a Staysure Tour adventure – to move beyond his golf and personal comfort zone – was absolutely worth it. In that sense the doubts ahead of this fortnight (the Staysure Tour’s season finale, the Indian Ocean Swing, will be completed with this week’s MCB Tour Championship-Seychelles) was like his European senior career in microcosm: take a chance, hang tough, trust the family, grasp every opportunity, claim the win; something he has now done four times in two seasons.
For a golfer who had brief moments of promise on the main tour – tied sixth at the 1994 U.S. Open, twice tied third on the PGA Tour (including the Hawaiian Open; he has a fondness for isolated tropical islands) – this is something of an Indian (Ocean) Summer for Dennis. His willingness to travel has not gone unnoticed.
Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA Championship winner, has been in contact for advice, whilst Kirk Triplett is in correspondence with the Tour about Q-School in the New Year. Both men are aware of both the fierce competition on the PGA Tour Champions (its Q-School offers only five cards) and the options which lie elsewhere.
It is not just playing rights which Dennis has embraced. His wife Vicki has been a regular travel companion in the great cities of Europe; his three sons (history buffs all) have visited museums and sights of interest; and he has discovered, via the Legends Course at Constance Belle Mare Plage, a part of the world of which he says: “I’m not sure I knew it existed before, but I can safely say Mauritius is now one of my favourite places in the world.”
It is not only Dennis but the wider golfing world which is learning more about golf on this small island 600 miles east of Madagascar, 3,600 miles west of Australia and 2,400 miles south of Sri Lanka.
Throughout the 1990s and early years of the 21st century, the island was something of an underground end-of-season destination for touring professionals. A series of invitational events were particular popular with French, British and South African players, but it took some effort to learn the results. Dedicated golf nuts were intrigued by stories of courses which sneaked through jungle before emerging on golden beaches, but in reality little was known of them beyond whispers.
The turning point in the golfing evolution of the island came with the creation of the Staysure Tour’s MCB Open in 2010. Within three years it had expanded into the end-of-year Tour Championship. The host course (Legends) is a tight and testing challenge that has produced quality winners, the likes of David Frost, Tom Lehman, Colin Montgomerie, Barry Lane and Thaworn Wiratchant.
Buoyed by the tournament’s success, the European Tour and the island’s golf community branched out onto the main tour, creating the AfrAsia Bank Masters, further exposing Mauritian golf courses to the world’s attention.
Now comes the expansion of the MCB Tour Championship into the Indian Ocean Swing. The steps are still small, but they are beginning, like the journey of Clark Dennis, to be noticed.