Ahead of this week’s Omega European Masters, europeantour.com explores the longstanding host venue, the stunning Golf Club Crans-sur-Sierre, with the help of former winner and Crans Montana resident Sergio Garcia.
Garcia this week makes his first appearance at the event in nine years but holds an impressive record in his four previous starts at Crans-sur-Sierre, having finished third and fourth as well as his victory in 2005.
The 35 year old Castellon native arrives in the Swiss Alps on the back of another good outing in a Major Championship, having finished tied sixth on the Old Course in last week’s Open Championship.
“I played very well in tough conditions at St Andrews, it was a long week so I’m feeling a bit tired now, but I’m sure I’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” said the World Number Ten. “Hopefully, the course will play a little easier for us here and we can have a fun week!”
Golf in Crans Montana dates back to 1905, when Arnold Lunn, the owner of the Palace Hotel, suggested that the pastures to the west of the hotel would be perfectly suited for a golf course, after which British designers Freemantle and Gedge were appointed to map out the layout.
The front nine was finished in 1906, the back nine added in 1908 and while the course was left abandoned during the First World War, British architect Harry Nicholson remodelled much of the course in 1929 and it remained more or less untouched for the next 68 years.
Originally known as the Swiss Open, the tournament was first played here in 1939 and after a gap of eight years due to the Second World War it returned in 1948 and has been played every year since. Actually, the Omega European Masters is the only tournament that has been played at the same venue every year since The European Tour’s formation in 1972.
Fittingly, after joining Alex Ross, Auguste Boyer, Dai Rees and Harold Henning as a three-time winner of the event, the legendary Spaniard Seve Ballesteros made wholesale changes in the late nineties to make the course more testing for professional play, and since then scoring has proved tougher.
It must be the best view of the year.
At 6,848 yards and a par of 70, the course is not long by modern standards and features, as you would expect, great undulations plus a couple of driveable par fours.
“I think it’s a fun golf course but not a long course due to the altitude,” said Garcia. “The greens are not very big so if you are hitting your irons well you are going to give yourself a lot of birdie chances.
“But it’s tricky. The greens have quite a lot of movement around them on the edges, so you have to be in the right spots.
“If you can do that then you can make some good scores because the greens don’t break that much on the flats.”
Nestled amongst the craggy, snow-dusted peaks of the Valais Alps above the Swiss town of Sierre, Crans Montana is renowned for its beauty – a fact not lost on the world’s best golfers here this week.
“I absolutely always try to stop to admire the scenery,” Garcia reflected. “Pretty much on every hole you try to take it in, but especially on the seventh. It must be the best view of the year. It’s an amazing view, and it makes you realise that you’re lucky to be playing here. So you have to enjoy it.
“Every once in a while I will play here when I come to stay, but when I come here it’s more to relax than to practice or play golf. Plus I normally come in the winter, when the course is covered in snow. I do a bit of cross country skiing, but not too much downhill skiing because it’s too dangerous for me. Golf is much safer!”
Crans Montana itself breathes exclusivity, tranquillity and sport. Whether that is in the rows of high class boutique shops or the Hollywood-style ‘stars in the pavement’ – which awards a plaque in the ground for each and every winner of the Omega European Masters on the road leading up to the golf course – or the postcard chalets, the town is an Alpine paradise.
Renowned in the winter as a world-class skiing destination, with more than 140km of pistes across the resort, the town remains the hub for outdoor activity in the summer months both in terms of hiking, mountain biking and, of course, golf.
Despite his primary residence still being in his native Spain, Garcia has for a number of years owned a house in Crans Montana – bought during the period when he was dating tennis star Martina Hingis, so this week will also bring with it some home comforts.
“I’m staying there this week, of course,” Garcia continued. “It’s only 100m from the course, so it’s really convenient. I come here as often as I can, the last time was three weeks ago.
“It definitely feels a bit like coming home; it’s great to be able to sleep in my own bed every night. Obviously I’m very proud to be Spanish and that was always be home, but I do feel a little bit Swiss – although I definitely need to improve my French!
“The first time I came here I fell in love with the place, it’s so beautiful and I always feel relaxed when I’m here. It just seemed like a good fit, and I’m very happy I made the decision to buy here.
“As well as the scenery, the food here is also great, so I always have such a nice time whenever I’m here.”
When’s the barbecue, Sergio?
At almost 5,000ft above sea level and in the warm, thin, summer air of late July, the ball can travel up to ten to 15 per cent further which, although sounding rather beneficial to the amateur hacker, can in fact present a challenge for the dialled-in professionals.
“It’s totally different to last week, that’s for sure,” continued Garcia. “The weather is fine and the ball is going absolutely miles here compared to going nowhere last week in Scotland.
“That makes it a bit tricky in terms of choosing clubs, calculating distances and yardages you hit here because it is further than pretty much anywhere else in the world.”
The date change
Traditionally, the Omega European Masters has been hosted in late August or early September but has this year flipped to its mid-summer spot – a move Garcia says was a factor in his return.
“The date helped me to come back,” revealed Garcia. “Pretty much as simple as that. I enjoy playing here and the house helps but in its original date it was against the FedEx Cup in America so that made it tricky, but it’s great to have been able to return.”
Meanwhile, Garcia’s Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood is also back in Crans this week for the first time since 2011 and agrees that the new spot on the calendar is favourable.
“It’s such a great place here, especially at this time of year,” said the former World Number One, who won the event back in 1999 after a final day battle with Thomas Bjorn.
“The change of date is a very good move, and the course looks in great condition. They’ve made a few changes to the place since I was last here in 2011, most notably to the par three 13th. But they haven’t tampered too much with Seve’s redesign. The course was a lot easier before Seve made his changes, the greens were much softer and the scoring was very low. You don’t get 20 under par winning round here any more – it’s been more like ten to 15 under in recent years.
“So it’s quite a stern test these days, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”