By Mitchell Platts
David J Russell is looking forward to regaining the French Riviera Masters title when the European Senior Tour event is played for a third successive time at the Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort in the south of France on October 3-5.
Russell captured the title in 2012 with scores of 69 and 74 followed by eight birdies in a brilliant best-of-the-week closing 65 before overcoming American Tim Thelen in a play-off for his third success on French soil, following wins in the 1992 Lyon Open V33 on The European Tour International Schedule and with Peter Baker in The European Tour approved 1994 Tournoi Perrier de Paris.
Russell, who celebrated his 60th birthday on May 2, finished tied 32nd in 2013 when Australian Peter Fowler captured the prestigious title with a superb last round 66 to win by three from Spain’s Santiago Luna and Scotland’s Andrew Oldcorn.
“In a way it all began for me on French soil so I was absolutely delighted to be back at Terre Blanche this week to play the course ahead of the start of the 2014 European Senior Tour season and, of course, returning here for the French Riviera Masters in the autumn,” explained Russell.
“I had been a professional for ten years and a lot of my mates had quit prematurely without giving themselves a real chance. They were hard times, yes, very hard times, but if you really want something you must be willing to keep working for it. And who would want to swap a life of playing golf for a living for anything else? So I kept working and working because I wanted to make a success of my day job.
“Then at the French Open in 1983 I finished 65-69 and although I lost a play-off to Nick Faldo at La Boulie that was unquestionably the turning point for me. Until then my best finish on the Tour had been eighth. I was 28 years old and I had never won enough money to finish high enough in the then Order of Merit to enjoy exempt status.
“I played with Seve (Ballesteros) in that last round. I remember standing on the first tee next to him and starting to shake. I mean really shake. My hands were trembling so much I was frightened I wouldn’t be able to peg the ball up. It was a relief to see it just sitting on the tee. It was only when I gripped the club hard that my hands stopped shaking. But once we were away I loved it.
“I had fun playing that final round with Seve. I outscored him by two and I left Versailles knowing that the dark days were behind me even if a tad disappointed by losing the play-off to Nick.”
David J Russell giving a masterclass to members of the media and other guests at Terre Blanche this week (Photo by Phil Inglis)
Russell, who captured his first European Tour title two years later, is now also Chairman of the European Senior Tour Board of Directors and he is eager to win again especially following his milestone 60th birthday.
“It’s another challenge for me which is the way it has been since I really became interested in the game after swapping a football and two tennis bats for a golf club with a school pal,” added Russell. “I was hooked then and I’ve loved the game ever since. Coming here to Terre Blanche has really whetted my appetite for the season ahead.
“There will be many challenges and trying to regain the French Riviera Masters at Terre Blanche will be one of them. The Château course on which we play the tournament is already in great shape and all the guys will be looking forward to being here in October.
“It’s a particularly demanding golf course especially off the tee. You need to drive well to position the ball in the right places on the fairways to have control of the ball hitting into the greens because of the undulating nature of the course. What’s more it has one of the strongest collections of par threes you are ever likely to come across – each one of them gets your attention!”
Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort, part of the expanding development of European Tour Properties which number 13 at this time, of which eight are currently hosting Tour competition, is located in the foothills of the Southern Alps and combines the charm and character of Provence with the chic of the Côte d’Azur with Cannes, Nice and St Tropez only a short drive away.
Andy Stubbs, Managing Director of the European Senior Tour, said: “This will be the fifth edition of the Senior Tour event in the south of France initiated by the friendship of Marc Farry and Frederic Dubois, who is the promoter of the French Riviera Masters, and a desire to re-create a tournament in this location.
“Marc won the first edition at Cannes-Mougins in 2010 followed by Juan Quiros before we moved to Terre Blanche. We acknowledge also the support of Ryder Cup France in helping to make this one of the leading tournaments on the European Senior Tour.”
The late Dave Thomas, a four-time Ryder Cup player who twice finished runner-up in The Open Championship, designed both the Château course, on which the French Riviera Masters is played, and also a second, shorter course – Le Riou – which presents a thrilling test.
David MacLaren, The European Tour’s Director of Property and Venue Development, said: “We are especially proud of Terre Blanche being one of our Destinations and that they are celebrating their tenth Anniversary year after climbing from 18th to 14th in Golf World magazine’s prestigious Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe list.
“European Tour Properties set out to create a network of globally recognised venues located in key strategic golf markets. The quality of the challenge for all players is paramount and both courses offer excellent tests at Terre Blanche where there is also a wide range of high quality real estate opportunities.”
Jean-Jacques Rivet (centre) joined by international media and other guests at Terre Blanche (Photo by Phil Inglis)
The Château course is a superb legacy of Thomas’s outstanding skills as an innovative course designer showcasing his huge respect of the landscape, its lakes and valleys, ravines and woodlands. His subtle use of spectacular water hazards makes for an invigorating examination in the sumptuous surroundings with inspirational views from the pine and oak-lined rolling fairways of medieval Provenςal villages and the imposing Southern Alps.
What further characterises Terre Blanche, where the opportunity exists to build a villa and become a member of a quite unique resort, are the astonishing facilities. The 64-bay two-tiered driving range, known as the Albatros Golf Performance Center, became in 2012 the first European Tour Performance Institute and is also home to the ‘Biomecaswing Performance Centre’ and the renowned David Leadbetter Academy under head professional Alain Alberti, coach to Raphaël Jacquelin, the Terre Blanche touring professional, Alexander Levy and other European Tour players.
The ‘Biomecaswing Performance Centre’ is managed by Jean-Jacques Rivet, Applied Biomechanics Specialist, physiotherapist and accomplished athlete, and where tailor-made programmes enable golfers of all levels to perfect their swings by combining scientific knowledge of biomechanics with modern technology.
Indeed in 2013 Fowler visited Jean-Jacques Rivet at the start of the week because he was seeking a solution to his swing problems and four days later he left Terre Blanche as the French Riviera Masters champion.
Russell added: “I played with Peter the week before in Russia and there was absolutely no chance of him contending at Terre Blanche. That visit unquestionably transformed his game that week. I’ve also taken on board some advice from Jean-Jacques this week and so for me the season cannot start soon enough.”
David J Russell gets to grip with Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Resort