Club Med Still Swinging, but in a Different Way

Tyler is a free-lance writer living in Burlingame, Calif .

Gone are the pop beads for barter at the bar, the lovable old tradition of bedroom doors without locks, the silly camp songs with the yahoo yells.

Club Med, that worldwide network of sporty vacation villages, turns 40 this spring. It is fast shedding its swinging image and is taking on a conservative look.

It now has its own credit card and gives you a room key at check in.

It even has taken up golf.

Here in the hills behind Cannes on the French Riviera is its newest club, Opio. A sprawling, 500-room, terra-cotta-colored complex with red-tile roofs, it reflects the current passion for golf in continental Europe.

Although only nine holes (a separate 18-hole course will be constructed in the summer), the course is as pretty as a post card, spilling down a series of terraces among olive-tree orchards and fields of fragrant lavender.

And it is free to play--a powerful attraction in France, where greens fees average $45.

At almost any American resort (as traveling golfers know only too well), hackers and beginners know no shame when venturing onto a golf course, no matter how crowded play may become behind them. But here at Opio that couldn't happen.

Beginners, or debutants as they're called here, must prove that they can at least propel the ball forward before being allowed on the course.

All day long and into the night they swarm over a practice range, cajoled, coerced, coddled all the while by a team of roving instructors.

Buckets of practice balls are free, as are clubs and lessons. The more serious-minded splinter off for clinics in the short game and in putting.

At what by American time would be the cocktail hour they gather dutifully at the clubhouse for lectures in golf rules and etiquette.

When they do graduate to the course (which for some smarties happens as soon as the first day), they tee off mats of protective astroturf (can't dig up the new grass, you know) and are reminded by the starter to move briskly along.

Indeed, one of the favorite competitions here involves playing the course in 10 minutes or less (a feat accomplished by relay teams).

Young debutants are also catered to. Youths at Opio have their own course, range, putting green and teacher. Vive la difference!

Besides golf, the club offers indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis, a gym, biking, fax machines and an arts and crafts workshop, where making perfume is one of the things taught. And for $10 you can carry your concoction home in a bottle sporting your own private label.

Eating, however, is probably the favorite attraction. Copious buffets are offered three times a day. As a special concession to golfers, who tend to get so engrossed in the sport that they forget to eat at regular hours, lunch is served at the clubhouse until 5 p.m.

To stay at the new golfing resort village at Opio costs about $115 a day per person, double occupancy (room, sports and meals included), or $150 for a single. Otherwise, true to the old club ways, you can be doubled up with a roommate. For more information, call toll-free (800) CLUB MED.

Easiest way to get to Opio is via Paris, connecting to Nice and onward 18 miles to the club by taxi, bus or rental car.

From spring through early fall one airline offers a weeklong Opio package with round-trip fare from Los Angeles or San Francisco and a drive-yourself car waiting at Nice.

Opio is a tiny place--just a church and a town hall. The nearest bona fide town, and a cobblestoned charmer, is Valbonne. Both are within easy walking distance of the club.

Nineteen of the club's 110 resorts in 32 countries at present offer golf--most at "outside" courses. Following the example set by Opio, at least 10 new clubs featuring golf are planned.

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