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A Rewarding Course of Action

Online gambling company LadbrokesCasino.com tees off with a five-star trip golfing trip to southern Spain for their VIP players. And luckily, there was a spare set of clubs for GOM editor Carl Friedmann.

It seems rather incongruous to speak of playing blackjack or craps in an online casino and taking in southern Spain’s bucolic La Cala golf resort from its outdoor Jacuzzi in the same breath. But leave it to Ladbrokes Casino (Ladbrokescasino.com) to make sense out of it. Simply put, members of the Ladbrokes Casino VIP Club, and a handful of loyal players and competition winners (and their guests, of course) were whisked off to Malaga in late September to soak up some much-needed sunshine and have the unique opportunity to get in some quality golf time with pros from the PGA Euro tour. The two-day pro-am event, the Ladbrokescasino.com Masters 2008, consisted of 15 teams each with three amateurs and one pro. The amateur talent ranged from ambitious scratch to anxious first-time, and the wardrobes also varied from predictable smart-casual to carnival chic. And with the exception of a couple of three-putt tantrums, sportsmanship on the aggressively hilly course was commendable, especially when people took in the bigger picture of where they were, with whom they had the privilege of playing and, of course, how they got there in the first place.

Since the company started over 100 years ago, Ladbrokes has always known the value of customer service and the fact that business survival depends on it. And with their 21st-century dominance online, across casino, poker and sportsbetting, they’ve held true to that mantra. But they always seem to find ways to outdo themselves and these VIP trips speak of a new effort to go beyond customer expectation.

And so with flights, transfers and accommodations all provided—as well as clubs and golf spikes—we set off on Day 1 in a glorious golf-cart convoy to our respective holes to tee off. Of course, for those who were more inclined to treat the trip as a total escape, devoid of any obligation or necessity to chase a little white ball, La Cala became an oasis of spa treatments, saunas, steam rooms and long, loungy afternoons by the pool. Freedom of choice and movement was a fundamental theme. But for the rest of us who wanted to take strokes off our games, or develop a stroke in the first place, it was a great chance to take notes from some of the world’s best.

On the first day of the tournament, I was teamed up with fellow, but far more able, amateurs Clive Jeffrey and his younger brother Neil from Leicester. And our pro was Ireland’s Justin Kehoe from Birr in County Offaly, who birdied the first two holes of the morning. His game was entirely relaxed and a joy to watch, if frustrating as well considering how easy he made every shot look. My results were fluky throughout the day, including monster tee shots on 7 and 11, a good amount of scrapes looking for errant balls in thorny bushes, a couple of cracked patio tiles and a sublime bunker shot (although a bunker shot isn’t really anything to boast about, begging the question of how you got there in the first place). Neil, 44, and Clive, 47, having secured their spots on the trip as valued VIP Ladbrokes Casino customers, fared much better, with consistent tee shots, strategic wedge play and composed putting.

As the day went on and the shadows lengthened, we fueled up at the 10th with sandwiches, cubes of traditional Spanish tortilla and much needed hydration as the mid-afternoon sun continued to beat down on us. Justin, 28, continued his campaign for a complete round without a dropped shot. And once Day 1 came to a close, we all gathered at the club house (the eagerly awaited 19th hole) and the first beers of the day went down. Actually, some of the Ladbrokes event organisers, once again going above and beyond the call of expectation, loaded up one of the battery-operated carts with ice-cold cans of San Miguel and cruised around all 18 holes offering refreshment in between strokes.

But a sense of prestige wasn’t just contained to the golf course. Back at La Cala, Ladbrokes punters could take advantage of all the things that a five-star resort has to offer—from great meals served until midnight, tranquil, sweeping views from the room balconies, to tennis, massages and lively jaunts into town for some local flavour. All the while, no matter what activity (or inactivity) was indulged on, the fact people were here as a result of playing at Ladbrokes Casino only added to the palpable good-life vibe.

On Day 2, our early-morning tee time saw a few stragglers barely get in their carts and negotiate the path to their respective holes. But once the horn sounded and the first shots took to the air (or water, or brush in many cases), we were in for another great day of good times. I was once again teamed up with Neil and Clive but our new pro for the day was 36-year-old Barry Hume from Edinburgh. He was a tough nut to crack but we amateurs, driven by a collective sense of humour, were determined to see that he had a good time, despite how we—I—butchered his sport. To be fair, though, I did manage a bending 18-foot putt on 15 (the first of the day) and another couple of screaming tee shots: one on 14 (the last of the day) and one earlier on 6. When that latter one left the tee, Clive burst out with a celebratory “Usain Bolt!” Neil claimed it was 300 yards and I didn’t argue with him. (I actually ended up with par on that hole; 14 was a different story.) But Barry was having the proverbial shocker and I couldn’t but help feel we dragged his game down. In the end, he did claim it was the worst round of golf he ever played. “I’ve scored better at night,” he said. But with our infectious wit (nothing amateur about it), he was, at one stage on the fairway on 9, doubled-over, pealing with laughter. I’m not sure what set him off but golf aside, he enjoyed himself in the end.

When the golf finished and we all had time for a steam, shower, dip in the pool or nap, it was time to give this trip a proper send-off with a drinks reception, gala dinner and awards ceremony. The lush air was perfumed with jasmine and pine, and a cacophony of cicadas further reminded us that even though we were only a two-hour flight from home, we were in a completely different world; how we all got here further elevated the experience. And it indeed showed as everyone clinked glasses and recounted the spirited weekend. Despite everyone’s varied backgrounds, bankrolls or golf skills, the underlying thing they all had in common was the essential need for a hard-eared, pleasurable experience away from the ordinary and predictable. And Ladbrokes Casino recognised that delivered. And considering the success of this trip, the brains at Ladbrokes are cooking up the next tailor-made VIP package. So if you’re looking for an end result that will bring you to an exotic corner of the world, you know where to go first.
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