Monaco: an extraordinary history of unusual sports
When you think of Monaco, you often think of the arts, shows and glamour. People often forget its strong historical connection to the world of sport – or rather sports, given the Principality’s extreme diverse sporting activities and achievements. Most people are familiar with Monaco’s ties to tennis or automobile racing, but are probably less aware of Monte-Carlo’s connection to more unusual sports.
Let’s start with the sport that is undoubtedly the most controversial from a present-day perspective: pigeon shooting. Back in 1872, a shooting range with the latest equipment was set up behind the Casino, thus offering a magnificent view of the sea. It drew the best shots from all over Europe and, just as with fox hunting in other regions, became a meeting place for European nobility, industrialists and other wealthy foreigners.
Live pigeons were used until 1960, which were then replaced by robot pigeons. The sport gradually fell out of fashion and the shooting range was demolished in 1972.
Today, in the place once occupied by the shooting range, strollers can see a rather bizarre reminder of the sport: an extravagant mosaic in unmistakably 1970s colours. It is signed by the leading name in kinetic art: Vasarely.
Journal de Monaco (Monaco’s official gazette), 28 September 1886: “In order to please fencing enthusiasts, Mr. Blondin, with the agreement of the Casino’s managers, will be setting up a fencing school in the shooting range annex that will open next season.”
In 1887, the promise was kept, and a fencing school opened its doors in Monaco. A long series of international tournaments began in Monaco in 1905. Matches were held in theatres or concert halls, with the Casino orchestra playing in the intervals.
In 1913, a ‘frontis’ wall for the Basque game of pelota was built in Monaco in partnership with the Société des Bains de Mer in order to attract aficionados of this very special sport that was brought to Monaco from Paris, south-western France and Spain.
If you ever meet anyone with a passion for boxing, ask them if they know about the Sullivan-Carpentier fight. They’re sure to remember it. The French boxer Georges Carpentier beat Jim Sullivan of England in the 1912 match held right here in Monaco. This happened when the Société des Bains de Mer very astutely placed a little more prize money on the table, stealing the organisation of this legendary European middleweight championship from under London’s nose.
Boxing remained on Monaco’s programme throughout the 1920s and made sporadic appearances in the 1950s and even more recently, in 2006.
Mont Agel Golf Club
Don’t think for a second that the tiny Principality of Monaco with its 2 square kilometres could accommodate a golf course! No; in order to play golf in Monaco, you have to head for the hills and drive up to Mont Agel, overlooking Monaco. There, in 1911, at an altitude of 900 metres, fans of the little white ball came up with the brilliant idea of creating a 35-hectare golf course. What nationality were they? British, of course! It was in fact thanks to friendly pressure exerted by Monaco’s then very extensive British community that the Mont Agel Golf Club was built, despite many meteorological and geological obstacles.
The very unusual terrain makes the Mont Agel Golf Club a mountain course that is unique in the world thanks to its luxurious amenities and the spectacular view it offers of Monaco and the sea.