Selecting the best of Andalucia's golf riches

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March 17, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

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Arcos Gardens - Golfing splendor in the Andalucian countryside.
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Finca Cortesin - an impressive newcomer and already a regular European Tour venue.
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La Cala offers three championship layouts, all by maestro Cabell Robinson.
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La Reserva - Wide open spaces and one of Andalucia's most impressive clubhouses.
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San Roque Old Course - one of the old-timers that knows every trick in the book and shouldn't be missed.
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86 years on, Valderrama remains the only Continental European club to ever host the Ryder Cup
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The first time visitor to Southern Spain's colorful region of Andalucia can easily be overwhelmed by the profusion of not-to-be-missed attractions this diverse and always fascinating region contains. Whether their interests are history, architecture, art, food and wine, museums, shopping, beaches, ancient cities, or practically any other sightseeing topic, the options are numerous and can be bewildering. Visiting golfers have it no easier.

The menu of Andalucia's golf courses is some 120 layouts long -- more than one third of the courses in all of Spain and the quality runs from good to excellent to out-of-this-world! So where do you begin?

In an effort to at least get the first timer started, here's a thumbnail sketch of 8 personal favorites, each of which I find very appealing and is worthy of being played more than once -- a tell-tale quality in my book. The list is far from exhaustive and could have been twice, perhaps three times as long, but space limitations permit no more. The courses are listed in alphabetical order.

Arcos Gardens, Arcos de la Frontera. This handsome layout may only be a mere 5 year-old, but it took the Andalucian golf world by storm when it first opened and has only been getting better since. The location is perfect, sitting in the middle of beautiful Andalucia countryside, with stunning views across to the ancient small town of Arcos de la Frontera, located a short 10 minutes away. Measuring almost 7,400 yards from the back tees, this is a big hitters delight, but with a choice of 5 tee positions, is approachable by golfers of all levels.

Finca Cortesin, Costa del Sol. was a winner from the day it first opened in 2006 and is on a rocket-ride to golf fame and glory. Already the regular host to The European Tour's prestigious, Volvo World Match Play Championship, tour players, including Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and our own Anthony Kim, have all heaped praise on Finca Cortesin and for good reason -- this is serious golf for serious golfers, filled with risk reward opportunities for the brave. Punishing bunkers, all strategically place, superb maintenance and aesthetically, a very handsome layout, but beneath the good looks, a fighter that is as tough as nails, ready willing and able to take on the very best. For a real treat, make Finca Cortesin your base, staying in the thoroughly charming, luxury hotel located here and you will have the perfect vacation.

La Cala, Costa del Sol. Not one but three, 18-hole championship layouts (the America, Asia and Europa Courses) from the masterful, transplanted American designer, Cabell Robinson. Beautifully set in the foothills of the Sierra de Mijas National Park, all three courses cover very hilly terrain that only compounds the tricky tests presented. Toughest of the three is the America, best left to more accomplished players, but neither of the others will prove to be a walk in the park either. Best to ignore the scorecard and just enjoy the experience, soaking in the magnificent views and tranquil setting.

La Reserva, Costa del Sol. This is a very intelligent design on a grand scale, with wide open spaces. The large, multi-tiered greens are very well defended and although there are opportunities to spread the shoulders and let it rip, brawn without finesse is not the way to success. This is a layout that favors the thinking player with the ability to use every club in the bag. Water hazards are a major feature, coming into play on six of the holes, but for those lacking in the bravado department, a more conservative path, taking water out of play is always available. Save some time for reflection in the bar or restaurant of the clubhouse, a plush palace of a 19th hole that fits ideally into the grand scale of everything at La Reserva -- it's an experience that shouldn't be missed.

Montecastillo, Near Jerez de la Frontera. This was Jack Nicklaus' first design venture in Southern Spain and the effort he put into it, is as clear today as it was on opening day in 1992. After hosting the Spanish Masters in 1993 and then the Volvo Masters from 1997 until 2001, the pedigree of Montecastillo is never in doubt and it could be one of Jack's best overseas efforts. Despite its very open design, this is far from being an easy course to get around and is filled with subtleties not really appreciated on a first round. Remember, this is an American style course and rather unusual for Andalucia. Keep an open mind, a sense of humor and ignore your score card and you'll have a very enjoyable round.

Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, Seville. Jose Maria Olazabal has always excelled at the short game, so it should come as no surprise to find that this excellent Olazabal design demands a strong short game, while managing to present an infinite variety of different challenges. Royal Seville's defense arsenal includes a multitude of cleverly placed bunkers, water hazards aplenty and just to add a little more spice, an array of mature trees and bushes, all of which come into play. This is an intriguingly testy devil that takes great delight in challenging all who tackle it, coaxing a good performance out of all. Filled with personality, a memorable round is all but assured.

San Roque, Costa del Sol. The Old Course has been one of the Costa del Sol's great, must play layouts for the past 20 years. A cooperative design effort from Dave Thomas and Tony Jacklin, the layout is particularly tough from the back tees, especially on the front 9, where frighteningly narrow fairways only complicate matters. In 2004, The old Course was joined by a second layout, this time designed by young Perry Dye. Filled with an almost audacious feistiness, Dye Jr., has produced a modern-day piece of architecture, that will push even scratch golfers to the extreme. Deeper than deep bunkers, razor thin fairways, well defended greens, mature cork-oaks and vicious undergrowth, all add to the complications. This one is a real challenge, but play both and form your own opinion.

Valderrama, Costa del Sol. Saving the best until last fitted very conveniently into the alphabetical order of these courses, but Valderrama is undoubtedly the best and the reason why so many golfers are attracted to Andalucian golf anyway. The opportunity to play the only course outside of the British Isles and USA that has ever been honored to host the Ryder Cup Matches (which it did in 1997) is irresistible. To be able to play the course that has been ranked as the best in Europe for more than a dozen and a half consecutive years, is one of golf's great privileges. Valderrama is simply one of the world's truly great layouts and worthy of a place alongside St. Andrews Old Course, Augusta National and a small handful of others.

Now you have a few golf suggestions, isn't it time to start planning your trip to Andalucia, there really is no place quite like it, whether golf comes into the vacation equation or not. For more ideas on how to get the most out of your Andalucian vacation, contact the Andalucia experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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