It has been estimated that of the 26.5 million golfers who reside in the USA, less than 5% have ever played golf outside of the country, yet almost 60% claim they would like to someday. Interesting is the fact that of the 55% who have been depriving themselves of one of golf's most pleasurable experiences, guilt was given as the main reason for not doing what they would like to do. They would feel guilty taking a non-golfer (primarily their spouse) along, out of a fear they would be bored.
It seems the term, golf trip, still carries connotations of being an exclusively male domain, where golf reigns supreme and non-golfing spouses together with others less enamored by the game will have nothing to do, or worse yet, may feel ignored and even unwelcome. While this may have been true, at least to a degree, 20 years ago, things change and in the world of golf travel, things have changed a lot.
Granted there remain some destinations where golf is still the primary attraction, with maybe little else of interest to non-players, but there are also a steadily growing number places where world-class golf is both plentiful and readily available, together with many other vacation activities. Nowhere else is this so much in evidence as in Southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula.
Portugal and Spain, though two entirely separate countries and in many ways, quite different, one from the other, also happen to share some similarities, only the first of which is their location on the Iberian Peninsula.
Both countries have placed an important emphasis on the development of golf and over the past half century, each has produced a golfing infrastructure that is the envy of the rest of Europe. Portugal, with its total population of only 10.5 million, boasts more than 90 golf courses in all and these are not ordinary courses, but high quality layouts, many ranked among the best in Europe.
Spain, a much larger country with more than four times the population, has over 300 golf courses, which again are of a consistently impressive, world-class quality. They join with Portugal's courses in being considered among Europe's best and include fabled Valderrama, ranked Europe's # 1 layout for each of the past 12 years. Although American golfers are only just coming to the realization, Spain and Portugal have become the heart and soul of European golf and because of their close proximity, share the de facto title of Continental Europe's Golf Capital. Reason enough for The European Tour to feature 3 Portuguese courses and 4 Spanish courses as venues for important 2007 European Tour Events.
Making a good thing even better in both countries, these wonderful golf courses occur in convenient clusters and in areas that not only enjoy perfect golfing weather year round, but also contain much of the rich history and culture of Spain and Portugal.
Any golfer who may have been suffering from a guilt complex at the mere thought of taking non-golfing family members along on an international golf trip, can shed the guilty thoughts if they look to Spain and Portugal. If golf had never been invented, both would be more than worthy of consideration for a family vacation anyway. Spend a week or two in either one country or the other, or combine the two and you will be searching to find the time to play all of the courses that call out to be played. Non-golfers will have just as much difficulty in finding the time to see and do all that must be seen and done.
If things get a little too hectic, the golf and sightseeing in both Portugal and Spain is more often than not located along the coastline and the option of just taking things easy on a tempting beach, or participating in some water sports, is always there.
And where in Portugal and Spain do these Utopian escapes, capable of enchanting both golfers and non-golfers, exist? Each country has two primary areas where the rare mixture of golf and a multitude of other activities away from the golf courses live side by side.
Portugal is a small country and its principal pair of golf hotspots are located only a 2 hour drive apart, making a combination of both a convenient pairing and a chance to experience two quite different sides of this intriguing country.
The Lisbon Coast is the region within a 25 mile or so radius of Lisbon's city center. This brings more than two-dozen excellent golf courses within a 30 to 45 minute drive of the heart of one of Europe's most charming capitals. Stay in Lisbon, enjoying all of the city's historic sights and attractions and there are many, and the top courses, such as Troia, Penha Longa, Oitavos and Quinta da Marinha will be a brief 30-minute drive away. Alternatively, take an Ocean front hotel in one of the delightful nearby resort towns such as Cascais or Estoril as your base and reverse the process. The golf courses will be on your doorstep and Lisbon's city pleasures, only 30 minutes away.
The fashionable resort region of The Algarve is located along Portugal's picture perfect, southernmost Atlantic shoreline. Pristine golden sand beaches, dozens of small coves, grottoes and bays, dramatic cliffs and numerous offshore islets, make this one of the most beautiful coasts in Europe. In and around the small fishing villages and larger resort towns, lie centuries of Portuguese history just waiting to be discovered - and golf is never far away. More than 30 top quality layouts scattered along the coast, including San Lorenzo, Vilamoura, Quinta do Lago, Penina and others ranked among Portugal's and indeed Europe's best.
Leaving The Algarve and crossing the border into Spain, it's only a couple of hours drive to reach historic Seville, birthplace of flamenco, tapas and everyone's favorite Spanish city. A couple of nights spent here and the chances are that you too will fall in love with this thoroughly intriguing, historic city. From Seville it will take two more hours to reach Spain's primary golf center, the Costa del Sol, appropriately dubbed the Costa del Golf. Boasting over 70 courses including top ranked Valderrama, Montecastillo, Sotogrande, San Roque and La Reserva, this is golf's true paradise. These are Spain's cream of the crop layouts and more than enough to satisfy the golfing appetite of the most ardent player -- and non-golfers are not forgotten.
Discover the famous medieval, Pueblos Blanco's, the fortressed, white villages of the mountains that defended local residents from invaders centuries ago. Visit Ronda, one of the most enticing and a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Jerez de la Frontera, center of the Sherry industry and as Spanish a town as can be found, is filled with interest, including the not to be missed, Royal School of Equestrian Art. The resort town of Marbella contains one of the most fascinating Old Towns along the coast, filled with delightful restaurants, galleries and historic monuments.
The Costa Brava is Spain's second golf center. Bordered by the fascinating city of Barcelona to one side and the French border to the other, this is home to another score of noteworthy courses, PGA Catalunya, Emporda, Pals and Fontenals among them. A dramatically attractive coastline, intriguing medieval villages just a few miles inland and top quality golf everywhere, The Costa Brava literally has something for everyone.
Quantity and quality are seldom paired together, but in the case of Portugal and Spain, there may be no better way to describe the golf contained within these two Iberian countries, and that is only the beginning of their story. If you enjoy wonderful food and wine, history and culture, beautiful scenery and spectacular beaches, shopping, sightseeing and nightlife, these two are unique in all they have to offer. Capping all of this, you won't find a better value anywhere else in Europe today.
Better not call it a golf trip, but an international travel experience to be savored and enjoyed to the fullest by all. For more information on getting the most out of a trip to Spain and/or Portugal, click here.
© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.