Pick of the prime-time golf on Spain's Costa BravaNovember 24, 2009
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course -- the most important addition to Spanish golf of the past decade.
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The Costa Brava translates into English as "The Wild Coast", an appropriate name for one of Spain's most spectacular shorelines, extending some 80 miles from Blanes (located about 30 miles northeast of Barcelona) following the Mediterranean Sea to the French border. There's an inspiring beauty to this coast that only intensifies, the further north you travel and it changes from rugged rocks and cliffs to isolated sandy bays and coves, then back to impressive rock formations again. Small wonder this has been a summer sunshine retreat for sun-starved, Northern Europeans since they first discovered this paradise a century ago.
Although the sun-seekers from the north still flock here during the traditional summer vacation months of July and August, they are virtually absent during the remainder of the year. The sun-worshippers very conveniently leave spring, winter and fall for those with perhaps a better appreciation for all of the many diversified attractions of this intriguingly special region of Spain. Yes, they still fall in love with the stunning beaches and the year round sunny days to enjoy them in, but they also have a great fondness for the beauty of the surrounding countryside and its many riches.
Barely a few miles inland there's a wealth of discoveries to be made - ancient medieval towns and villages, castles and monasteries, Romanesque churches and farm houses as old as time itself. This is where Costa Brava life continues as it has for centuries, refusing to be interrupted by the modern day world. This is where you will find the culture, the art and history of the real Costa Brava.
The Costa Brava not only has something for everyone, it has a lot of many different somethings -- even a staggering amount so great, each and every visitor is all but guaranteed a perfect vacation - and far from forgotten are golfers.
Today, the Costa Brava's collection of delightfully appealing, top quality golf courses may not as yet be world famous, but that only adds to their appeal. Their relative anonymity has not yet attracted the crowds of golf visitors, leaving them uncrowded and a particular pleasure to play, no matter what time of year, but this dream situation is unlikely to last too much longer.
Much as visitors who have discovered the Costa Brava's golf pleasures would like to keep them as their own closely guarded secret, word is getting out and spreading fast - fame and fortune simply won't be able to resist such a tempting candidate. Those who discover the Costa Brava's golf now will be experiencing it while it is still precious and in its prime, totally unspoiled by the crowds of visiting golfers who inevitably will descend upon it in short order. Golf on the Costa Brava really is that good and choosing which courses to play and which to miss will not be easy. Here is a brief sampling of a few of the best. Include any or all in your trip and you can only come away, thoroughly impressed.
PGA Golf de Catalunya is the shining star in this part of the world and for good reason; it's a complete golf resort of the highest standard, boasting a pair of world-class layouts with a decidedly first class hotel sitting between the two.
PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course opened in 1999 to accolades from the European golfing world. Within a couple of years this upstart, newcomer had worked itself onto the prestigious rankings of Europe's Top 100 Courses and it's never looked back since. Today, the Stadium Course is ranked number 7 in all of Europe -- and continues to work its way even higher.
This is a superlative design from two of Europe's most respected contemporary golf architects, Englishman and Ryder Cup team veteran, Neil Coles and European Tour player turned design artist, Spain's own, Angel Gallardo. The chemistry between these two multi-talented golfers has produced a layout that is nothing less than golf magic, certainly bound for the uppermost reaches of international golf glory. Demanding, handsome and offering wonderful views across the Pyrenees Mountains, stepping onto the first tee you immediately know you are in for a round of golf all but guaranteed to end up in the memory book.
Measuring a hefty, 7,250 yards from the tips, the wide rolling fairways will tempt the big-hitters as they wind through a forest of pine and cork oak, but with treacherous rough and a couple of large lakes coming into play on at least four holes, length alone is not enough - accuracy is essential if you are to finish the round with a respectable score.
The greens, jealously guarded by bunkers, water and sometimes wild slopes and undulations, are difficult to reach without a very solid short game and once there, ability with the putter will be a definite advantage. This is a course for the thinking golfer, where good course management will always pay-off. For those who are up to the test and can handle the intelligence of the Stadium Course, this is a thriller from start to finish, more than worthy of the flattery so generously heaped upon it.
The younger sibling, The Tour Course, is barely three years old and measuring a good 750 yards shorter than big brother, presents a more manageable challenge for the higher handicapper. Played from the back tees The Tour Course has enough gutsiness to push even the accomplished player, with a rollicking roller-coaster ride that has more than a few extra demands from its seemingly endless variety of challenges.
One minute you are attacking an uphill hole, then one that takes you all the way downhill, fighting with the ball every step of the way Don't be afraid to be creative in your shot making and once again, a good short game will help a lot in reaching the extremely well contoured greens, which are also very fast
PGA Golf de Catalunya is a top flight resort, with a pair of crackerjack courses that just shouldn't be missed and if you enjoy the two layouts here, there is another pair of beauties that you'll relish at the Emporda Golf Resort, located just 30 miles away as the crow flies, close to the medieval town of Pals.
The aptly named Forest Course threads its way through a lush pine forest, while Emporda's pride and joy, The Links Course, is wide open and totally exposed to the prevailing winds wafting in from the Mediterranean Sea. Two more different layouts would be hard to find. With the stylish touches of finesse, noted American designer, Robert von Hagge has applied with such deftness to each, this is another case of having to play both layouts to determine which you prefer. Be assured it will not be an easy choice and neither will disappoint.
For a change of pace, the nearby, Golf Platja de Pals, reminiscent of a grand old English parkland course, with a hint of sea breezes drifting in from the beach next door, is a pure delight to play. The natural flow of this course blends perfectly with its good looks, creating an aura of absolute calm and serenity, perhaps even a noble feeling that only adds to the joy of playing here. The appeal of Platja de Pals to golfers of all playing abilities only doubles the many pleasures it generously serves up as it politely reminds us that golf is only a game and games are here to be enjoyed.
Further north, just a few miles from Salvador Dali's home town of Figueres is another small medieval town, noted for its rich culture, luscious wines and during more recent times, its excellent golf. This is the town of Peralada, where the Peralada Golf Resort makes its home.
This is a layout for the tactician from the back tees, where avoiding the strategically placed bunkers can become Mission Impossible and the water hazards make life no easier. When these defenses fail, there are some seemingly gentle doglegs where out of bounds makes life considerably more awkward. Virtually half the greens are double tiered, bringing another element into the game. This is a course where concentration, a clear thinking mind and "unflappability" are all important assets. But for all its challenges and impressive defense arsenal, Peralada maintains a very definite fairness, never resorting to trickery.
As if to reinforce its fairness, Peralada offers a choice of tee positions, reducing the almost 6,600 yards from the back tees down to a very manageable, 5,200 or so yards from the very front, where is takes on a far more forgiving attitude toward the less accomplished players. Tough from the back and almost a pussycat from the front, it's a layout to please everyone.
And this is still only the beginning of the Costa Brava's golfing banquet. Other courses more than worthy of attention include, feisty Golf D'Aro, winner of the Best European Golf Course award in 1992 and Club de Golf Costa Brava, an absolute charmer where a 19th century farmhouse serves as the clubhouse. There's Golf Girona, which enjoys a picture-perfect location amid valleys and hills just outside of the Costa Brava's capital and Golf Serres de Pals, boasting an equally idyllic setting, close to the ancient town of Pals.
The Costa Brava is well on its way to becoming a key player on Spain's golfing scene -- so best get there before the crowds begin to descend on this very special region. For more information on the best of Spanish golf, click here.
©2009 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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