Course of Week: Serious golf under the Andalucian sun

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April 29, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.

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Montecastillo Golf Resort is ranked among the world's top 100 resort properties.
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The Jack Nicklaus design from 1992 is still considered one of his best in Europe.
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Unforgiving but fair Montecastillo will give you a round to remember.
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Montecastillo's closing hole just might be one of Spain's most dramatic grand finales.
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Among the profusion of extremely good golf courses that call Spain's southernmost region of Andalucia home, it's only normal that a number stand out as being truly exceptional. Fabled Valderrama is one of these, accompanied by Sotogrande and San Roque. The newer, but equally impressive, Finca Cortesin is a stunner, as is La Reserva at Almenara and Santana at La Cala -- All must be classified as courses worthy of being ranked among the cream of the crop.

The same applies to Jose Maria Olazabal's design at Real Golfe de Sevilla and another outstanding track at Arcos Gardens. Certainly very high on the list is the magnificent Jack Nicklaus design at Montecastillo, sitting just a few miles outside of the charming town of Jerez de la Frontera. These layouts, together with a surprising number of others, are the courses that set the standard for quality that is Andalucia's golf.

Montecastillo Golf Resort is a particularly fine example of this exceptional, almost superstar stature, earned by a striking and still growing number of Andalucia's courses. The layout is ranked among Spain's top 10 and firmly ensconced on the list of Europe's best 50 courses. The course was a regular host to The Volvo Masters, until recently the flagship event of The European Tour, and the adjoining resort hotel is considered as one of the Best 100 Golf Resorts in the World -- impressive credentials in anyone's book.

When Montecastillo first opened in 1992, it was immediately lauded as Nicklaus' best design at the time. Eighteen years on, the Golden Bear has maybe a further 200 designs or so to his credit, but many remain of the opinion that Montecastillo is still one of his very best.

Measuring a healthy 7,060 yards from the tips, the track literally swoops, surges and soars over rolling terrain, always showing exactly where you have to go, with no trickery along the way -- It's an honest to goodness, what you see is what you get, layout. True to Nicklaus form, it succeeds in constantly goading, prodding and somehow managing to bring out the very best of whatever skills the player has available. Rise to the occasion, as most do, and you will have that sense of satisfaction perhaps only known to golfers - a memorable round well played and something to cherish and be proud of.

Montecastillo is certainly no walk in the park, possessing a serious enough test to challenge any player, but it's all done with a gentlemanly sense of style that eases you into the thick of battle before you realize it. It's this Nicklaus subtlety that brings out a premiere performance from even those unaware they were capable of such things.

The opening two holes are relatively straightforward, lulling the unsuspecting into a sense of self-confidence. The third is a very good par 5 and a temptation for the long-hitters to demonstrate their strength, but be wary; there are a few strategically placed bunkers and scrub waiting for the overly ambitious. The green also is also well defended with bunkers to the left and a marsh to the right. Unless you have the confidence, best to take the more cautious route and play for par.

At the turn Montecastillo's character makes a distinctive change, becoming a more complex and sometimes confounding animal to handle, requiring more strategy and thought, though the honesty remains with one exception, the 13th, which doglegs right then vanishes from view. Water comes into play on 5 holes and due to the exposed location of the course, there is an omnipresent wind that needs to be seriously considered, made all the more tricky with the constant changes in hole direction.

Like any good performer, Montecastillo goes out with a bang, saving its very best until last with a closing trio of holes that present as impressive a finish as can be found in Europe. The 16th and 17th are tricky enough but only a lead-in to the grand finale of the final hole. The 18th tee is the most elevated on the course, with a spectacular sweeping view of the challenge ahead, to the lake-protected green in the distance and some 120 feet below. It's a dogleg left with the shrewdest bunkering on the course. Bogey is perfectly acceptable and par, a major accomplishment.

You'll reach the elegant 19th hole, battle worn and weary, but very satisfied to have had the pleasure - perhaps even the honor - of pitting your abilities against a truly great, championship course. The temptation to play this beauty for a second and why not a third round, is likely to be too much to resist. Give in to temptation and do it, Montecastillo is one of those jewels where familiarity only makes the heart grow fonder and this is a layout most will fall in love with.

Enjoy a glass or two in the plush clubhouse while you are regaining strength for the evening -- Jerez is just 10 minutes away and there are wonderful restaurants, tapas bars, flamenco shows and all manner of things Spanish to experience.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to include Andalucia's top ranked courses in your trip to Spain, call Golf International at 1 800-833-1389, or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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