Our Course of the Week: Barcelona's El Prat

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May 27, 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.

Big European cities with conveniently close golf courses that welcome visiting golfers, seldom come together. For sure most important metropolitan areas have their share of good and often excellent courses, but these are inevitably private clubs with huge roles of dues-paying members and longer waiting lists of would-be members. Member tee-times are a precious commodity and allotting even a fraction of these times to visitors is simply unthinkable. Visitors are just not accepted.

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Nothing is ever simple at El Prat where Greg Norman has produced a pair of true champions.
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The Rosa Course presents rough of the genuine variety. Get stuck in this stuff and you'll be here for a while.
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Pine trees clever bunkering elevated greens and a blustery wind can complicate matters.
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Bunkering and more bunkering - it's a key defense at El Prat.
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Masia Bach Golf Club a testy layout from Jose Maria Olazabal.
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Sant Cugat offers a fun course designed by the great Harry S Colt.
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PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course - Pride of the Costa Brava and the most important addition to Spanish golf of the past decade.
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Barcelona is far from being your average, big European city and in many ways has always marched to a different drummer. This is not only an extremely visitor friendly city, uniquely, it's also a visiting golfer friendly city. Barcelona's golf courses, including the very best, all genuinely welcome visiting golfers with open arms. Come to Barcelona for the multitude of city pleasures she offers in profusion, but don't miss the opportunity to experience at least a few of her golf courses while you are here.

At the top of your must play-list should be the prestigious, Real Club de Golf El Prat, located about 14 miles from the heart of town. The club was originally founded in 1954 and for almost half a century, played over a great course designed by the noted Spanish architect, Javier Arana, sitting alongside Barcelona's booming airport. Progress gave a priority to airplanes and with an expansion of the airport, the golf club was moved to impressive new quarters north of the city.

Greg Norman was assigned the ominous design task of producing not one but two, 18 hole layouts, both to be of championship standards and at least equaling the highly regarded, original Arana layout at the airport. This course had been honored as a venue for the European Tour's Spanish Open on no less than 8 occasions, most recently in 1998 and consistently ranked among Spain's Top Ten. This was a tall order, but Mr. Norman is no stranger to challenges and with his Australian determination in gear, set about not only equaling the quality of the old course but surpassing it. The resulting two new courses opened in 2003 to mixed reviews, which perhaps should have been anticipated -- change is sometimes difficult for many of us to accept - but there is a happy ending to the story.

The ensuing 7 years has not only allowed emotions to mellow and the courses to mature, but it has also developed a new enthusiasm for both layouts, coming from members and visitors alike. El Prat's Rosa Course now ranks among Spain's Top Ten, re-claiming the place once held by Javier Arana's original layout and the Amarillo Course is not very far behind. Greg Norman can be justly proud of his achievement and there are few who would disagree, his mission has not only been accomplished, but accomplished with flair and a certain Spanish (or perhaps Australian) style.

The Rosa presents a fairly hefty, 7,000 yards from the tips, but with 7 different tee positions can accommodate practically all levels of players, though bear in mind, this is a championship layout and the test is always serious, even from the very front.

Setting out over rolling fairways, the Rosa's front 9 wastes no time in taking you into a mature forest, where encroaching trees slim down the already narrow fairways and it becomes clear that accuracy will be the key to success. Only endorsing that calculation is the excellent bunkering, both fairway and greenside, where the generously large greens may provide a false sense of confidence. Be wary, these greens are very fast and filled with subtle undulations, only complicated further by very tricky run-off areas that are only too eager to ruin an otherwise good approach.

Emerging from the trees, the back 9 takes on an entirely different personality as the prescribed path follows the foot of a mountain, presenting some uncanny elevation changes and an entirely new set of challenges. The thinking golfer, who carefully plans each shot, considering the consequences of the various options, will be the player who will see the greatest rewards on their scorecard.

This is very definitely a true championship course, tough enough to test even the low handicapper and the cocktail of problems presented along the way, leaves little time to allow any mind to wander. Stay focused on the task at hand, thinking every shot through carefully before committing to it and you could end up with a very presentable score and a round to be proud of. After all, you have just mastered one of Spain's Top Ten.

The Amarillo (Yellow) Course, should never be referred to as El Prat's "second course" as the examination of golfing skills here is perhaps even more technical and complex than that provided by the Rosa, but it's still well worth tackling for those who feel up to it.

The fairways are narrow and flanked by some frighteningly deep and hungry bunkers, all deviously placed where they can do the most harm. Get into one of these devils and you can cast aside any hopes of making par. Greenside bunkering is no more forgiving and the multi-tiered greens can prove frustrating for all but those who are masters of the short stick. But stay cool, reading these crafty greens, always slick and extremely fast, very carefully and you may surprise yourself.

There's no doubt that the Amarillo is a difficult track and perhaps even a little too difficult for most amateurs, but it's an excellent example of what modern day golf is all about, where strategy, accuracy and good basic skills are the essential tools.

If you're ready for more of Barcelona's nearby golf, the Jose Maria Olazabal layout at the Club de Golf Masia Bach, just 15 miles from the city, is another quality track that should be on your list. Just like Olazabal's homeland in Spain's northern Basque Country, this is rough and rugged terrain, but he has performed a masterful job of bringing it all under control, showing it off at its very best.

Measuring just under 7,000 yards from the championship tees, most will be better advised to put their macho side behind them and play from the regular men's tees. Just to make sure this toughy doesn't embarrass too much, warm up on the 9-hole practice course before tackling the main attraction.

Looking for something a little more placid? Club de Golf Sant Cugat is still within 12 miles of Barcelona and a well-respected, Harry S. Colt design, dating from 1914. This is a very honest layout, with no trickery and no demands for advanced strategic thinking. Accomplished players will have every opportunity to show off their skills and even be tempted to exceed them at times, while those of more modest abilities will still have a very pleasant round. This is a course to have fun with and a reminder that golf is only a game and games are supposed to be enjoyed.

There are still more courses to consider playing from Barcelona, but save some playing time for the golf courses of the Costa Brava, just an hour or so up the road. Included among the excellent courses here is PGA Catalunya and a pair of top ranked layouts. PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course is the shining star in the galaxy of the Costa Brava's courses. Ranked no. 2 in Spain and no. 7 on Europe's Top 100 list, this is one you just have to play.

Barcelona and the Costa Brava have a tremendous appeal for every visitor, whether golfer or not, but for those with a love of the Royal & Ancient Game, the excellent golf courses in this corner of Catalonia are just too good to resist.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to include Catalonia's best on your itinerary, contact the Spain experts at Golf International and put their 21 year's of experience to work. Call toll free, 1 800 833-1389, or click here.

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