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.
Spain is a big country by any measure, qualifying as Europe's third largest. Preceded in size by only France and Russia, its borders incorporate the lion's share of the Iberian Peninsula, pushing little Portugal into a narrow strip of land at its western edge. 20% larger than the state of California and with a population of over 45 million, Spain is not only an important European country, it's also one of its most diverse with a rich, fascinating history and culture that is entirely its own.
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This is a country with a strong appeal to every visitor, no matter what their interests might be and for golfers, an extraordinary destination that offers many of the best golf courses in Europe, together with the opportunity to discover the special magic that makes Spain so unique and unabashedly, delightful.
Separated from France and the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains, Spain was protected from other European influences for centuries. Instead, the powers that helped mould the Spain of today came from the shores of North Africa, just 10 miles below Spain's southernmost coastline.
The Moors swept across the Straits of Gibraltar in the year 711, moving northward throughout the peninsula, in what was to be the beginning of an occupation that would last more than 700 years. No other European country has ever been inhabited for so long by a people that were racially, culturally and religiously, so totally different. But the Moorish occupation was mostly peaceful, with tolerance and assimilation by both sides. Despite some on-going struggles and forced conversions during the later years of the Christian Reconquest, there were centuries of a genuine, cross-cultural exchange and Spain only benefited.
Nowhere were the Moorish influences as strong as in the Southwestern region of Andalucia, the largest of Spain's 17 autonomous regions and the epitome of all we dream Spain should be -- a land where life is good, the living is easy, the food and wines delectable and the sun shines practically every day of the year. This is the land of flamenco, white horses, black bulls and matadors. Andalucia is an endless succession of colorful fiestas; it's the home of sherry, the birthplace of Picasso and Valazquez and gave the world tapas.
Andalucia is where you will find much of Spain's most spectacular Moorish architecture, where the classic cities of Granada, Cordoba and Seville, are filled to overflowing with pristine examples of pure architectural brilliance, constructed more than 1,000 years ago. Discover the ancient Pueblos Blancos (white villages) originally built to defend the residents from bandits and marauders in the hills and mountains of Andalucia during medieval days -- each enchanting village has its own piece of intriguing history to tell.
From the magnificent landscapes of the unspoiled Andalucian countryside, to the endless array of glorious beaches, all washed by the sparkling blue waters of sometimes the Atlantic Ocean and more often the Mediterranean Sea, this heaven on earth has something to please everyone and no-one more than golfers -- Andalucia is the heart and soul of European golf.
No stranger to the Royal & Ancient Game, golf has been played in Spain since late in the 18th century when it was first introduced by British traders. During the ensuing 120 years, more of the world's top golf architects have been attracted to Spain to showcase their design abilities, than any other European country. Nowhere is this more in evidence than along Spain's Southern coastline, extending from the border with France and Spain's Costa Brava, all the way to Andalucia and the border with Portugal. It's an 880 mile long banquet of golf to delight even the most jaded golf traveler
The unquestioned epicenter of this endless golfing feast is Andalucia, home to well over 100 courses, fully one third of all the courses in the entire country, but this is not just about the number of golf layouts ... in Andalucia the quality of golf is consistently very high and frequently, nothing less than exceptional.
The courses include fabled Valderrama, arguable Europe's most exclusive golf club, ranked as Spain's very best course for each of the past 18 years. This is the course that broke through golf's "glass ceiling" when it was selected as the first venue outside of the USA and UK to host the Ryder Cup Matches in 1997. Those unfamiliar with Andalucia's golfing riches at the time were shocked at the decision and many were openly angered that such a prestigious tournament, golf's pinnacle event, would be awarded to what they presumed was an upstart wannabe.
By the time the winning European team captained by Seve Ballesteros, were proudly accepting their trophy, the entire world of golf had been converted. From the US team, to the spectators who had witnessed the event in person, to the world-wide audience who had been glued to their television screens for days, following every stroke of that 1997 Ryder Cup, they all spoke with one voice - Valderrama was the real star. Almost immediately, Andalucia's amazing golf was being discussed and debated by aficionados around the globe.
The depth and breadth of golf in Andalucia is unique and nothing less than remarkable, placing this year-round golf destination, high atop many players' must visit list. But Andalucia is much more than a single golf star; it's an entire galaxy of strikingly good golf. While Valderrama remains the Godfather, there are many other courses contending for the throne and the role of Top Gun.
A flock of the world's most respected designers have been drawn to Andalucia over the past few decades, sensing what is taking place in the evolution of one of the most important golf destinations on the globe.
None have come to quickly pull a mediocre course together that happens to have their name attached to it. Instead, they have come to showcase their very best work, determined to leave behind the strongest example of their architectural talent, to be respected and appreciated, not only by today's golfers, but by future generations to come. Golf is a game of tradition and history and everyone wants their name to appear in golf's history books and Andalucia is where much of Golf's modern day history is still being written.
Robert Trent Jones Sr. created the marvel that is Valderrama and Jack Nicklaus, the much revered, Montecastillo, which for many years shared the honor of hosting The Volvo Masters, alongside Valderrama. Jose Maria Olazabal has demonstrated his design talents with the stunning layout at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, located just outside of historic Seville and at barely 10 years old, already a venue for The European Tour's Spanish Open.
Many would agree that Seve Ballesteros is one of the most exciting players ever and he has also established a solid reputation as an artist of golf course architecture. Seve has his name attached to a number of course designs in Andalucia, the most notable of which, is his 36 hole layout at Novo Sancti Petri, located close to the ancient port city of Cadiz.
Cabell Robinson is a designer who has garnered world-wide fame for his many outstanding course designs in Andalucia, as well as other parts of the Mediterranean region. A trans-planted American, Cabell has lived and worked in Marbella for almost 40 years and is responsible for some of the very best that Spain and indeed, Europe can offer.
Finca Cortesin is his most recent accomplishment here and one more Cabell Robinson winner that wowed the European golf community from the moment it first opened in 2006. At barely 2 years of age Finca Cortesin had been chosen by the European Tour to host the prestigious, Volvo Match Play World Championship, an honor that has been extended through at least 2013. This is a pure gem of a course that belongs on every serious golfer's, must play list.
But Cabell Robinson is no stranger to success, making a habit out of producing golf excellence, as can be seen at each of his other outstanding designs in the neighborhood. La Reserva, the three championship layouts at La Cala and another gem at Santana, each one demands the attention of every visiting golfer.
Bewildering visiting golfers with its vast banquet of top-quality golf is an Andalucian specialty and those already mentioned are only the tiniest sampling of all that deserve to be played. Others that should not be missed include the two layouts at San Roque -- The Old Course, designed by the great English architect, Dave Thomas with the assist of Tony Jacklin and the totally different and even tougher, New Course, a remarkable design from young American, Perry Dye.
Nearby is another golfing treat, the venerable, Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, a superb example of the mastery of Robert Trent Jones, which will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary. Visitor starting times are not plentiful, but with the assist of a knowledgeable golf travel company such as Golf International, they can be obtained.
And so the list of Andalucia's golfing wonders continues, going from one great course to another, each one better than the last and all in a seemingly endless supply - this truly is a golf heaven like no other. But save some time for the many other attractions this thoroughly enchanting region holds away from the golf courses, after all, this is Andalucia, where the good life thrives and as with most visitors, it won't take long before you too have a passion for everything Andalucian.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your visit to Andalucia, both on and off the golf courses, contact the Andalucia experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here.
©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.