David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.
Ryder Cup time is fast approaching and with Wales hosting for the first time, there is a curiosity as to what this very much unknown corner of Britain will be offering the golfing world. Whether the specially built, Twenty-Ten Course at the Celtic Manor Resort will impress or not, remains to be seen, but Wales is pinning great hopes on the event bringing attention to Welsh golf and with fingers crossed, perhaps emulating the successes the 1997 Ryder Cup brought to Spain. It's an ambitious target, not likely to prove easy to achieve.
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When Spain was selected to be Continental Europe's very first Ryder Cup venue for the 1997 matches, the decision was not difficult, although at the time, it raised a few eyebrows among golf traditionalists. Since its beginnings in 1926, the Ryder Cup had been a biennial contest, pitting the best players of Britain & Ireland against a cream of the crop team from the USA. The venue alternated exclusively between courses located in the USA and Britain.
With the growing number of world-class players including nationals from across the entire continent, the scope of the tournament changed in 1979 when the British/Irish team was expanded to incorporate players from all of Europe. Appropriately, two Spanish greats, Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, were a part of that first, truly European, Ryder Cup team.
In our tradition-bound game of golf, change comes slowly and it would take a further 18 years before it became clear to even the most die-hard traditionalist that Continental European countries should also share in the honor of hosting the world's most important international event. The choice of Spain as the first was obvious to anyone already familiar with that country's outstanding collection of top quality courses. By the time winning European captain, Seve Ballesteros, had accepted the 1997 trophy, there were none who doubted that Spain had arrived on the world golfing stage - and as a very significant player.
Spain's international glory was shared with the course that had mesmerized the world and pushed the best players to the extreme on each of the three days of the tournament -- Valderrama Golf Club. Consistently ranked at the uppermost reaches of Europe's Top 100 Courses ranking, Valderrama was no stranger to stardom, but now the star shined even brighter.
The "discovery" of Valderrama attracted golfers from around the globe, clamoring for the opportunity to test their own skills against such a masterly layout. Playing other surrounding courses during their stay in sunny Andalucia, these visitors quickly discovered the unique appeal of this part of the coast, known as the Costa del Sol -- it was not only a golfers' paradise with a multitude of world class courses, it was a filled with many other attractions.
There are very few countries in the world able to conjure up such vivid images in the mind's eye as Spain. It's that special Spanish flair we all find irresistible and the contagious vibrancy of a country that is so alluring, perhaps even seductive. Spain is many different things, but she is always passionate and never ever boring.
This is a land of castles and cathedrals; it's a treasure trove of art and architecture with a rich cultural heritage and exciting history that goes back as far as time itself. Spain is flamenco and fiestas, glorious beaches, stunning landscapes, Europe's finest gastronomy and a warm, welcoming people who live life to the fullest and are always eager to share their zest for life and the wonders of their country with visitors. Spain is also very definitely golf and the proud keeper of some of the finest courses in all of Europe.
The country grasped the game of golf more than 100 years ago, with typical Spanish enthusiasm and literally built itself into Europe's golf capital. Just imagine all of the excitement that is Spain, combined with a banquet of excellent courses and in the south of the country, the ideal climate to enjoy golf year round -- it makes the perfect winter golf escape for golfers as well as those less enamored with the game
Spain's inventory of well over 300 golf courses, extends practically throughout the country, with the heaviest concentration of the best, running along the southern coast. More than half extend like a sparkling necklace from the Portuguese border to the Sherry capital of Jerez de la Frontera, along the Costa del Sol, to Alicante, Valencia and Barcelona then to the Costa Brava and the border with France.
If it's to be a winter golf break, there is no better choice than the southernmost coastal region of Andalucia and the Costa del Sol. Dubbed the Costa del Golf, here you will find warm winter temperatures hovering in the 70's and more than 70 exceptional layouts concentrated into a brief but glorious, 60 mile stretch of Mediterranean shoreline. The world's top architectural talents have flocked to this sunny coast, eager to leave their personal mark on Spain's golfing Mecca -- There are designs from Robert Trent Jones, Dave Thomas, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player, Tom Simpson and Javier Arana; there are courses by Cabell Robinson, Peter Alliss, Perry Dye, Jack Nicklaus and a host of other notables, making the Costa del Sol a veritable "Who's Who" of architects past and present - and what a golfing feast they have assembled.
The star attraction remains the Valderrama of 1997 Ryder Cup fame, an impeccably maintained beauty, still ranked as the very best course on Continental Europe. But golf on the Costa del Sol extends far beyond a single, prize layout, with an extraordinary selection of world-class courses - and you won't have to travel far from Valderrama to find stunning examples.
Literally located next door is Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, another very exclusive private club that also accepts a limited number of visitors. This top ranked layout from Robert Trent Jones is actually Valderrama's older brother. Valderrama started life as the second course at Sotogrande, before going through a change of ownership and name and heading for future glory. The similarities between the two layouts are evident, yet they both manage to maintain very individual personalities and if you appreciate one, the other will not disappoint.
A brief 10-minute drive further is the plush, San Roque Club, a Dave Thomas and Tony Jacklin development, with the more recent addition of a second layout by Perry Dye. San Roque's Old Course, which since first opening in 1990 has matured into an excellent, all round test of golf and for the big hitters, pure heaven. Be warned, it can be a killer off the back tees, especially on the front nine, where some very tight fairways succeed in complicating matters perhaps more than they should.
Perry Dye's New Course at San Roque presents a totally different and even tougher kind of challenge, with a mind boggling arsenal of defenses, guaranteed to test even the most accomplished players. Deep bunkers immediately penalize any wayward drive and the greens are especially well defended. There are cork oaks, water hazards, pot bunkers and fairways that are sometimes frighteningly narrow. This is one that demands a carefully thought out strategy from start to finish and a pure delight for the lower handicappers.
There's another pair of excellent layouts at The Almenara Golf Resort, situated in the hills overlooking both San Roque and Sotogrande. The Almenara Course is another Dave Thomas design and a hilly layout where only the fittest will want to walk. The pride and joy of Almenara however is the newer, La Reserva, opened in 1998. This is a masterful accomplishment from Cabell Robinson, an American transplant who has become known as the Picasso of course design in southern Spain and La Reserva demonstrates why.
Combining gorgeous aesthetics, length and brilliant design, this is a must play course to test the most talented player, yet with five tee positions, a layout that will also be thoroughly enjoyed by those of more modest skills. Rarely does any course accomplish this, but Robinson has achieved that impossible dream here, under the warm sun of the Costa del Sol and he has done it in grand style.
For those with a fondness for risk/reward courses, the magnificent layout at Finca Cortesin is all but guaranteed to be the best you have ever tackled and certainly one for the memory book. Length, wide open spaces, drastic elevation changes, ominous bunkering - this is one for the skilled and courageous from the very back tees, but with 6 tee boxes to choose from, a layout that remains surprisingly approachable by higher handicappers.
Now the regular venue for The European Tour's prestigious, Volvo World Match Play Championship, Finca Cortesin is a must play for every serious golfer and for anyone with a serious appreciation of true luxury, the elegant hotel located on site, might be the most luxurious you will find anywhere in Spain, or Europe for that matter. Someday soon, the name Finca Cortesin is going to become as familiar to golfers as Valderrama - and it won't take very long.
And this is only a glance at a small sampling of marvelous courses, all located within a scant 5 miles of each other - and the show goes on. The Costa del Sol stretches for 60 miles further east with cornucopia of stunning layouts that boggles the mind. Golf heaven simply can't get any better than this.Stunning golf and lots of it, fantastic year round weather and bargain off-season prices, makes a winter golf escape to Spain's Costa del Sol an essential luxury you simply can't afford to miss.
For more ideas on how to get the most out of your trip to Spain, both on and off the golf courses, call Golf International's Spain experts, toll free at 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here
©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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