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.
Spain has dominated Continental European golf for at least 30 years, though it has only been during the past 13 years that American golfers have begun to sit up and take notice. Catalyst was the 1997 Ryder Cup, which for the very first time ever, selected a venue outside of the USA and Britain for this biennial international battle between the best golfers of the USA and the cream of Europe's top players. Chosen was southern Spain's sunny Costa del Sol with the now fabled, Valderrama Golf Club as the featured course.
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Skeptics and believers alike watched in wonderment as Valderrama unveiled its classic finesse and confounded the best golfers on the planet. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Jim Furyk were among the heavily favored US team, beaten by Seve Ballesteros' European team and a course called Valderrama. Impressed golfers around the globe began speaking of Spain in the same breath as they did Scotland and Ireland -- Spanish golf was now an important player on the world's golfing stage.
But it takes a lot more than one outstanding course to make a top golf destination and Spain has them in profusion and nowhere are they more in evidence than along the Mediterranean coastline. From Andalucia's golf rich Costa del Sol in the southwest, all the way to Catalonia and the Costa Brava in the northeast, this Spanish Mediterranean shoreline is a never-ending banquet of world class golf.
Valencia sits approximately halfway between the two largest and sometimes bewildering concentrations of courses located along the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava, boasting its own collection of golfing masterpieces. Valencia's courses may not be as numerous as in other parts, but the quality of golf is certainly the equal of any on this entire Iberian Peninsula. Valencia's courses bring the very special added benefit of being able to conveniently combine a stay in the intriguingly historic city of Valencia and its multitude of attractions, with some delectable, highly regarded courses sitting only a short drive away.
If Valderrama had never seen the light of day, Valencia's, Campo de Golf El Saler would have replaced it as Spain's Best in Show, simultaneously moving up a notch or two on both Europe's Top 100 Courses rankings, as well as the world-wide ratings. In the meantime, El Saler has settled for its lofty position as Spain's number 2 ranked golf course, graciously accepting all of the glory so deservedly heaped upon it.
Opened to accolades in 1968, El Saler is simply a masterly layout from Spain's most accomplished golf architect, Javier Arana, recognized as a leader in contemporary course design. Provided with the perfect site, fronted by The Mediterranean Sea and magnificent sand dunes, with a back-drop of the Albufera Nature Reserve, Sr. Arana created the crowning glory of his long and illustrious career. El Saler rightfully belongs on the must play list of every serious golfer.
Though more than half the holes play through a pine forest, the remainder are a pure links delight, playing through over and around the impressive sand dunes where the wind becomes a real menace to be reckoned with. Maybe it's the combination of these two different types of terrain that add to the exhilaration of playing a layout that is a natural born thriller from beginning to end.
The wide fairways and generous greens on the links holes can build a false level of confidence, but beware; there is an abundance of rough that will frustrate and confuse any that venture away from the prescribed path. These holes offer an open invitation to the big hitters to do just that, but this is where the wind can and usually does extract its toll, carrying balls with frightening ease into the voraciously hungry rough.
El Saler's rough is special - soft, sandy wasteland with a vegetation of mimosa, myrtle bushes, sea grasses and masses of treacherously sticky ice plant. Venture into it and the job of extricating yourself will cost more strokes than you may be accustomed to giving up.
El Saler's links holes can easily be compared with the best in Scotland or Ireland, and it seems that Sr. Arana was perhaps paying tribute to the home of golf when he designed them, showing his respect for the origins of the game rather than merely mimicking. But this is the work of a great designer, and where he no longer had the dunes and linksland to work with, the artist has adeptly moved to the forest with a superb collection of woodland holes.
The fairways narrow and together with the encroaching trees, demand accuracy and precision as they guard the greens that had earlier been so generous, but no more. Shrewd bunkering makes the task all the more challenging and the greens present slopes and subtle undulations that are often difficult to read.
Javier Arana has successfully built a very serious test for the thinking golfer, where the skilful use of every club in the bag becomes a necessity for a satisfactory score - playing to your handicap on El Saler is an infrequent occurrence. But this is one of those rare courses you don't mind losing to and if you do, there will be some satisfaction in knowing you were beaten by one of the best.
There is no question that El Saler is more than worthy of its ranking as one of Spain's and indeed Europe's, very top layouts, a fact confirmed by its frequent selection in the past to host the prestigious Spanish Open. But it's more than the superb design and the level of challenge presented. This is a course that never fails to provide a level of enjoyment to even the most jaded golfer, something not easily found these days. El Saler does it all and it does so in a grand Valencian style that is practically guaranteed to provide memories enough to last a lifetime.
For any city to have a course of El Saler's caliber that is readily accessible to visitors is no mean accomplishment, but there's much more to Valencia's golf story than one excellent course.
The city is no stranger to golfing fame, after all Sergio Garcia was born in the region, just a 45 minute drive up the road in Castellon. This is where Sergio's home club is located, Club de Campo del Mediterraneo and where the man who taught him golf, his father, is the club pro. Only a couple of years ago Mediterraneo hosted its first European Tour event, The Castello Masters, which the local hero took great pleasure in winning.
Mediterraneo is a gem of a layout that will inevitably gain a lot more attention now that it's been acknowledged by The European Tour and visitors are still very warmly welcomed. If you reserve early enough, you might even be able to get a lesson or two from Sergio's dad. That should be good for a few years of cocktail talk at your home club, don't you think?
Just 20 minutes or so from Valencia's city center is another beautiful course at the stylish, El Bosque Hotel & Country Club, this time from the drawing board of Robert Trent Jones Sr. It's a hilly layout, which often results in sloping lies, complicating matters for many, but fortunately the hazards are all clearly in view, though painstakingly placed for maximum effectiveness. There are four fantastic doglegs and the par-3's will be among the best most have ever played. El Bosque is classic Trent Jones at its best and certainly a layout to be savored by any connoisseur of the game -- it's another course that Valencia can and should be very proud of.
For pure, unadulterated fun, don't be deterred by the name of Club de Golf Escorpion, located 15 minutes from the heart of Valencia and a layout for all to enjoy, regardless of their skill level. For the lower handicapper, Escorpion is an excellent place to restore the self-confidence that may have taken a beating at El Saler, Mediterraneo, El Bosque or one of the other 18 hole tough guys that are within easy striking distance of incredible Valencia - This is an exceptional city and her golf is nothing less.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to enjoy the very best of Spain's golfing wealth, while savoring this delightful country's many other pleasures, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.
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