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.
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No matter which way you slice it, the summer of 2010 with its 95 degree plus temperatures, is far behind us; much cooler weather has arrived and downright freezing cold days are not far ahead. Old Man Winter is definitely on the way and traveling fast - 90 degree days are beginning to sound rather good.
It's time for those of us living in the Midwest and Northeast, to start planning a winter escape from the inevitable cold of home, finding someplace warm and relaxing to get away from it all for a week or so. It's something we all need if we are to retain our sanity through the long winter months. The therapeutic value of a winter break is well established and studies show the more pleasant the vacation experience, the more good it will do us, so choose your spot carefully and this year we all need to be far more careful than in the past.
Before opting for one of the traditional winter-sunshine destinations to the south, consider the current local environment these sun, sand and sea locations are experiencing. Paradise has changed in recent years and not for the better - those dreamy websites used to tempt visitors, often conceal a much harsher reality.
Too many Caribbean islands are suffering from varying degrees of social unrest and fast growing crime rates that don't belong in any paradise. South of our own border, the frightening reality of drug-wars and unprecedented gang violence continues unabated, with no end in sight. And nobody needs to be reminded of the terrible hurricane season we were promised that is now being delivered -- it's proving to be one of the worst on record. Sadly it's the Caribbean islands and Mexico that always suffer the brunt of Mother Nature's hurricane wrath, made far worse by these newer and even more serious problems.
Following those other snowbirds south is probably not the best idea, especially when you consider there are warm, sunny alternatives where hurricanes are unheard of, earthquakes never happen and gang wars and violence are restricted to the Hollywood movies showing at the local cinema.
There may be no better or safer winter sunshine escape than Spain's sun blessed, Mediterranean coastline where there are no security issues and you will find all of the positive attractions offered by those other destinations, but with so much more besides, including a wealth of truly outstanding golf courses.
Today it's almost as common for an American golf traveler to spend a week or so in Spain as it is in the more traditional golf destinations of northern Europe. Initially tempted by Spain's 1997 Ryder Cup venue, Valderrama, ranked as Europe's very best course for each of the past 20 years, these visitors quickly learn that Spanish golf is far more than a single layout, with a depth of world-class golf courses that takes second place to no other country on the entire continent..
Many of Spain's best courses are located along the Mediterranean coastline, where they often occur in clusters, close to historic towns, villages and cities, with a never-ending array of cultural, shopping, sightseeing and gastronomic possibilities. This after all is Spain, where the excitement only begins on the golf courses and there are always so many other things to see and do.
The main concentration of courses along the Mediterranean occurs in the fascinating region of Andalucia and the Costa del Sol, affectionately referred to as the Costa del Golf. Laid out like a string of pearls, more than 80 world-class layouts are scattered along and around some100 miles of shoreline.
This is the heart and soul of Spanish golf. Included are some of the very best, including world famous Valderrama, outstanding Finca Cortesin, La Reserva, La Cala and literally scores more, all ranked among Europe's crème de la crème courses.
As wonderful as Andalucia's golf most certainly is, the region is also filled with amazing sightseeing opportunities that cannot be missed. Take a couple of days to explore everyone's favorite city, Seville, located an easy 2 hour drive from the coast. The birthplace of flamenco and one of Spain's many centers of fine cuisine, there are also a few golf courses that shouldn't be missed here, including Jose Maria Olazabal's masterly design at the Royal Seville Golf Club.
If you are this close, take an hour's drive down the road to Jerez de la Frontera, Sherry Capital of the World. Nearby Montecastillo Golf Club is another of Spain's shining golf stars and a frequent past host to the Volvo Open, until very recently, The European Tour's season grand finale event. While you are in Jerez, be sure to take in a visit to the world renowned, Royal School of Equestrian Art, it's an exhibition of horsemanship like nothing you have ever seen before.
But there are many other, not-to-be-missed, Andalucian sightseeing attractions, all literally calling out to be discovered -- Granada, home to the Alhambra, one of the world's grandest historic monuments; Cordoba, containing Spain's most stunning Moorish architecture, including La Mezquita, the largest and arguably, most beautiful mosque in existence. Wander a little off the beaten path and discover Los Pueblos Blancos, an ancient network of fortressed white villages that have stood here for centuries - and golf will never be far away
Further eastward along the coastline there are more intriguing golf clusters, in the regions surrounding the cities of Alicante and Valencia. This is the Costa Blanca, a popular beach vacation spot for sun-seekers and another golf haven, where quality courses thrive and true gems are not unusual.
Alicante Golf Club may appear to be a little squeezed into its condo-lined layout, close to the city, but it's an excellent, Seve Ballesteros design with wonderfully contoured greens that will rank alongside the best greens you've ever mis-read. Making up for the abundant condo's is a piece of older urban development, set alongside the 14th green -- the remarkably well preserved remains of a huge Roman villa, dating from the 2nd century -- history lessons and golf come hand-in-hand in these parts.
To the south of Alicante is the spectacular, La Finca Golf Resort and Spa, a magnificent 5 star property with a uniquely testing championship course that has garnered nothing but the highest praise since it first opened, 8 years ago. Other noteworthy layouts in the area include the very pleasant, Bonalba Golf & Spa, with it's preponderance of water hazards; a pair of very impressive Jack Nicklaus layouts at Villaitana Wellness & Golf Resort and midway between Alicante and Valencia, impressive, La Sella Golf. Jose Maria Olazabal played a large part in La Sella's design, a fact that shines through clearly in its demands for an excellent short game.
The captivating city of Valencia is energetic, elegant and filled to over-flowing with history, fascinating sightseeing and truly extraordinary architecture, all easily discovered on foot. This is also another of Spain's gastronomic capitals where paella reigns supreme and the regional wines, seldom seen on this side of the Atlantic, are absolutely delightful. Valencia, much like Seville, has a magical appeal for all, whether a golfer or not and is guaranteed to win a place in every visitors heart. The city is quite unique and well worth visiting as a tourist and for the golfers it's definite must. This is home to El Saler Golf Club, officially ranked as Spain's # 2 course, following hot on Valderrama's heels, but providing a totally different and perhaps an even more exhilarating golf experience.
El Saler is a seaside test that has been compared to the best links courses in Scotland and provides a wonderfully stern examination of golfing skills to push the most accomplished player to the extreme. It's an outstanding layout that simply cannot be missed and being conveniently located, only 20 minutes from the heart of Valencia, will tempt any golf aficionado to return for a second round. Don't resist, seldom do we find courses that are quite this good. There's more golf to experience around town, including the hilly and very handsome course at El Bosque, an exciting Robert Trent Jones design and a very stylish layout that cannot fail to please, even the most seasoned international golfer.
The fun track at Club de Golf Escorpion doesn't pretend to be anything, other than what it is, a delightful course to restore the confidence perhaps lost to El Saler or El Bosque and pure golf enjoyment amid beautiful surroundings -- and it's all within minutes of the city. Drive a little further, north of Valencia and you could be playing Sergio Garcia's home club, Club de Campo Mediterraneo, added to the European Tour's permanent schedule for the first time last year. With more quality courses in the neighborhood, including the utterly charming Panoramica, the assurance of excellent golf makes Valencia a very worthwhile stopover. Delta Airlines recently inaugurated non-stop flights to Valencia, from New York, bringing this enthralling city, closer to Americans than ever before, so take advantage of the convenience and discover Valencia, a very special Spanish treat.
Reaching the far northeastern end of Spain's Mediterranean golf heaven, perhaps the best has been saved until last. Barcelona and the Costa Brava go together like a horse and carriage for both golfers and non-golfers alike. This part of Catalonia may not have the number of courses of the Costa del Sol, but whatever is lacking in quantity, is more than made up for with quality and the chance to combine superb golf on the dramatically beautiful Costa Brava, with the many delights of a city as universally appealing as Barcelona.
Heading the list of courses demanding to be played is certainly PGA de Catalunya , which is nothing less than a spectacularly beautiful beast, ranked among Spain's top five layouts and a superb addition to the Costa Brava's already excellent, golf collection. Hot on Catalunya's heels comes the impressive Robert von Haage design at Emporda, highly regarded, Golf Platja de Pals and a little further inland, Fontanals. In the immediate Barcelona area, the two layouts at El Prat are stunning, as is Masia Bach, another masterly design from Jose Maria Olazabal.
Spain's Mediterranean coast is every golfers dream, but with so many other attractions, all combined with the perfect year round climate, glorious beaches and a back-drop of the warm Mediterranean Sea, it makes a dream destination for the entire family, whether golf comes into the picture or not.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of a winter escape to Spain's magnificent Mediterranean Coast, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll free 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.
©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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