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.
Golf is no newcomer to Spain, having thrived here since 1891, when the country's very first golf club was formed on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, by a group of British ex-pats., homesick for the game they were all passionate about. The original, Las Palmas Golf Club, still exists today, though boasting a newer layout, designed by the great Scottish architect, Mackenzie Ross (designer of Turnberry's fabled Ailsa Course) in1957.
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From a single course on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, Spanish golf has evolved into an outstanding collection of well over four hundred, world-class courses, the envy of all of Continental Europe. One hundred and twenty years of carefully thought out golf development has resulted in Spain becoming the un-anointed King of European golf.
There's good reason why the European PGA holds more Tour events in Spain than any other country. On the 2011 European Tour schedule there will be a grand total of 54 tournaments throughout the year, 23 of which are held in Europe proper, the rest in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. Of the 23 European venues, Spain hosts 7 events - more than any other, the closest being Scotland and France, each hosting 3 events. Considering The European Tour probably knows European golf courses better than most, their preferred choice of Spain speaks volumes for Spanish golf.
Spain's seven events favor the Mediterranean area with Andalucia hosting 3 tournaments and Catalonia, Valencia and the island of Mallorca, the selected venues for one European Tour event each. The seventh Spanish event is the Madrid Open, held in the capital.
If Europe is in your golf travel stars, as it should be, then put Spain at the top of your priority list. If you appreciate a year round balmy climate, wonderful food and wines, spectacular beaches and the very best courses, aim for the Spanish Mediterranean where the abundance of history and culture comes along with everything else, at no extra charge.
Which part of the Spanish Mediterranean you should choose is one of those impossible questions with no simple answer. Whether it's to be Barcelona and the neighboring Costa Brava, Andalucia and the Costa del Sol, delightful Valencia and the Costa Blanca, or the magical Mediterranean island of Mallorca, each has its own character, personality and plenty of top-drawer golf - all deserve to be considered and none will disappoint.
Speak with a specialized, golf travel company, such as Golf International, knowledgeable about Spain and Spanish golf for advice on what part of Spain's Mediterranean may be best suited to you and your preferences. In the meantime, here's a brief look at two regions, we will cover Barcelona, The Costa Brava and Mallorca in a future article.
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 some 100 miles of shoreline.
This is the heart and soul of Spanish golf. Included are some of the very best, including fabled Valderrama of Ryder Cup fame and outstanding Finca Cortesin, one of The European Tour's selected Spanish venues. Not to be missed are also 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, tapas 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 past host to the Volvo Open, until 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 plush 5 star property with a uniquely testing championship course that has garnered nothing but the highest praise since it first opened, 9 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 stunning 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 visitor's heart. The city is quite unique and well worth visiting as a tourist and for the golfers it's a definite must. Valencia is home to El Saler Golf Club, ranked among Spain's top 5 courses, following closely 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 a few years ago. 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.
Look for our November article, when we will continue this over-view of the Spanish Mediterranean, covering Barcelona, the Costa Brava and the island of Mallorca. In the meantime, learn more about the many wonders of Spain, both on the golf courses and off, by contacting the Spain experts at Golf International - call toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.
©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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