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.
Contrary to popular belief, top quality golf, "Across the Pond", is not limited to the cool, damp climates of the countries of Northern Europe. In fact most of the very best golf courses to be found on Continental Europe, bask in year round sunshine and the balmy temperatures of Southern Europe and nowhere is this more in evidence than in Southern Spain.
Since the British first introduced golf to Spain, way back in 1861, the Royal & Ancient Game has blossomed and today the country boasts an impressive inventory of well over 300 golf courses. But it's not just the number of courses that is the envy of practically every other European country, more importantly it's the consistently high quality of these courses. Spanish golf stands shoulder to shoulder alongside the world's best.
There's good reason why the European PGA chooses Spain to host more European Tour events each year than any other country. The combination of top-class golf courses and perfect year-round weather is as appealing to tour professionals as it is to visiting golfers on vacation.
Spain's most famous golf course, Valderrama, remains the first and still the only course on Continental Europe to ever host The Ryder Cup, which it did in 1997. This was the year when the great Seve Ballesteros captained a victorious Team Europe to success over one of the strongest US teams ever, including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Freddie Couples, Davis Love and Jim Furyk. Players and a global audience of millions were in awe of one of the world's most respected courses. Valderrama still holds its lofty position as Europe's best and warmly welcomes visitors, though understandably, in limited numbers.
It was Valderrama's few days in the world spotlight that brought the long overdue attention of impressed golfers everywhere to Spain, Spanish golf and the undeniable fact that golf in this part of the world is exceptional.
Valderrama is not an isolated course, but only one of more than a hundred layouts that make their home in this part of Southern Spain and the intriguing region of Andalucia, where the Spain every visitor has ever dreamed of comes to life.
Base yourself in or near the bustling resort town of Marbella and you will be in the center of the Mediterranean coastline known as the Costa del Sol or more affectionately, the Costa del Golf, with over 60 courses within an hour's drive and most of the best, within half that driving time, including fabled, Valderrama.
Literally next door to Valderrama is Sotogrande, another much revered championship layout and only a few minutes further, an excellent pair of testing courses at San Roque, together with the sophisticated and thoroughly challenging La Reserva Golf Club. Not to be missed is the somewhat newer, but totally proven, Finca Cortesin, regular European Tour venue for the Volvo World Match Play Championship. This is just one more must play course to add to what will inevitably be a rather long list of the Costa del Sol's excellent courses.
Just to the other side of Marbella is the golf resort of La Cala, with a choice of three splendid championship courses to choose from, all by the local maestro of golf architecture, Cabell Robinson, a transplanted Californian who put roots down here more than 30 years ago. This is the same man responsible for designing Finca Cortesin plus another sparkler on this coast, a beauty called, Santana. Anytime you see Mr. Robinson's name attached to a course, you know you will definitely not be disappointed.
And this is still only the tip of the iceberg, golf excellence along the Costa del Sol is, to say the very least, bountiful. But as plentiful as golf is, you probably won't be spending 24 hours a day on the courses and for those off-course hours, there's a myriad of fascinating, non-golf activities, making the Costa del Sol the perfect vacation escape for everyone, whether a golfer or not.
Marbella alone could occupy an entire week of off-course activities, which must include the charming Old Town, with its maize of narrow winding streets and white-washed old buildings, draped in flowers. Filled with restaurants, boutiques and galleries, this is a shopaholics delight, where there will be as much fun hunting bargains down, as there will be buying them. Or simply spend an hour or so in an outdoor café, over a coffee or a g-lass of wine, people watching.
Travel even a short distance away from Marbella and you'll find a wealth of centuries-old history and culture, just waiting to be discovered by taking anyone of a host of daylong sightseeing excursions to such absorbing ancient cities as Seville, Granada, Cordoba or, Jerez de la Frontera.
It takes only an hour's drive from Marbella, back into the surrounding mountains, to reach the charming old mountain town of Ronda, one of the most impressive Pueblos Blancos (white villages) that are scattered throughout the Andalucian hillsides. These fortressed communities, built centuries ago to protect the inhabitants from bandits and the invading Moors from North Africa, are a living testament to Andalucia's colorful history.
Ronda is spectacularly built across the plunging gorge of the River Guadalevin, which separates the original, medieval town from the more recent 18th century part. Among the many historic buildings, be sure to include a visit to the bullring, Spain's oldest and most beautiful, which also serves as a museum of bull-fighting. Ronda was also a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway while researching for his novel, "The Sun Also Rises".
Make a full day out of this excursion and you will have time to visit one or two other Pueblos Blancos in the area, including Arcos de la Frontera. Be prepared for a white knuckle drive along impossibly narrow winding streets in the climb to reach the small town, perched on top of its own mountain. Once at the top, the views of the surrounding countryside and the old town with its amazing Gothic church and ruined castle, make it all well worth-while. Take the time for a coffee at the Parador, located in the main square, it will be good preparation for the drive home and back down the mountain!
Looking for a shorter half day excursion? Gibraltar is only a half-hour drive from Marbella and an hour or two exploring this tiny British outpost, with its duty free shopping and quaint, if out of place, very British way of life, is an amusing oddity. Standing on the famous Rock of Gilbraltar, North Africa and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco are clearly visible, just 18 miles away. For the more adventurous, it's another sightseeing opportunity, somewhat more exotic than Gibraltar, but it's so close, why not?
There is so much to savor and enjoy on the Costa del Sol, whether it's to be the fantastic food and excellent wines, or the bustling nightlife with casinos, bars and nightclubs aplenty. And as this is where flamenco was born, it's almost obligatory to take in a flamenco show or two. There's fantastic shopping and the endless array of intriguing sightseeing to be discovered, or just spend some down time, relaxing on one of the numerous beaches, all washed by the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, working on your tan. But don't forget the golf -- it may be a while before you have such a banquet of golfing opportunities to choose from again.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the very most out of your trip to the Costa del Sol, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling us toll-free at 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here and start planning your escape now.
©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.