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 is without doubt, one of Europe's most enticing vacation destinations. Few other places can match the depth and breadth of all that Europe's third largest country offers every visitor, no matter what their interests might be -- and that includes golf. For reasons that have been one of golf's great mysteries ever since Spain's very first golf course opened in 1891, the magnificence of Spanish golf has remained largely unfamiliar to many American golfers.
This is especially confounding when others with a particularly strong affiliation with the Royal & Ancient game, most notably the Scots and Irish (people with no shortage of excellent golf courses in their own back yards) rank Spanish golf as being among the best to be found anywhere.
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Make no mistake, Spain is the power-house of Continental European golf and ranks alongside Scotland and Ireland as one of the world's very small handful of truly great golf destinations. Boasting well over 300 golf courses, there is no shortage of world-class layouts to choose between, but more important than quantity, it's the consistent quality of these courses that really impresses every visitor and evidently none more so than The PGA's European Tour.
For years Spain has been selected by The European Tour to regularly host more of The Tour's tournaments each season than any other European country. In 2012 this amounts to almost 20% of all PGA events being held on European soil; an impressive tribute to Spain and her golf.
The Ryder Cup site selection committee was apparently equally as impressed when they selected Spain as the very first country outside of the USA and Britain to ever host this biennial battle between the best of Europe and the USA. In 1997 the controversial choice was made to have Southern Spain's now world renowned, Valderrama, as the host course. When the European Ryder Cup team emerged victorious under the captaincy of the great Seve Ballesteros, the world was convinced that Spanish golf in general and Valderrama in particular, were indeed, very special.
So how can Spain, with such a high caliber of golf courses; a country selected as the venue for more important tournaments than any other, acknowledged by the Ryder Cup and accepted by European golfers as the Capital of European Golf, still be unfamiliar to American golfers?
There is perhaps one over-riding reason - Spain is a land blessed with so much of everything, most of which has been established for centuries, it's not easy for a relatively new, 120 year-old attraction such as golf (as spectacular as it is) to make an immediate impact.
Spain is a land overflowing with art and architecture, ancient buildings, fine museums and monuments, history and culture. There are charming old villages, impressive towns and intriguing cities, literally brimming over with history and fascinating sightseeing, shopping and an endless array of restaurants, tapas bars and nightclubs. This after all is Spain, where excellent food and wines abound and many insist, it's the best in all of Europe. There are glorious beaches and spectacular landscapes everywhere. the night-life is vibrant and there is always that infectious, Spanish joie de vivre and genuine friendliness that captures the heart and soul of every visitor.
As rich as Spain's history and multi-faceted culture is; as steeped in tradition as this amazing country is, Spain cannot be grouped with other European countries. Spain is a one of a kind destination -- never boring, always unique, unfailingly captivating, and filled with surprises. But be warned, she will flirt and tease, beguiling one and all with her seductive charms and inevitably, as with every other visitor, she will find her way into your heart and chances are you will be returning again and again.
But with so much going on, this is a country that really does have something for everyone and as wonderful a golf destination as it unquestionably is, Spain has a similar, almost magical appeal to literally, everyone - even those with no love of golf at all. Forget any pangs of guilt about taking a golf trip with the guys and leaving the family at home, bring them all along to Spain and you will have the makings of one of the best family vacations ever.
Spain is large -- 20% larger than the state of California -- so put thoughts of covering all of the country in a single trip, out of your head -- unless of course you have a couple of months available to do a really grand tour. Instead, focus on a single region and give yourself the opportunity to soak up as much of the local history, culture and golf as you possibly can, leaving plenty of time for the beaches and those lazy, long lunches and dinners that can last three or four hours -- remember, this is a vacation, a time to slow down, rejuvenate and enjoy yourself, and Spain provides the perfect surroundings to do just that.
Choosing which part of Spain to focus your vacation on may seem a little bewildering at first glance, but it really needn't be. If golf is to be an important part of this trip, look to the courses of the Mediterranean coastline where many of the very best are to be found, the idyllic climate makes golfing a year round pursuit and you will never be disappointed.
Avoid the peak summer months of June, July and August, when the sun-worshippers from Northern Europe flock to Spain's Mediterranean beaches to cook their pale bodies in the sun and the rest of the year is all but tailor-made for golf and golfers. By mid-September, the last of the sun-worshippers have returned to their cool damp homelands, leaving the clear blue skies and sparkling Mediterranean Sea for the golfers and sightseers to enjoy.
Along the more than 800 miles that is Spain's Mediterranean Coast, there's an endless stream of golf courses, but for the most enticing, look at the more important golf centers that not only offer a selection of excellent courses and magnificent beaches, but an endless array of other distractions, creating some unique vacation opportunities.
There maybe no region of the country that epitomizes Spain quite as emphatically as Andalucia. This is the birthplace of flamenco, bull-fighting, those delectable culinary delights called tapas, sherry wine and most other things Spanish. Seville, the regional capital, is a fascinating, historic city that never fails to capture the hearts of every visitor.
Nearby, Jerez de la Frontera, center of the Sherry industry, has its own historic story to tell, as do the surrounding Pueblos Blancos (fortressed, white villages) that have stood here for centuries. There are the ancient cities of Granada and Cordoba to be discovered, each with its own treasure trove of Spain's rich heritage and all of this, so easily accessed from the coast where golf thrives like no place else in Spain.
Base yourself in or near the chic resort town of Marbella and the surrounding assembly of world-class golf courses can only impress even the most jaded golf traveler. There's good reason why this coastline, officially named the Costa del Sol, has been dubbed, The Costa del Golf, with some 60 excellent golf courses set out within a 50 mile radius of Marbella. Each course is worthy of any visiting golfer's attention, including 1997 Ryder Cup host, world-renowned Valderrama, Europe's top ranked course for almost two decades. But there are so many other distractions that will inevitably tempt even the most avid golf devotee, away from golf. The oddity that is the British outpost of Gibraltar is only 30 minutes away and the amazing ancient mountain town of Ronda, a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, is less than an hour's drive.
Marbella's old town shouldn't be missed and neither should Picasso's birthplace, located in the nearby city of Malaga and if you have the time, the beaches are still here to tempt their share of attention.
The city of Valencia has been long over-looked by American visitors, a situation that is rapidly changing thanks to a new, Delta Airlines service to this tremendously appealing destination, direct from New York.
This is Spain's third largest city and the place that gave the world Spain's most widely recognized culinary dish, paella, while simultaneously bringing untold fame to the humble orange, might well be Spain's least heralded gem. No city with this much charisma, unbelievably handsome architecture and enviable collection of historic monuments and buildings, should ever be missed.
Valencia is a city of contrasts -- from the enchanting Old Town, to the truly astounding and ultra modern, City of Arts and Sciences, no other city in all of Spain may have the same, wide ranging level of appeal. This is a city of festivals that virtually run year round, culminating with the fabled, Las Fallas, a pyromaniac's dream and undoubtedly one of Spain's most dramatic festivals that takes place during the third week in March. But Valencia is no stranger to excitement and nowhere is this as evident as in the city's vibrant night-life; the envy of European capital's ten times the size. Only making this charmer even more appealing to any visitor is its compact and very manageable size -- this is a walking city, best discovered on foot and there is a lot to discover.
Golfers will be especially attracted to the surrounding golf opportunities, where the headliner is definitely, Campo de Golf El Saler, a superb seaside layout, ranked among Europe's very best and number 3 in all of Spain. This is simply a must play course that once tasted, demands to be played again and sitting less than a 20 minute drive from the heart of Valencia's Old Town, there's no reason not to. Only a little further from the city is El Bosque Golf Club, an excellent, though hilly, Robert Trent Jones design that deserves attention and don't overlook La Sella Golf, an imaginative layout from Jose Maria Olazabal, considered by many to be his best.
Combine a 3 or 4 night stay in ever-popular Barcelona, savoring the multitude of pleasures only one of Spain's most captivating cities can deliver, with another 4 nights at a beachfront hotel on the Costa Brava. A drive of just a couple of hours separates the two, but the different experiences each provides will be literally world's apart.
The Costa Brava is known for its spectacularly beautiful beaches and world class golf courses, among them, PGA Catalunya, ranked number two in Spain and one of Europe's top five. Among the other notable Costa Brava courses that will tempt any golfer are, Emporda, Pals, Peralada and Golf d'Aro.
But the Costa Brava also has a wealth of sightseeing opportunities that shouldn't be missed. There are charming medieval villages to discover and the regional capital of Girona, one of Spain's best preserved medieval cities and perhaps Catalonia's most tempting, literally invites exploration. And don't miss visiting the small town of Figueres, where native son, Salvador Dali found his final resting place. The renowned surrealist painter assembled his own museum here, filled with many of his most acclaimed and often tongue-in-cheek, pieces. After Madrid's El Prado Museum, Mr. Dali's draws more visitors each year than any other Spanish museum. Just remember to take a sense of humor along on your visit.
Spain's Mediterranean coastline is only a sampling of the level of golf that the country has specialized in producing, ever since golf was first introduced here120 years ago. There is no doubt that Spain has earned the title of Europe's Golf Capital, providing exceptional golf in an even more exceptional country. Put Spain at the top of your travel list, where it belongs and you'll never regret it.
For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your trip to Spain. contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.
©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.