Two gems on the Spanish Mediterranean

August 27, 2010
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

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 a doubt, one of Europe's most enticing vacation destinations and 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.

PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course - Pride of the Costa Brava and ranked no 7 among Europe's Top 100.
PGA Catalunya offers two thoroughly testing layouts - both must plays.
PGA Catalunya is one of the most important additions to Spanish golf of the last decade.
Valencia's El Saler Golf Club has hosted many international tournaments including the Spanish Open.
El Saler will tempt the big hitters but be wary the rough is treacherous on Spain's No 3 ranked course.
Valderrama hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup and has been ranked Spain's top course for almost 20 years.

Spain has an enviable collection of well over 300 courses spread across the country and while they are not all equal, there are very few that could be classified as average. The vast majority of Spain's courses fall into the very good or excellent categories and a surprisingly large number can honestly be described as truly exceptional. While this maybe common knowledge among Europeans, the good word on Spain's bounty of outstanding golf has been very slow in reaching American shores, unfortunately, this is only our loss.

If you are tempted to experience the wonders of Spanish golf, combining the rich history and culture of this intriguing country with her superb cuisine and glorious beaches, you are in for some very pleasant surprises.

The heaviest concentration of golf in Spain, including many of the top ranked courses, is to be found along the Mediterranean coast, where a warm, balmy climate makes the game a year round pursuit and especially delightful during the autumn, winter and spring months.

Although there are golf courses scattered along the entirety of this Mediterranean coastline, there are three main golf clusters that combine a choice of excellent courses and close by, a handsome selection of non-golfing attractions. Each offers a smorgasbord of history, culture, sightseeing opportunities and a taste of the real soul of Spain.

The first of the three golf clusters is in the area surrounding Barcelona and the Costa Brava, close to the border with France. There are more than a dozen outstanding courses in the area, but the star attraction is without doubt, PGA Golf de Catalunya, a complete golf resort of the highest standard, boasting a pair of championship layouts and a decidedly first class hotel sitting between the two.

PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course opened in 1999 to accolades from the European golfing world. Within a couple of years this upstart newcomer had worked its way onto the prestigious rankings of Europe's Top 100 Courses and has never looked back since. Today the Stadium Course is ranked number 7 in all of Europe and continues to work its way even higher.

This is a superlative design from two of Europe's most respected contemporary golf architects, Englishman and Ryder Cup team veteran, Neil Coles and European Tour player, turned design artist, Spain's own, Angel Gallardo. The chemistry between these two talented golfer/designers has produced a layout that is nothing less than golf magic, certainly bound for the uppermost reaches of international golf glory. Demanding, handsome and offering wonderful views across the Pyrenees Mountains, stepping onto the first tee you immediately know you are in for a round of golf, all but guaranteed to end up in the memory book.

Measuring a hefty, 7,250 yards from the tips, the wide rolling fairways will tempt the big-hitters as they wind through a forest of pine and cork oak, but with treacherous rough and a couple of large lakes coming into play on at least four holes, length alone is not enough - accuracy is essential if you are to finish the round with a respectable score.

The greens, jealously guarded by bunkers, water and sometimes wild slopes and undulations, are difficult to reach without a very solid short game and once there, ability with the putter will be a definite advantage. This is a course for the thinking golfer, where good course management will always pay-off. For those who are up to the test and can handle the intelligence of the Stadium Course, this is a thriller from start to finish, more than worthy of the flattery so generously heaped upon it.

Put PGA Catalunya at the very top of your must play list, but don't ignore some of the other beauties in the area. There are another pair of excellent layouts at the Emporda Golf Resort and for a change of pace, Golf Platja de Pals offers a real charmer, reminiscent of a grand old English parkland course -- and there are more.

The second Mediterranean golf cluster is in the area surrounding the wonderful old city of Valencia, where Campo de Golf El Saler stands out as the shining golf star. El Saler is ranked the number 3 course in the country and although there are no true links courses in Spain, this one is as close as they come, adding a little extra spice to an already tough challenge. El Saler is one of the great tests of Spanish golf.

Though more than half the holes play through a pine forest, the remainder provide a very links-like experience as holes play between sand dunes and the wind becomes a real menace to be reckoned with.

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 hitter to do just that, but this is where the wind can and usually does extract its toll, carrying balls with frightening ease into the consuming rough.

El Saler's rough is special - soft sandy wasteland with a vegetation of mimosa and myrtle bushes. 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 to the best in Scotland or Ireland and it seems that the great Spanish designer, Javier Arana, was perhaps paying tribute to the home of golf when he designed them, showing his respect for the origins of golf rather than merely mimicking. But this is the work of a clever designer and where he no longer had the dunes and linksland to work with, Arana has adeptly moved to the forest with a masterfully designed 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 appeared so generous. Artful bunkering makes the task all the more challenging and the greens themselves offer slopes and undulations that are often difficult to read.

Sr. Arana has successfully built a serious test for the thinking golfer, where the skilful use of every club in the bag becomes a necessity for a satisfactory score. But this is one of those courses that you don't mind losing to and if you do, you know you were beaten by one of the best. From a design standpoint, there is no question that El Saler is worthy of its ranking as one of Spain's top layouts, a fact confirmed by its frequent selection as host to The Spanish Open. The maintenance may not always be the very best, but that detracts from neither the excellence of the design nor the challenge and enjoyment it will most assuredly provide.

The Mediterranean coast's third golf cluster, the Costa del Sol, sits between the city of Malaga and the British outpost of Gibraltar at the far Western end of the Mediterranean Sea. This is the largest and most impressive cluster from a golfer's standpoint and although Valderrama still rules as the undisputed King of Golf in these parts, there are others that would challenge the throne, making for a long but interesting story and an ever-growing list of must play courses in the area. This will all be the subject of a future article, devoted exclusively to the Costa del Golf.

In the meantime, take another look at golf in Spain and explore the treasure trove of golf excellence it contains and all this in addition to the wealth of intriguing history and fascinating culture that makes Spain so different and so very special.

For more ideas and suggestions on how to get the very most out of your Spanish vacation, whether golf is a part of the equation or not, call the Spain experts at Golf International, toll free at 1 (800) 833-1389 or, click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.