Spain, the perfect golf escape and so much more

December 14, 2011
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

Golf has been played in Spain for well over a century, but it's only during the last fifteen years or so that American golfers have come to the realization that Spain is an exceptional golf destination. Not only is this fascinating country filled with history, culture, excitement and wonderful gastronomy, it's also the center of golf on Continental Europe. Boasting an impressive inventory of well over 300 top quality golf courses, many ranked among Europe's best, Spain also enjoys the ideal climate to play many of them 12 months a year - Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, Spain's golf season simply refuses to end.

La Cala offers  three championship layouts, all by maestro Cabell Robinson.jpg
La Cala offers three championship layouts, all by maestro Cabell Robinson.
San Roque's New Course is a piece of contemporary design genius from Perry Dye.jpg
San Roque's New Course is a piece of contemporary design genius from Perry Dye.
Marbella's Puerto Banus Marina - center of all the action and within striking distance of 40 top courses.jpg
Marbella's Puerto Banus Marina -- center of all the action and within striking distance of 40 top courses.
Seville is everyone's favorite Spanish city.jpg
Seville is everyone's favorite Spanish city.
Las-Colinas is a new sparkler on the Costa Blanca.jpg
Las-Colinas is a new sparkler on the Costa Blanca.
Valencia is a charmer guaranteed to capture every visitors heart.jpg
Valencia is a charmer guaranteed to capture every visitors heart.
El Saler is the pride and joy of Valencia and one of Spain's top 5 courses.jpg
El Saler is the pride and joy of Valencia and one of Spain's top 5 courses.
Barcelona's colorful Ramblas is an irresistible magnet for visitors and locals alike.jpg
Barcelona's colorful Ramblas is an irresistible magnet for visitors and locals alike.
PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course - Pride of the Costa Brava and ranked no. 7 among Europe's Top 100.jpg
PGA Catalunya's Stadium Course -- Pride of the Costa Brava and ranked no. 7 among Europe's Top 100.
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The 1997 Ryder Cup was responsible for bringing Spanish golf to the world's attention with the surprise announcement that Spain would have the honor of being the very first country outside of Britain and the USA, to ever host the world's most prestigious golf event. Skeptics and believers alike watched in wonderment as a course called Valderrama unveiled its classic finesse and confounded the best players on the planet. Impressed golfers around the globe began speaking of Spain in the same breath as they did Scotland or Ireland - Spanish golf had arrived.

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. Valderrama continues its multi-year ranking as Europe's very best course bar none, sitting alongside Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Augusta National and other luminaries of the golfing world. But Spain is far more than a single layout -- this amazing country contains a depth of quality golf courses that take second place to none.

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, San Roque and literally dozens more, all qualifying as Europe's creme de la creme courses.

For a special treat, 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, 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 famous 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 finest 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, 7 years ago. No less inspiring is the truly superb, Las Colinas Golf & Country Club, a masterpiece by one of our favorite local residents, Cabell Robinson, a transplanted American with a very special design talent.

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. 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 but no less an 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 peanut butter and jelly 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.

But the Mediterranean coast is still only the beginning of Spain's golf story, to be continued in future articles, when we will explore some of the world-class layouts located around Madrid and other important Spanish cities. I'll take a glimpse at the golf gems scattered along the Atlantic coast in the north, including the home courses of two of Spain's most legendary golfers, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, as well as golf around the architecturally enchanting city of Bilbao, home to the world famous, Guggenheim Museum.

There are the regions of Castilla y Leon and Rioja, famous for their sophisticated wines and gastronomy, castles and World Heritage Sites, all waiting to be discovered, together with golf and the unique, Celtic heritage of Galicia, Spain's westernmost region.

Island golf is always special and Spain boasts some of the most impressive of all on her islands, located in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Less familiar to Americans, these jewels contain more than their fair share of golf excellence and a myriad of alluring, off-course attractions.

Spain is literally alive with amazing golf, but it's not only the number of world-class courses that exist, it's the diversity and never-ending variety, combined with so many other irresistible temptations that sets Spain in a category entirely of its own. Discover more of Spain, Europe's Golf Capital, in upcoming articles.

If you can't wait, especially if you are looking for a winter sunshine escape and a chance to get away from the oncoming chill of this winter, contact the friendly, Spain experts at Golf International. We have a host of ideas and suggestions that will excite even the most jaded golf traveler and we'll make sure any accompanying non-golfers are especially well taken care of. Call us toll-free at 1 (800) 833-1389 or click here and start planning your Spanish escape now.

©2011 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.