Playing the Game in Southern Spain
By Carla Harvey, Staff Writer
'California, Here We Come?' was the title of a golf news report I wrote more than a decade ago; the question mark was a modest query. Would we, or rather, would southern Spain be capable of creating and sustaining sufficient courses to merit comparison with the USA in terms of golf? A resounding 'Yes!' is the answer. By 2000, more than 70 Andalucian courses were in play and more are in planning and construction stages.
Andalucia is a land of contrasts, of sheer cliffs, rolling foothills, and flat salt marches. Its colours are desert ochre, a palette of greens and purples, clarity of piercing blueness on the Costa de Luz that has had writers waxing poetic ever since Europe was discovered. Other places may be equally pleasing to the eye but the unmatchable commodity to offer here is climate: the best in Europe. We boast (and are only occasionally forced to eat our words) that Andalucia has 300 days of sunshine a year.
There are some good clubs near Málaga, among which is the coast's oldest, Parador Málaga del Golf, which was opened in 1925. The proliferation of golf courses is noticeable from Torremolinos westward with several inland courses contributing to the options. La Cala and Alhaurin Golf are two excellent courses situated above the coast between Fuengirola and Marbella.
Choice of venue is determined by personal preferences. Some golfers relish the hurly-burly of 'T-Town' for their aprés golf; others prefer the homey bonhomie and British pubs of Fuengirola. A third group is charmed by urbane affluence of Marbella.
Legendary as the capital of glamour, good restaurants, haute couture boutiques and further aspects associated with the 'good life', Marbella is also the heart of golf on the Costa del Sol. In the hills above Puerto Banús, the Valle del Golf boasts three championship courses: Real Club Las Brisas (twice host to the World Cup), Aloha Golf and Los Naranjos. No fewer than 14 courses lie within a 30-minute drive from the town.
Sotogrande is located some 45 minutes to the west of Marbella. This 4,000-acre estate was purchased and nurtured by an American whose ambition was to create a community for those who could afford to live a life of ease.
Sotogrande remains unique in Europe for its green areas, arresting harbour and elegant homes. Here lie several outstanding courses, including Spain's most famous golf club, long called the 'Augusta of Europe' and voted the best course on the continent - Valderrama.
To say that southern Spain was ecstatic with the choice of Valderrama as host to the 1997 Ryder Cup simply does not do justice to the Andalucian temperament. One Mayor of a nearby city became so carried away by the news that he attempted to annex Sotogrande into his township.
Although the law was quick to quell his enthusiasm, the exuberant Mayor may be forgiven for his fantasy, as he was only acting out Everymans dream we all wanted to be a part of the Ryder Cup magic. A new property boom was predicted, and investment has been increasing steadily ever since the event.
The so-called 'Ryder Cup Effect' made the powers that be in Cádiz province fully appreciate just how much 'green gold' they had to exploit. San Roque Club and Alcaidesa (the only links course in Spain) have been well-established for several years.
With the single exception of Novo Sancti Petri in Chiclana, the Atlantic Coast was a barren area for golf lovers. Now it is emerging as an exciting alternative to the Costa del Sol, either to be combined with a 'costa' holiday or to be taken on its own, for there are more than a dozen courses within reasonable distance from one another.
The Costa de la Luz is rugged, windy, flat; the 'light' for which it is named is of a crystal quality that is as sharp to breathe as it is to look at. With additional courses located on the coast itself, Montecastillo has an enviable location immediately outside of the enticing city of Jerez, home of sherry, horses and beautiful women.
Designers of Atlantic golf courses have seen it as a challenge to compensate for a lack of hills by creating interesting water and forest features.
Further incentive to become acquainted with the area's golf clubs is a marketing scheme that includes several courses. Montenmedio, Novo Sancti Petri, Montecastillo, Costa Ballena, Real Club de Sevilla, Club Zaudin, Islantilla and Isla Canela belong to 'Atlantee Golf', an association similar to the Spanish 'Ibercheque ' and 'Bankhotel', groups that offer special deals at 3,4 and 5 star hotels. Like them, 'Atlantee' produces a five-ticket 'Passport'; each ticket is valid for one greens fee, buggy or golf lesson. See http://www.atlantee-golf.com, where you can make reservations in advance.
I can imagine few more pleasurable things to contemplate than combining a visit to Sevilla with a golfing holiday. Andalucia's capital city is a stunning cornucopia of attractions and fiestas, its people friendly and cosmopolitan and its nightlife a lively melange of fiery flamenco, jazz, blues, theatre, and impromptu concerts on the streets.
Golf is a latecomer to the metropolis and we have to salute EXPO '92 for a tardy debut of the sport. Until then, players traveled to the Costa del Sol to enjoy a game, as the city's only course was a members-only club.
José María Olazábel was commissioned to design the Real Club de Golf de Sevilla; the club opened to the public and instant success in 1991. A short drive from Seville, Zaudín Golf beckons with beautiful views of the city and challenging water hazards.
Gary Player created the course in '93; he considers it one of his best. Las Minas, a nine-hole club set in a pine forest 20 miles from Seville completes the offering, but options less than 50 miles away include four golf clubs in the province of Huelva.
Andalucia's most westerly province borders on Portugal and the Atlantic. Paramount among some fairly spectacular natural attractions is the Coto Doñana, one of the world's greatest protected wildlife parks. Specific permission to visit is requisite. Separated from Sevilla by the Guadalquivir river and far less conspicuous at first sight, Huelva is characterised by a quieter ambience than the capital.
It has recently, however, realized the potential that golf resorts will bring to local tourism, and half a dozen new courses are in varying stages of construction.
These courses will be (with all positive and negative accompanying elements) the central focus of large golf complexes containing luxury hotels and new property developments such as are already present at Islantilla, a 27-hole championship course bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Isla Canela on Ayamonte Island. Bellavista is Huelva's longest established club, its front nine holes dating from 1975.
From Huelva, Portugal is less than an hour's drive away. Unsurprisingly, Portugal is keenly pursuing the establishment of golf on its rolling terrain. But that is another chapter.
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