Perhaps no golfer captured the joyfulness of the game as the late, great Seve Ballesteros. His fist-pumping celebration upon winning the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews is indelibly imprinted in our minds, and his passion – captured in his 100-watt smile after sinking the winning putt – is a sneak peak into the Spanish psyche.
Seve had the heart of a conquistador, the flair of a matador, and the stylish graces of a flamenco dancer.
There’s a raw, natural ethos about the Spanish and their beloved country, and you’ll find all that and more by playing its bevy of golf courses.
Nowhere is golf played in such a glittering setting as Spain.
And nowhere in Spain is that truer than along the Costa del Sol.
Spanish golf is all about sun and fun, and there is a kaleidoscope of courses to choose from in the region called Andalusia, including world-famous Valderrama, home to the 1997 Ryder Cup – the event captured by Europe, and the winning team captained by Ballesteros.
Målaga is the capital of Andalusia and its centre for tourism, and from it, golf courses fan out in every direction.
For years, northern Europeans have been coming to the Costa del Sol to satisfy their golfing urges – all seasoned by the Spanish sun.
But now, Spain is very much on the GPS of golfers in Canada, too, thanks to the ease of international travel.
The Costa del Sol runs along the blue-eyed Mediterranean, and whether golfers are looking for championship layouts or underpriced little gems, Spain is perfectly poised to offer both, and more, including the finest in food, drink, culture and weather.
Since a mere 1 per cent of Spain actually plays golf (soccer is the main sport; Spain is the World Cup titleholder), almost all courses cater to visitors.
For Canadian visitors, why not start your trip at La Canada Golf Club, in Sotogrande Cadiz, along the Costa del Sol.
It was the first municipal golf course in Andalucía and features an impeccable design by Robert Trent Jones and Dave Thomas.
Its spectacular views of the sea from the high hills, and its Mediterranean style clubhouse, are a treat for visitors. And despite its name, it looks and feels nothing like Canada.
There is a vast network of top golf resorts, courses, hotels, apartments, and transport services in Spain.
One package includes staying at the PRY Marbella Puerto Banus Hotel and playing Costa del Sol courses like Los Arqueros, Los Naranjos, Calanova, Santana, Los Flamingos, and San Roque Golf club (old and new).
Another trip involves staying at the H10 Andalusia Plaza Hotel and playing La Reserva, Santa Clara, Santana and Sotogrande.
Marbella golf packages are readily available and the Marbella Golf Club Resort and Doña Julia golf club are other favourites of travellers.
Staying in the Almenara Golf Hotel Resort in Sotogrande is another fun venue.
Marbella Concept Spain Golf Tours fits packages for all travellers.
The Costa del Sol Golf has been the focus for nearly 50 years now, and choosing to play Valderamma is just an extra treat on the agenda.
Another top-notch course is Finca Cortesin (designed by Valderrama creator Cabell Robinson) and the hotel and spa are beyond good.
San Roque (old and new) and Alcaidesa Links and Heathland make for a great golf package because visitors are so close to the action around Marbella and Puerto Banus. Some of the best waterside bars are available for after-round drinks, or dinner.
If golfers are looking farther afield, you can travel to Costa Del Sol West Golf Holidays. From Estepona to Gibraltar, life is a little quieter than around Marbella with fewer developments and the golf courses spread out and just a bit more exclusive.
This is where you’ll find Valderrama, Finca Cortesin and Alcadeisa.
Costa del Sol East Golf Holidays include Malaga and Marbella and have long been favoured by British golfers. The reasons are plentiful: sunshine, great golf, easy-to-get-to venues, great-value prices, a warm ambience and fun après-golf.
But Spain is much more than golf, and this reporter has tasted some of what the area has to offer. The Torcal de Antequera Natural Reserve is located in the centre of the region, just 12 kms from Antequera. Its fantasy-like rock formations are hundreds of millions of years old.
Don’t miss the Recinto Monumental de la Alcazaba, an 11th century treasure of domes, towers, and ringing bells. The Arabic Bathhouses in Ronda are a favourite of many, and this ancient city is also home to two other world famous attractions: the oldest bullfighting ring in the world (Feria Goyesca), held once a year; and the El Tajo canyon, overlooking the Cuadalevin River, a dramatic 100 metre drop. Three bridges, one Roman, cross the canyon, and this ‘lovers leap’ is worth the drive from Malaga by rented car.
Climbing up the Mountains is a breathtaking experience and looking back to the bluey Mediterranean is one of the best vistas in all of Europe.
You can see everywhere the British influence on Spanish golf, including the name of The Andalusian Royal Golf Federation.
It’s like taking the best of British Golf and splashing it with sunshiny weather.
Andalusia is probably Europe’s most exciting golf destination, and definitely my favourite.
There is no better climate for all-year-round golf in Europe, and what Mediterranean region can boast 94 golf courses that offer more than 100 possible round combinations?
The Spanish are passionate about everything, especially their golf. The flair that Ballesteros displayed throughout his wonderful career epitomizes what golf in Spain is all about.
Perhaps you can even offer up your own Seve-like “Ole!” when you make a sizable putt.
Merit Golf Vacations sells packages to Spain that includes La Cala Resort, Almenara Golf Hotel (near Valderrama) and NH Sotogrande. Go to www.meritgolfvactions.com. Air Canada Golf Vacations also services Spain and you can submit an eQuote at www.aircanadavactions.com. Ultimate Golf Vacations (www.ultimategolf.ca) services Spain as well, and recommends the May to September time period when the weather and the golf is picture perfect. The off-season also offers less crowded beaches and 60+ (Fahrenheit) temperatures. Malaga/ Marbella is the hub of activity in the region. Ultimate Golf offers 30+ courses, close to hotels or apartments.
By Rick Drennan