Ivan Morris - The voice of Limerick Golf
GUARANTEED sunshine, low cost accommodation, good value food and after golf drinks, all help to make Spain the most popular golf destination for Irish golfers overseas, which is just as well because the vast majority of Spanish golf courses are not to my taste.
If asked to nominate one word to describe Spanish golf I would say: Penal (because they are largely built on unsuitable land) The Costa Blanca south of Alicante and north of Cartagena is where I go most often and where I believe, rightly or wrongly, the courses are marginally better than those on the Costa del Sol in Andalusia.
There is one good aspect to playing in the golfing Costas. Even if you go there 'solo' you will have no problems finding fellow Irish golfers as playing companions.
Many of them are members of local golf societies. The majority of these societies are nomadic, travelling the length and breadth of the Costas in search of new experiences.
Often organised by pubs, outings can have a 'big day out atmosphere' with transport, a meal, drinking and entertainment involved. The actual cost of playing golf would not be the deciding factor regarding affordability.
A few are based at one course location and have daily or weekly tee times reserved at attractive green fee rates.
I joined a well-run and friendly group called ‘The Celts’ based at La Serena GC in Los Alcazares but the course was so laden with penalty areas (I prefer the old definition: hazards) that it was a crushing blow to my increasingly fragile golfing ego these days.
Fairways lined by palm trees, abundant sand hazards and waste areas, as well as water hazards that encroach into the line of play at no less than 16 of the 18-holes; sometimes more than once, meant spending an excruciating day fishing instead of an enjoyable one golfing.
Ball drowning water hazards at every turn are not my idea of a fun-filled, relaxing game of golf. ‘The Celts’ have reserved tee times every day of the week at the attractive rate of €34 for 18-holes (a discount of €21 on the normal green fee) Buggies may be hired for an additional €16.
At the high-end of the scale, visiting the 'Granddaddy of European Golf Resorts' at La Manga in a stunningly beautiful valley of natural, Spanish character close to the Mediterranean Sea, is a special treat.
La Manga Resort is ultra-luxurious but it is expensive if you go there just for a game of golf unless you are a guest in the 5-star hotel or one of the many apartments on site. The standard green fee for 18-holes is €190. If you are a 'resident-guest' the cost is €85.
Seldom is course knowledge as valuable as at the Las Ramblas course in the Campoamor Demesne.
Built in a disused, rock quarry by the legendary, Pepe Gancedo, who also designed Torrequebrada in Malaga and the Santa Ponsa course in Majorca, where Limerick Golf Club won the European Club Champions Cup in 1980, the routing features an overabundance of blind tee shots over cavernous barancas from which there is no recovery and the sharpest doglegs I have ever seen.
Put your tee shot into play and you be able to reach greens that are surprisingly fast and smooth for a course that has 260-pairs of feet trampling over them every day. The standard green fee is €60. Two players in one buggy costs €124.
Villamartin, established in 1972, is a 'timeless and classic' Spanish design on a rolling, undulating site. Happily, there isn't any excessive climbing due to the fairways running along terraces.
Villamartin hosted the 1994 Spanish Open won by Olazabal. Tee times are hard to come by unless you are a guest of a member. Two players and a buggy: €142.
Las Colinas, on the road to San Miguel de Salinas, opened in 2009 to much acclaim.
The former orange and farm enjoys huge popularity because of its panoramic vistas from Day One and conditioning that is as good as you will find anywhere in Spain.
With a breathtaking and memorable entrance drive, clubhouse and practice facility, Las Colinas is my personal favourite in the Costa Blanca (so far) The European Tour holds its second stage of Tour School at Las Colinas annually and it is a spledid test for Tour wannabees.
It is not an easy course to walk; expect lots of climbing up to high tees, playing down into valleys and then rising up again. Hiring a cart is advisable. The green fee is €99 with a twilight offer of €54. Buggies: €40/32.
The Real Golf de Campoamor opened in 1988. The holes go around two large hills with not a flat lie in sight.
Unfortunately too many of the holes are cambered incorrectly and this means the ball keeps running away from the target, which can become tedious and frustrating. It's a shame because the course is as verdant as you will find in this part of the world. Green fee: €56. Buggy: €30. Twilight: €40.
Vistabella opened in 2009 as 11-holes. It was only last year the extension to 18-holes was completed but don't let that put you off!
The course designer, Ryder Cup star Manuel Pinero, has created as severe a test of putting as you will ever encounter. Two players and a buggy costs €122.
There is so much more to write about Costa Blanca golf but I'm out of space and it will have to wait!