Over the past few decades, Spain has established itself as the most popular destination for European golf tourists. The advent of low cost air travel has opened the door to an eclectic and abundant mix of golf courses, and every year, more and more golfers are taking advantage of a country that boasts more top quality resorts that anywhere else in Europe. Spain’s convenience, diversity and relative value for money is complemented by an idyllic year-round climate and wide array of destinations, stretching from the Costa de La Luz in the south west to Bilbao and Barcelona in the north east.
Traditionally, the Costa de Sol has attracted the lion share of tourists, with Marbella and Malaga providing ideal bases for exploration of some of the country’s most revered courses. The likes of Valderrama and Finca Cortesin continue to prosper, but, in recent times, Murcia has made meaningful strides up Spain’s golf tourism ladder. Indeed, golf sales in the region rose 32% between April 2011 and April 2012.
Situated in the south east of the country, the region of Murcia ticks every box when it comes to golf travel. The region sees more than 300 days of sunshine every year, a pull factor in its own right, and its historic cities, vibrant night spots, majestic scenery and embarrassment of five-star resorts make it the ideal choice for the discerning golf tourist, especially with the increasing number of airlines flying direct to Murcia San Javier Airport.
The South Course hosted the Spanish Open five times during the 1970s, with Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Gallacher both winning here. It is generally seen as the resort’s flagship course, and with just reason, but the perfectly manicured North and inimitable West are of comparable standing in my eyes.
The South is characterised by quick sprawling greens, areas of woodland and numerous water features, which come into play on 11 of the holes. It’s maintained in immaculate condition and it wouldn’t take too much work to bring it up to championship quality. A few of the holes are relatively nondescript, but the vast majority are brilliantly designed and truly individual in their character. The par 5s here are as good a set as I’ve played on any course anywhere in the world, and the 18th is probably the pick of the bunch. Standing on the tee, you see a huge pond lurking just to the left side of the fairway. The hole doglegs slightly to the left, with a bunker on the aphex and another trap lying through the fairway on a straight line from the tee. If you thread the gap, a risk/reward second awaits over a 50-yard barranca to a multi-tiered green that’s some 100 yards from front to back.
The North shares many similar characteristics with the South, and is probably the easiest of the three courses. It’s more elevated than its counterpart, and barrancas and water hazards are equally as prevalent, but it’s feasible to rack up 40 points if you’re playing your best golf. To score well, though, you’ll need to perform well on the par 3s, an eclectic group of excellent holes that all demand different shots off the tee.
It is hard to single out a favourite amongst the set, but the fourth, despite its difficulty, is a magnificent golf hole. A barranca crosses the hole on a left-to-right diagonal angle and runs past the right hand side of the green, catching anything pushed right. Out of bounds runs all the way down the left side of the hole, but rocky outcrops sometimes give a fortuitous ricochet back into play. The North strikes the perfect balance between a course that’s scoreable and a course that will punish you if you stray drastically off line. It’s perfect for mid-handicappers and a thoroughly enjoyable golf course that has a wonderful feel. It culminates in a brilliant closing par 4, with approaches played over a wide barranca to a three-tiered green that sits in the shadow of the lavish five-star Principe Felipe hotel – home to fine dining, luxury accommodation and the vibrant Piano Bar, a firm favourite among holidaymakers.
The West is a two-minute drive from the other two layouts, but it’s a completely different style of golf course. Despite attracting fewer golfers, it’s ranked higher than the North and South by www.top100courses.com, an authoritative and, in this case, accurate voice. The West is one of the most idyllic setting for a golf course I’ve ever experienced, winding its way through pine-scented forest, rolling hillside and barranca-strewn terrain. It’s treacherously difficult, and the penalties for straying even a little off line are severe, but it’s a truly beautiful golf course.
Many have likened the West to Valderrama, and there are many parallels between the two. In terms of design there is little to separate them, a real credit to the outstanding design of the West. If it had the same maintenance budget as the 16-time European Tour host, I have no doubts that it’d be considered one of Spain’s very best. The 18th is one of my all-time favourites and one of the best finishing holes in Spain. The tee is located some 100 yards above the level of the fairway, and offers sweeping views over La Manga Club, Lion Rock and the Mar Menor in the distance. On a clear summer’s day, you’ll often find yourself transfixed by the stunning view for several minutes before hitting your drive. Every round should be followed by a beer and some tapas, whether it’s looking over the North’s closing hole or the West’s first.
La Manga Club is an all-encompassing leisure resort that’ll satisfy your every whim, but there is plenty else to do in the region should you care to venture off site. Murcia possesses world class diving facilities, multiple water parks, windsurfing and river rafting opportunities and so much more. You can stroll in the hills of the pine-scented Sierra Espuna national park, visit pristine, secluded beaches such as Calblanque or take a trip to Murcia and Cartagena for a dose of Roman, Phonecian and Moorish History. Murcia is growing in popularity year on year, and La Manga Club continues to drive such growth. It’s a fantastic resort and one that has rightfully earned a reputation as one of Europe’s finest. I couldn’t recommend a visit highly enough.
Located just 20 minutes from the aforementioned, the award-winning La Manga Club is the region’s stand-out venue and one of the most iconic leisure resorts in mainland Europe. I’ve been fortunate to spend many weeks at La Manga, and every time I return, the excitement is palpable. A wonderful feeling of conviviality permeates the resort, which possesses a distinguished ATP tennis academy, luxurious villas, swimming pools, top-quality restaurants and bars and a football complex regularly frequented by some of the world’s best teams. But, despite all this, it’s the three championship-standard golf courses that keep me coming back year after year.