July 22-August 23, 2009
Golf: This stretch of Spanish coast must be one of the top golf destinations in Europe if not the world. There are 42 eighteen hole courses, six nine hole courses and 13 par threes or executive courses along this 100 kilometre length of coast. There are four clubs that have 27 holes, four have 36 holes and one resort has 54 holes of golf.
In all of Spain there is only about 99 courses, so you can see this is the place to come.
As one golf professional said to me, "there are no bad courses and a lot of excellent ones."
The main golf season is during the winter and the green fees reflect the increased amount of play. For example, La Quinta charges 77 euros per person during the winter with no cart but during the summer it is 133 for two with a cart. Los Naranjos high season fee is 78 with a buggy but only 59 during the summer. It would seem that the summer would be the time of year to visit Costa Del Sol but then you will find it much busier with tourists coming for the hot sunny weather and the beaches. Since there are so many tourists the accommodation prices double thus negating the savings in green fees.
Golf during the winter and you will find the temperature to be nice and comfortable. You can expect highs around 20 so you can golf in shorts and short sleeves. Excellent weather for golfing.
Do not let the higher fees prevent you from playing in Spain. There are a number of ways to reduce your costs through social memberships and special discount cards. In fact during the winter for example you can play on eight good courses for 25 euros per round with one social membership.
There are some differences between Costa Del Sol courses and equal value courses in Canada. There service level is not quite as high as we had only two courses that had bag drops, the rest of the time we had to carry our clubs a decent distance. To clean your clubs after the round you have to pay from 5 to 15 euros for some high tech sonic club and grip cleaner. The tee colors are different with white being the pro tees and yellow being the tees for the rest of us. Most of the distances were measured to the front of the greens expect on one course where it measured the distance to the center of the green. It also seemed to be very common to have to keep carts on the cart paths. We played six courses and only two permitted us to drive on the fairways. Very few of the clubs marked their sprinkler heads. They all provided colored stakes on the side of the fairways for the 100, 150 and 200 metre distances. However I did not see one course that provided marks on both sides of the fairways this prevents you from getting a line across the fairway to pace off your distance. I suggest you take your GPS system with you.
All the courses are relatively new. It seemed that land developers built the courses in order to sell their condos, villas and apartments. Because of this, there are a number of courses in each of the valleys that stretch north from the sea.
Activities: There are plenty of activities to occupy your time when you are not golfing. Small beaches and coves line the coast where you can spend your spare time walking, sun bathing and swimming. You can explore the numerous towns as you shop or look at the many marinas and ports. There are day drives you will want to take to the "White Towns". Rhonda, Savilla, Granada, Gibraltar, and Malaga.
For the shoppers there are high end shopping as well as some large malls. For the high end stores make sure you check out the Golden Mile along the harbour at Puerto Banus. For a large mall try La Canada, pronounce La Cayada, located on the A7 highway at Marbelle.
If you are feeling up to something different, take a tour to Tangiers in Morocco, Africa. It is only a 45 minute ferry ride between Europe and Africa. We did a day trip which cost us 77 euros. The bus picked us up at 6:30 AM and had us home by 7 PM. It was worth doing once just to say you had been to Africa and Morocco.
Getting There: There are plenty of options available to Canadians. You can fly to London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Madrid, Paris or Amsterdam and transfer to a flight to Malaga. Choose your route depending on the price and the stopovers.
Accommodations: There are thousands of places to stay along the coast in many different towns. For golfers I suggest you select an area some where in the middle. This puts you close to most of the courses as there are only 10 courses east of Mijas Costa. So stay between Mijas Costa and Estapona. Marbelle is almost right in the middle for access to the golf courses. The towns of Marbella or Puerto Banus would be my choice.
You can find better value by choosing a condo that is inland rather then on or near the beach. If you are planning a winter vacation then it will be a little warmer inland. I would also look for a condo or apartment that have a pool which is enclosed so you could take a dip during the winter months A number of places have at least one of their pools with a collapsible roof.
Dining: As is the case in all resort destinations around the world there are plenty of dining establishments. Along the Costa Del Sol you can find almost any type of food or preparation of food you want. Beware that many restaurants are British operated because the UK is the number one source of tourists for this area. Nothing against the British, but when in Spain one should eat Spanish cuisine.
Since this destination is on the coast it is oblivious that sea food would be the number one choice.
My first recommendation is to try the sardines. You will receive about six good size sardines for around six euros. The sardines are quite large and six makes an excellent meal. Try and choose a restaurant where they cook the sardines on a stake beside an open fire on the beach. You will be surprised how good they are.
Our second choice is to select a restaurant that prepares their fish in an wood fired oven. Select a fish, Sea Bass, that is covered in salt and then wrapped and cooked in the open fired oven. This is something you will not experience at home.
My final recommendation for dinning is go to a restaurant where you can order tapas. Tapas are small servings, most are large enough to share. Tapas tend to cost between 1.50 to 3 euros. The last time we had tapas we ordered five items and that was more than sufficient. We had tomatoes and onions, Greek salad, Spanish cheese with bread, pork kebabs and BBQ chicken. Total bill with two beers and a glass of wine was twenty euros.
Atalaya Golf Country Club, Costa Del Sol
Today we arrived at Atalaya where they have 36 holes. As we were pulling in we noticed the parking stalls were shaded by an overhead roof. This is a very good idea as it can get hot here during the summer. Then we noticed a small patio that almost sat on the parking lot, not the most inviting place to stop for a cold one after the round.
The club house was warm an inviting but was all inside, there was no outside patio or balcony. The dinning overlooked the course but the bar was in the interior of the club house. Full locker rooms were located down stairs.
We unloaded our clubs and took the long walk to the check in. The other side of the club house was very different to the parking lot side. The grounds were terraced and laid out with beautiful gardens. They had a really nice ½ way house which was surrounded by the first tee and the 9th green.
We found the condition of the course to be quite good. The tees were well laid out with excellent signs. The first tee had a very nice sign that welcomed us to the course, told us where the toilets and water stations were located and asked us to have a great round of golf. Fairways were in good shape with very well maintained bunkers. I found all of them to be very generous and easy to hit with my drives. The fairways gave way to trimmed rough which made loosing a ball very difficult. However there were quite a few leaves that covered the sides of the fairways and I did loose a ball because of that. The fairways were lined with mature gum trees and a few flowering bushes. I did notice some of the sprinkler heads were marked, which I have found to be rare in this area. The fairway markers were posts at the 150 and 100 metre marks and measured the distance to the front of the green. The greens were in great shape and very receptive. My putts rolled straight and true and I made a few long ones that day. The bunkers were in excellent shape with white fluffy sand. The first cut was fairway height and extended a distance from the green. The rough was a little sparse and not that even. There were a number of greens that were small in size with the rest being average size. There were very few undulations or levels to worry about.
The design was very traditional and reminded me of a good country club in Australia. This was mainly due to the gum trees that lined the fairways. There was some elevation changes but none too drastic. The par fives were good and three out of the four par 3’s were also good. One was a long down hill of 220 yards and another was all most all carry over a small lake. Two of the par fives were on the long side and measured 530 and 505 respectively. Once again we found the par fours to be on the short side. This course had 8 holes under 329 metres in length. This means you are hitting a short iron to most par fours. The views in distance were of hills with some apartments and condos dotting the sides of the hills.
Once again I found the slope did not match the difficulty that I experience playing the course. The slope was 135 from the gold tees. The course was not that hard and if I was to assign a slope I would have said it might have been 122. The length of the course from the gold tees was 5860 metres. There were a number of practice areas around the club house with a chipping green, bunker are and putting areas. The range was a long way away from the club house out near 14. We saw a number of golfers drive by us and wondered where they were going. They had taken a cart and were driving to the practice range.
This was a difficult course to judge value. Their green fees on the day we were there was 132 Euros for two players with a buggy. This rate was very high in comparison to the other courses we played and I would have to rate the value at around 5. On the other hand they were only charging 77 Euros for two and a cart on their other course. The pro said both courses were good but the lower cost one had more elevation changes. Not sure why anyone would pay the 132 instead of 77 unless the course wanted to keep players off the expensive one so the course would not get too much traffic in the hot summer days. Anyway I decided to combine the two rates and came up with a value of 7. If you were going to play the new course then I think an 8 or 9 would be appropriate.
The day was good with the weather once again near perfect. The course can be walked and that is a feature as a golfer would not have to pay for the buggy during the winter when it is not included.
Golf & Country Club La Duquesa, Costa Del Sol
After playing the course we determined that the condition of the course was OK to good. The tees were fine, flat and had ball washers, benches and drinking water. Fairways were fine with most bunkers trimmed and filled with good sand. The rough was trimmed but on the front nine you could easily loose your ball if you hit a really bad shot. The course was in better condition on the back nine with better conditioned fairways and terrain that was not so severe. The grounds crew were working on the back and maybe had yet to reach the front nine. The greens were very good, average to small in size with the first cut at fairway height that gave way to longer uneven rough. A number of greens, about half, had at least two tiers.
The design and difficulty of the Robert Trent Jones course produced a range of responses from me as I progressed through the round. After the second or third hole I thought, "what a poor course this is turning out to be". The conditions was not up to par, the fairways sloped severely to the sea and you took your life in your hands driving on the cart paths as the course hugs the hill side. The paths were narrow and needed guard rails. They remained me of some of the back roads in Mexico.
From holes 4 through 7 you face some challenging holes where you are required to think your way through them. Number five was a very challenging par three with long carry to a narrow green. Number seven is a good par five that slopes right to left and has a slight dog leg right.
The back nine is an entirely different from the front. The fairways are more generous and do not have the slopes that were found on the front. Number ten is a good par five heading up the mountain. Eleven is quality par three starting from an elevated tee. You continue to climb up the back side of the mountain until you reach the spectacular number 17. The view from this tee is maybe the best in Spain. You look down on the 17th, 10th, and 18th fairways with the clubhouse and the Mediterranean Sea in the background. The finishing hole is a downhill par five with the course’s only water hole protecting the green.
The difficulty is reflected in the slopes for the four tees. The slopes are 137,135,126 and 124. Even though these are very high numbers I did not think it was that hard. Six of the par fours were under 311 metres and the longest par three was only 154 metres.La Duquesa is maybe the most scenic course on the coast. You can view the sea from most holes and some of the views, such as from 17 are outstanding. Along with the sea view you also have wonderful views of the mountains and the surrounding homes.
We enjoyed lunch on two different occasions at the club house and found the staff to be very friendly an attentive. The club house is a little on the older side and was connected to a very nice 4.5 star all suite hotel. The club had locker rooms, with a hot tub and showers. The pro shop was well stocked and the dining area and patio were very nice. Over all we had a good time at La Duquesa. They have silly cart path only rule, which I have a hard time understanding. The club charges you good money for the carts but only lets you use them on the path. I have seen studies that show this slows up the pace of play by about 40 minutes. Also I always seem to hit my drive to the opposite side of the fairway from the cart path. I guess I can not complain too much as I shot my lowest round during our Spanish stay at La Duquesa.
The course presents a challenge and different looks and leaves you wanting to return.This course is very good value with the summer green fees being 45 Euros with a buggy. This represents one of the best buys on the coast.
La Quinta Golf & Country Club, Costa Del Sol
Today was our first day for golf on Costa Del Sol. As we made our way to La Quinta we wonder what Spanish golf had in store for us.
The approach through the entrance and grounds of the Westin Resort was very nice and we found our way to the club house and parked underground. We were wondering about getting to the pro shop when a young man in a golf buggy drove up and welcomed us to the club. He loaded our clubs on the buggy and pointed us to the stairs that took us a very pleasant patio in front of the pro shop. We checked in and asked a variety of questions to the young lady behind the desk. After our questions were answered she pointed us to our buggy and told us how to reach the first tee. This was important as the club has 27 holes and thus three first tees depending on the configuration that is in play when you check in.
We drove to the first tee and were welcomed by the starter. He pointed out a few things we should know such as cart path only, and that distances were measured to the front of the green. In metres. He suggested we use the yellow and red tees as this was the custom in Spain. Yellow tees are equal to white tees at home and they are not for social players like Australia.
The opening hole, on opening day, proved to be a golfing disaster for me. Even though the hole was an excellent starting hole I managed a triple. What a way to start two weeks of golf in Spain.
Fortunately my shot making got better as we progressed through a very good designed front nine on the A course. We found the conditioning of the course to be very good expect for the tees. There was very little grass on most of the tees. It almost seemed that they did not get enough sun and very little was done to fill the divots. On the other hand the fairways were superb. The first cut was around four centimeters and made the landing areas fairly large. There were distance markers at 100 and 150 metres. The greens were in excellent shape. They were good sized with little or no undulations to speak of. The surfaces were ideal and there was one cut around the greens followed by longer rough. The bunkers, both fairway and greens side were very good but needed some trimming.
We later found out that Troon Golf was the managing company and they had taken over about six months ago. During that time they have improved course remarkably and they realized they have more work to do in some areas like the tees. Knowing Troon Golf courses, I fully expect this course to be in tip top shape later in the year.
We played the combination of A and C courses and found two different designs. The A course was more open and forgiving while C was narrower with smaller greens. For me I preferred the A nine.
The difficulty was rated 125 and an index of 70.5 so it presented us with a good test of golf. On the front nine we faced three par three’s all of different lengths. There was two long par fours around 440 yards which is too long for me to reach in two with out hitting two excellent shots. However the two par five’s were under 500 yards which presented a nice balance. The C course was about 200 yards longer because it only had two par threes. On the back we did get three shorter par fours but we were forced to hitter more accurate shots.
The scenery in the area was made up of views of the mountains, sea, and attractive homes with the course integrating nicely with the surroundings. There were plenty of flowering trees lining the fairways adding to the attractive setting.
The green fees that day were 133 euros for two people with a buggy. This turned out to be the highest fees we found during our stay. With the Westin Hotel and Spa integrated with the course you have a very good resort course and a location that you should consider when deciding on your accommodation. The Westin offers everything you would expect from the Westin Hotel Chain. Over all the course was well worth playing and the little extras were nice. We had electric carts equipped with ice box, water, ball and club cleaners. The time between tee times has been expanded so the course is not as crowed and the pace of play can be maintained. It was nice to find that Troon Golf is now in charge and anything that needs to be changed will be. We look forward to coming back and playing La Quinta later in our stay.
Los Naranjos Golf Club, Marbella
Today as we pulled into the parking lot at Los Naranjos we were not sure where to park as there were no signs. The first place we selected was in front of a locked door. We then moved the car around the side of the building and unloaded our clubs. This time we took the path past the building, which turned out to be the members locker rooms, to the pro shop.
All the while as we were parking and walking to the pro shop we could not help admiring the magnificent club house that was designed in a Spanish style with a beautiful bell tower. We received a warm welcome and were given the keys for any buggy. We took the first buggy in line, but it was not till the end of the round that we noticed that all the other buggies had GPS and we had selected the only one with out the GPS. Too bad no one mentioned GPS to us. I must say it was the only course we played that had GPS installed on their carts.
Since they had GPS, the course permitted golfers to drive at 90 degrees to the cart paths. This was only the second course out of six that permitted us to drive on the fairways.
The first tee had a starter booth but no starter, a half-way house and tees with good signs containing maps and distance indicators.
This is another Robert Trent Jones designed course and he used the rolling land and an arroyo for his lay out on the front nine. The first hole is a downhill par four with a generous landing area which made it an easy way to start our round. A small creek winds it way along and through holes 3, 4, 5 and six. Number four is an excellent par three of 168 metres from an elevated tee. The creek flows in front of the green and the green has bunkers right, left and behind. The next hole was a good par five that can be reached in two but be careful as the creek crosses in front green and makes a risk, reward situation for those that plan to go for the green in two. The fairway slopes from right to left and the creek creates a split fairway giving you a choice of how to play this 438 metre hole. The ninth hole is a long par four dog leg left with a fairway that drops in to a small valley before an elevated green. A bogey is good on that hole.
The front nine was first-class. It had elevation changes, water, bunkers, interesting holes and a good layout. The back nine however was a different story. We found the back nine to be very disappointing and ordinary. This was mentioned to us by a number of people when we to told them we were going to play Los Naranjos. The back nine apparently was cut through an old orange grove, hence the name for the course. That nine was basically flat. There were two holes on the back that I liked. The par 4, number 13, that starts from an elevated tee and stretches toward the sea was a very nice looking hole with mature trees bordering the fairway. The 18th is another attractive hole. It was a par five dog leg left with a set of small ponds that drop from the fountain to the right of the green for maybe 125 metres hindering the second shot if going for the green in two. Do I need say my second shot found the upper pond.
The conditioning of the tees, greens and fairways were first rate. The greens were average to large with very little in the way of undulations. Five greens on the front were elevated above the fairway. The difficulty was harder on the front then the back. The slope was listed at 129 and played to 6038 metres.
Even if you do not play this course you will want to take a drive out to see the club house and maybe have lunch. The menu was excellent and the wine cellar was exceptional. Our waiter noticed that we were interested in the cellar, so he took the time to open it and show us some of their fine wines. He also indicated that we should go up the stairs and visit the other rooms. The upstairs was really something. The large hall had a number of stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls which were made of dark wood with comfortable leather seating completing the room‘s decor. It was a very stunning room.
This is a course that you could walk as it is relatively flat with just a couple of holes that require some climbing. They do have a good practice range but it was closed as they appeared to be putting in an irrigation system. Even with the back nine not being of the same quality as the front we still found the course pleasing and very playable, I thought the price of 119 euros for two with a buggy was a little high as compared to three previous courses we played. The openness of the back nine will be attractive to some of the higher handicap players as there is a lot of room and not very much trouble.
Santa Clara Golf Club, Marbella
Santa Clara had a great entrance that welcomes us and sets the tone for our day. We entered an attractive parking area with nice gardens surrounding the lot. They had a shuttle service that picked us up at our car and took us to the pro shop. The drive to the pro shop was along a small road paved with attractive paving stones and passed under some lovely trees filled with brightly colored flowers. When we got to the club house we were very impressed. It was done in old style Spanish architecture that was colored with a burgundy stucco.
The pro shop was well stocked but the thing that amazes you the most is the marble floors and marble stair case that winds up to a very good restaurant, patio, and members area. From the patio where we had a very good lunch we had to choose from a number of course views. We could look a the number nine green, the first and tenth tees or the excellent practice facilities.
Our starter gave us a good idea of what to expect such as the distance was measured to the front of the green, keep carts on path and wait for the group in front to reach the green. It was on the first tee that we noticed a design that I could not recall seeing on other courses. The first and tenth tees were side by side. You had to wait for the other tee box to clear and you had to wait for both the 10th and first fairways to clear as they were side by side.
As we got underway I had a few doubts about the course over the first six holes. The first hole was not much with a couple of ill placed trees in the fairway. The second was a decent par three and the third was a very short dog leg right that a long hitter might attempt to drive. However the 4th , 5th, and sixth fairways are all very close together and could present a danger to the golfers. The sixth tee in particular could produce golf balls flying down the cart path that is use for the 5th hole. The 7th hole is straight up hill with some excellent views from the green. The 8th is an excellent downhill par five which narrows and drops through a narrow gully to the green. The 9th green has about 5 old cork trees that are in the front, an to the side of the green, making your second shot one that must go up and over.
The back nine had a different feel. We climbed up another short steep hill to the 11th green where we got a great view of the sea and the surrounding area. In fact the course marked the altitude of the high spot much like you find when you reach the summit of a mountain pass. The course refers to 12, 13, and 14 as the Santa Clara Corner. The finishing holes, 16th, 17th and 18 are very short par fours. After seventeen you have a long drive or walk to the 18th. The finishing hole was a disappointing finish. Yes, there was a lake that surrounds a part of the green but does not present much of a difficulty.
There were a number of things that added some difficulty to the course. There is a creek that runs along a number of holes, there are some steep elevation changes, bunkers are placed at strategic places, and a small lake protect the 13th with a very attractive water fall. The rating for the course is 68.7 with a slope of 123 from the yellow tees.
The conditioning of the course was very good scoring 26 points out of 30 on the three conditioning items. The tee boxes had ball washers, were a good size and had excellent signs with maps and distance in both yards and metres.
Fairways were smooth with plenty of grass with well trimmed rough. The greens were excellent. The first cut was wide and the second cut was very even. Both the fairway and green side bunkers were in excellent shape.
The greens fees were 110 euros for two with a buggy and on the lower side of the average price. We had a good day and would certainly return as the course, was very well groomed. It was things like good quality bridges, stairs to the elevated tee boxes, smart uniforms for the staff, nice stone walls, ball washers and coolers on the buggies with a well-conditioned course that indicated the management carried about the little things.
Santa Maria Golf & Country Club, Marbella
Santa Maria was the course I liked the best of the six that we played during our two week stay. Everything was done and presented impeccably. The only fault I found was the course did not have a practice range. They did however have a lawn bowing green, gym and billiards.
The condition of the course was almost perfect. All of the tees were elevated, with good signs, in both metres and yards. There were flowers, hedges and nice rock walls. Some of the teeing areas had extra tees such as number 15 that had eight tee boxes. After hitting your tee shots the ball found very well groomed fairways. The first cut was cut even and the bunkers were excellent.
The greens were very receptive and putts rolled true and smoothly. The greens were of average size with a first cut giving way to the second cut which was wide and at fairway height. The greenside bunkers were in top shape with quality sand.
The course was located in two valleys and around four lakes. There was plenty of elevation change as you make your way up and these two valleys. The first tee over looked a lake and was an striking way to start. The second hole is a tough par 5 that narrows for your second shot and drops to the green. Number four is my favorite hole. A short par four to an elevated green where I got an eagle. No wonder I liked it. The course is out and back and as you get up to seven you start to make your way around a couple of lakes. Number 11 is a short par four with dog leg left from an elevated green that has a lake at the end of the fairway. Choose the proper club or you will be in the lake.
As you navigate down the second valley you reach 11 which is a short par three with a gully to carry from a very elevated tee. Then you reach the par five 15th, which again has an elevated tee and drive that has to carry about 180 yards over another gully. For your second shot you face a dog leg left with thick bush and drop offs on both sides. The 18th is respectable finishing hole with a lake on the left and a slightly elevated green. Over all this was a very first-rate design with a number of challenging holes.
Besides being a quality course the scenic value helped make this a very unforgettable day. There were plenty of sea views, especially from 10 and 16 tees. There were waterfalls on 3, 11, and 18. The one on 11 was a large one that dropped down on the right side of the green and was in play from the fairway. On the 12th tee the club built a scenic look out where the waterfall started. The four lakes added to the beauty of this course.We finished our round with a good breakfast in the splendid 19th century style club house where the staff were very happy to look after us.
The green fees for the summer were 114 euros for two with a cart which is about average for this area. Given the top condition of the course and the layout it is worth paying the few extra euros.