Like all golf trips, it starts with one of your golfing buddies suggesting it’s time you went away for a few days without the family. It then quickly moves to everyone saying which courses they would like to play and in which countries…
The next step is that one of you has to stop talking and actually go online and do the research, but where do you start?
Despite the growth of new golfing destinations in the world such as Turkey, Morocco, and some of the Central European countries such as Bulgaria, Slovenia, and more lately Poland, Spain remains one of the most popular destinations for Brits to head for.
The favorable exchange rate has helped in recent years to make it competitive against the ‘new kids on the block’ but it is the lure of some great golf courses that really keeps the punters coming back year after year.
Whilst cost is obviously a key driver on destination selection, we are looking for more than just a holiday. As one UK operator said: “90% are looking for a deal, 10% are looking for experience” (Courtesy of IAGTO Report 2013)
Since 2012 Spain has remained the no.1 destination for UK golfers and whilst the banks are now running many of the courses (following the crash of 2008), why do so many golfers return year after year?
One reason is the guaranteed weather, however, just as important is the variation of courses you can play.
Be your preference a desert course with testing winds rock-lined fairways with great views or perhaps a flat bunker-ridden style layout that asks you to consider every shot.
Having decided with my fellow explorer that it was a combination of all three of the above we wanted, we settled on spending four days at Mar Menor Golf Resort – part of the IRM Nike golf (formerly Polaris World).
The quality of golf courses came highly recommended, as did the hotel group hospitality and amenities.
The group hosts six golf courses, all of which Jack Nicklaus designed, although only one was actually designed by the great man himself.
The courses include El Valle (Tournament Course) La Torre (Challenge Course), Saurines (Desert Course), Hacienda Riquelme (Championship Course), Alhama (Signature Course), and Mar Menor (Residential Course).
We decided to position ourselves at the Mar Menor Golf Resort (on the Costa Calida) itself and use this as our base to plot our attack on the Spanish fairways……
N.B. It is quite common if there are less than four people playing in your group, that you will be partnered with other people. This speeds up play and can be good fun. So if you just want to be alone with your best golfing pals, ensure you only travel in groups of four.
As stated above, this course is seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ within the group. It is situated an hour’s drive from Mar Menor but is easy to find, thanks to the great directions given to us by the Pro-shop.
At first, you are slightly disorientated on arrival as the course is within the walls of the residential area, however, once this hurdle is navigated, you then arrive at an unassuming car park that leads to The Clubhouse.
Wow! You know you are a course that has not only been designed by Mr.Nicklaus but that has been sculptured beautifully into the landscape. I can only imagine how many hours the greenkeepers spend attending to all the tee boxes alone.
The course is long (6500+ meters) but doesn’t be put off, most of the fairways are wide and forgiving but watch out for the wind. The course is built in a valley are when it blows, it really blows.
The Clubhouse is modern but small and doesn’t match the surrounding but I believe this is a temporary structure and will be replaced by one much grander in style, just like the rest of the group. There is a fantastic open-air range to hone your game before heading out.
The first three or four holes are a delight, with undulating fairways, and bunker-ridden par 3’s but once you get past these, the course starts to stretch out (don’t think I hit a short iron into a green until the back nine!).
Whilst the fairways are brown and barren (it is Spain), there is a good combination of left and right-aligned holes. These contrast the greens are rich dark green and firm (i.e. very difficult to land your ball on).
Of course, most have plenty of breaks and borrows, so don’t expect to leave without at least some 3-Putts on your card.
Realistically this course is built for low handicappers (10 and below), so don’t be disappointed if you struggle to score well. Just enjoy the course, and the views and enjoy it in the manner in which ‘Jack’ would want you to.
Cost: Public = 80 Euros / Residents = 52 Euros
As you walk to the first, you immediately know you will enjoy the day. The vast wide fairway (with strategically placed bunkers) is beautiful with a mountainous backdrop that wouldn’t look out of place in the Arizona desert. The tee boxes again were very good and well tended to and clearly marked for all levels of golfer.
As we made our way around we commented on how well the course was designed and that every hole provides you with a different challenge. Ranging from short-ish Par 4 to tempt you to expansive 450 m+ Par 5, this course has something for everyone.
The course twists and turns with slight inclines and drops that won’t leave you out of breath. However, there are plenty of bunkers for you to find (on one hole we counted 10) so you will need to think your way around here.
So to the signature hole: It does take a little effort to walk to the elevated 11th tee, which gives you a panoramic view for miles around. However, once you’ve taken in the view, you’re then faced with teeing off over rocks and onto the fairway 50ft below, where the bunker will catch a wayward shot – brilliant!
The greens here were very good. Not too firm that you can’t land on them but quick enough to get you thinking. All were true. Whilst water is not the main feature here, the back nine does require plotting your way around some pretty and challenging water but this all adds to the variety of holes.
Finishing the day back on the patio area, we enjoyed some great service, good food, and a refreshing drink, whilst we discussed the ups (there were no downs) of both the course and its layout. We will definitely be returning to this course again.
Cost: Public = 80 Euros / Residents = 52 Euros
The staff were all very friendly and the service excellent.
After meeting with Chris Ahern (Commercial Director), he quickly gave us a tour of the facilities and gave us some pointers on how to enjoy the course.
The atmosphere here is very different from the other course and it has much more of a ’local club’ feel about it.
The first tee is situated less than a few yards from the clubhouse and offers you a simple Par 4 start Note that the fairway doesn’t start for 150 yards but don’t worry, the sandy fairway is plenty good enough to play from.
The course then meanders around three or four loops, each returning to the main Clubhouse.
The course is flat and has a layout that nicely rotates between Par 3’, 4’s, and 5’s. This means you could play it again and again without getting bored.
Upon reaching the back nine, water comes into play on holes 11, 12, and 13 circling a very pleasant reed-lined lake.
Tricky if you tend to fade the ball as all holes are left to right but equally challenging to those that draw the ball, as each hole is also flanked by apartments.
Having navigated these holes, you then return to a parkland-style finish with the 18th positioning you back at the main clubhouse.
The only negative we could aim at this course is that it looks a little tired in places, but that comes from the fact that is the most played course in the group.
However, this course is much shorter than the others and suits all levels of players.
The food in the clubhouse is very good and the club sandwich is to die for! All in all, we liked this course and we would happily return.
This is the principle of where architecture and nature meet in a ’comprehensive design’ converging great garden areas with ‘exuberant’ vegetation in which the main hotel swimming pool takes pride of place.
It’s excellent communication a few minute’s drive from the best beaches of Murcia and close to natural landscapes and tourist routes, making this a special place for rest and leisure.
Staying in a privately hired villa rather than in the main hotel, these properties are available to rent either on short or long leases.
They all come in various shapes and sizes but are all clean, modern, and packed with everything you would expect, including air conditioning, dishwasher, and patio furniture and some have their own private pool.
The resort boasts three restaurants and an ‘Irish’ pub (full of golfing memorabilia) with a big screen, that normally shows golf. So you have plenty of choices to eat and the main Clubhouse bar also attracts many golfers back in the evenings.
We hired a Villa privately on the main road into the resort with two bedrooms (sleeps up to 6) into the resort for £250 (four days) but this may vary depending on the time of year and availability.
Hotel/Apartment bookings can be made via the main hotel website but 2016/17 guide prices* are as follows:
Flights to San Javier (Murcia) or Alicante can be booked at all the usual low-cost airlines for as little as £80 (book early) and the Car hire was less than £50 for four days.
Just remember to get your CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) cover before you leave, as they will try to charge you another £50+ at the terminal, despite it only costing £8 online.
We spent four great days in the region enjoying both the golf and the food, and having previously visited a number of the courses in the area (including La Manga, La Finca, and Las Ramblas), we can highly recommend this group of courses if you’re golfing in Spain anytime soon.
They will provide any golfer with plenty of challenges and enjoyment… and you are ‘almost’ guaranteed good weather!
By Ian Mullins