GOLF ATRAVEL Player’s Guide Costa
Marbella has long been a favourite of European golfers. Mark Alexander takes a trip down to this Mediterranean retreat to find out why.
s it any wonder Marbella is the spiritual home of Europe’s travelling golfers? Regarded as Spain’s answer to St Tropez, Marbella’s chic promenades and glistening yachts provide an idyllic backdrop to a luxurious expat lifestyle. The glamorous town is awash with sleek marinas and exclusive promenades where designer labels and sport cars bask in year-round sunshine and the aqua blue of the Mediterranean Sea. This is a place of high-end indulgence where some of Andalucía’s finest eateries attract A-list celebrities like local couple Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. The place is
The 17th hole on the Campo America Course at La Cala, a fine resort on the outskirts of Marbella 68
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simply swimming in glamour, but does this decadence and excess extend to the local golf tracks? Golf in Marbel la is an eclectic mi x of resort golf and trophy courses. It spans every conceivable genre a nd caters to a l l budget s. T he lu x u r y end feat u res some of t he countr y ’s best offerings, wit h t he likes of Valderrama, Sotogrande and Las Brisas vying for top spot. There are also convenient hotel layouts and lavish routings that afford stunning ocean views. All are playable 12 months of the year and are best enjoyed with a light covering of suntan oil, short-sleeve shirts and a cool drink for good measure. HK GOLFER・DEC 2013
While the par-4 10th and the par-3 11th certainly steal the show, the run of holes up to 18 aren’t bad either. And if the club was to be assessed on these holes alone, it would surely rank up there with the best. Beautiful and challenging, these are cracking designs of the highest order. Unfortunately, the rest of the Campo Sur isn’t. The opening five holes of the South Course simply don’t have the pizazz of the other 13 with property and a motorway infringing into the golfing experience. If the opening holes are an indication of what can be found on the club’s other inland layout then my advice would be to stay as close as you can to the sea.
Designed by Javier Arana, the South Course at Real Club de Golf Guadalmina is one of the oldest layouts in the area with over 50 years under its belt. In this time it has matured into a classy route of mainly parkland holes that heads first towards the coast and then away from it. Round these parts getting close to the sea air is unusual thanks to planning rules that restrict developments directly on the coastline. Fortunately these came into force after Guadalmina was built meaning Arana was able to produce two wonderful links holes that reverberate to crashing waves and the calls of seagulls. 70
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Ocean views are in abundance at Alcaidesa Golf Resort which boasts 36 holes, 18 of which are perched on cliff tops overlooking the golden sands of the south coast of Spain. From numerous vantage points, you can enjoy breathtaking views over the Mediterranean, Gibraltar and, in the distance, Africa. My recommendation is to take a later tee time and enjoy the course coming to life in the magical warm colours of the sunset. Alcaidesa is a good, honest seaside course, and yet it could have gone so easily wrong. Sandwiched between a large, sprawling property development and that fantastic coastline, the links could have been squeezed into the unusual topology like squeezing yourself into your favourite pair of trousers from 20 years ago. Thankfully sense prevailed. HKGOLFER.COM
You get the feeling the design team of Peter Ellis and Clive Clark were given scope to create a golf course in its own right, rather than trying to accommodate the numerous villas that no doubt were the impetus for the project. Care has been taken to route the course so sea views are on show from most of the compelling and unusual holes that make up this agreeable routing. The iconic fifth, which looks down along the coastline to Gibraltar, teases you with a relatively simple downhill drive and then a tricky approach shot to the green which lies beyond a troublesome gorge. There is beauty and danger in equal abundance here. The gentle breeze from the Alboran Sea cools you as you plot your way around the course making for a very pleasant afternoon of golf. My only niggle was the pointless marshals who seemed unable, or unwilling, to hasten some infuriatingly slow play from the group in front of us. Still, the inevitable waits did provide us with ample time to drink in the stunning views, which wasn’t so bad.
Of course, if you have had your fill of casting your eye over the open ocean, you can always retreat to the salvation of La Cala, which is only 20 HKGOLFER.COM
minutes from Marbella and 30 minutes from the city’s airport. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de Ojén which overlooks Marbella, La Cala consists of three 18-hole championship courses designed by Cabell Robinson, a six-hole practice course and a David Leadbetter Golf Academy. On paper, the size of the resort with its hotel, restaurants, swimming pools and sports facilities combined with the properties that surround the complex can’t fail to impress. On the ground, you hardly notice any of it. In fact of all the courses I visited, La Cala seemed to balance its property demands and its golf offering with a considered appreciation of both. For instance, playing Campo America (there is also Campo Asia and Campo Europa), you get a real sense of venturing off into the rustic Spanish countryside to tackle this epic course. With nothing for company other than farmland, distance villages and the majestic mountain range smouldering in the sunshine, the sense of playing golf in the great outdoors has never been more appealing. As far as the course goes, Robinson generously provided four relatively tame holes to ease you into the challenges of the rolling fairways and undulating greens that lie ahead. From the 350yard uphill par-4 fifth, things get tough. Driving
Clockwise from above: a wonderful view of British-owned Gibraltar from the course at Acaidesa; so much of the South Course at Guadalmina, like here at the 10th and 11th holes is special – unfortunately the first five holes can’t match them HK GOLFER・DEC 2013
The splendid 12th on the Campo America Course at La Cala, a Cabell Robinson design
towards a curving fairway that seems perched on a narrow finger of land, you may be tempted to take the aggressive line along the apex of the dogleg. The steep slope that awaits anything falling short of perfection, suggests playing it safe is the sensible option. And if you found that tricky, wait until you see sixth, then the seventh and then the weaving downhill ninth. Campo America doesn’t let up until you reach the par-5 18th which, after another intimating tee shot, offers a long, downhill approach shot at glory. This is a golf course that
demands respect and care off the tee. It is also a course that is kept in superb condition and one you can’t help falling in love with – even if your game doesn’t match up to the surroundings. Like all great golf resorts, what sets La Cala apart is the consistency of the quality on offer. From the meet and greet at the starters hut to the bar staff at the 19th hole and the passion of the maître d’hôtel in the Restaurant La Terraza, everything is delivered with authentic charm. La Cala is a class act and a fitting way to conclude a visit to Marbella.
NEED TO KNOW THE GOLF Real Club de Golf Guadalmina guadalminagolf.com +34 952 883 375 Alcaidesa Links Golf Resort alcaidesagolf.com +34 956 791 040 La Cala Resort lacala.com +34 952 669 016 WHERE TO EAT La Bodega Restaurant & Bar Based around a traditional Spanish wine cellar, this restaurant at La Cala serves up tapas with an Andalusian twist. Open from September to May, dinners in the summer are served outdoors at Patio Naranjo. Calima Restaurant For something special tr y Andalusian chef Dani García’s two-Michelin star restaurant Calima in the heart of Marbella.
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WHAT TO SEE Marbella is indelibly linked with the sea, so where better to soak up the coastal atmosphere that at one of its four marinas. The picturesque Puerto de Cabopino has 169 moorings with a large number of restaurants, bars and shops. It however is dwarfed by Puerto José Banús with 915 moorings and all types of yachts and pleasure boats as well as bars, discos and shopping centres. WHAT TO DO Swimming in the aqua blue waters of the Mediterranean or having lunch at a beach-side restaurant is a must when you go to Marbella. Check out the beach at Casablanca or the everpopular La Bajadilla near the fishing port. Add to that a sunset drink at an exclusive beach retreat such as the Ocean Club or Estrella del Mar, and you get an idea of the possibilities of Marbella’s 28km of beaches. GETTING THERE SWISS (swiss.com) and Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) offer flights from Hong Kong to Malaga, a 40-minute drive from Marbella, via Zurich and Istanbul respectively. Travel time approximately 20 hours.