Fancy jetting off for a bit of winter sun? Then why not combine it with a few rounds on some of the Mediterranean’s best golf courses. unLTD’s Andy Waple visited the holiday island of Majorca to mark your card about where you should be clubbing while the weather bites back home.
Majorca became a well-known holiday hotspot in the 1970s when package tours made the beach resorts of Palma Nova and Arenal household names in the UK.
Yet the largest of the Balearics in the western Mediterranean had been well and truly discovered by visitors from Europe since Frédéric Chopin and his lover the novelist George Sand set up home there and made it fashionable in 1838, prompting the first tourist guide to be published in 1845.
Despite this, the stunningly beautiful island has hardly been at the centre of the universe for travelling golfers.
That’s something the Asociación de Campos de Golf de Majorca, an association of the 19 clubs, wants to put right and it is pressing ahead with its ambition of establishing the island as one of the leading European golf destinations.
It is a tough call. Competition is fierce and many would argue that Majorcan courses are generally overpriced for their challenge and condition, despite some determination being shown by the top clubs. Currently the association is having a push on improving quality and new investment that in some cases is said to be sorely needed.
The island has advantages that certainly help. It’s only about two hours flight away from the UK – its biggest market – and the off-course attractions are plentiful and hard to beat.
Figures produced by the golf association are impressive too, demonstrating that golfers are willing to pass over their euros in the pursuit of somewhere different to play.
In 2015, more than 600,000 rounds were completed, contributing in excess of 160 million euros to the Majorcan economy, prompting the Asociación’s publicly declared ambition to increase the number by five per cent each year.
It is hard to say if these targets will be met, yet with the continuing trend of travelling golfers snubbing perceived trouble spots such as Turkey and Tunisia, the latest indication suggest it may be possible.
Recently the Club de Golf Alcanada, with its beautiful course situated on the north east of the island, revealed another rise in bookings for 2018 with visitor numbers up by more than 10 per cent.
A delighted Kristoff Both, director of golf at Alcanada, said: “Bookings were up more than 10 per for March, April and May this year compared to this time in 2017,” pointing to Majorca’s growth in popularity on the European market and the island’s enviable multiple attractions.
He added: “As well as the golf, the island offers so much more away from the fairways. We are lucky to have golden beaches, lively towns, small picturesque villages, a fantastic array of hotels and not to mention a fantastic climate all year round. It is the perfect place for a golf break as well as a holiday.”
Kristoff hits the nail on the head. While Majorca may not appeal to group of lads seeking golf, more golf and Mahou lager, is it ideal for more adventurous travellers wishing to combine golf with other experiences such as sightseeing, the enjoyment of local culture and fine cuisine.
There is no better place to enjoy all of these things than at the Club de Golf Alcanada near Alcudia which oozes class throughout, offering a sea view to die for as well.
Opened in 2003 it is one of the better courses on Majorca – some would say the best – and anyone with a decent game and a love of scenery will be very impressed.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, the layout has glorious views over the Med at every turn and from the elevated 7th tee in particular, golfers eyes are drawn towards the offshore lighthouse on the island of Alcanada that has become the club’s emblem.
From a golfing point of view the course is pretty tough – as you will realise from the off where a daunting par 5 1st requires you to park your relaxed holiday mood and really get your golfing head on. But the overall experience is enjoyable thanks to the quality, attention to detail and plenty of variety.
Almost as spectacular as the design of the course is the view across the Bay of Alcudia named after the popular resort where the island’s the first modest course was built 1934.
Majorcan golf was bunkered in 1936 by the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent World War Two, and it was not until 1964 when it re-emerged at the other side of the island.
The Arabella Son Vida course, the pride and joy of the impressively elegant Castillo Son Vida Hotel, opened to a blaze of international publicity thanks to its ability to attract celebrity players.
Its course was inaugurated by Prince Rainier of Monaco, who had honeymooned at the hotel three years earlier with Grace Kelly.
Set among some jaw dropping properties, Son Vida remains one of the most popular courses and rightly so.
At 5,601m it’s short by today’s standards, but it makes up for its lack of length by offering players the need for careful shot-making as well as one of the most enjoyable and charismatic finishing holes on the island. Toughened up in 2011 it is marked by its doglegs running among pine and almond trees and its scary downhill 6th where the long fairway looks as intimating as the Cresta Run.
Son Vida is now one of a trio of courses operated by the Arabella Golf Group.
Son Quint is the newest, opening in 2007, and is a little more demanding than the Son Vida course. It’s characterised by two big lakes, and it weaves through typical Majorcan countryside dotted with pine and olive trees.
It gives great views over Palma and from the 8th tee that faces the capital’s landmark cathedral in the distance.
The best of the three, in my opinion, is the Son Muntaner layout that underwent a complete turf replacement programme in 2016, combined with some subtle changes to the greens’ elevations adding a further degree of difficulty. Reseeded throughout with Burmuda Celebration the course is now arguably the equal of the island’s two-stand out courses – Alcanada and Son Gual.
Son Muntaner is a player’s course, with a downhill dogleg 1st over water to a well-bunkered green setting the tone. The long 2nd with a water hazard running almost the entire length of the hole on the right, is a serious test for any ability. As well as long par 4s, a huge par 5 15th, very testing par 3s at 7th and 11th there are a number of shorter two-shotters, such as the 17th, but they don’t play any easier. This course is up there with the best on the island, thanks to its variety and challenge.
Just to the north east of Palma lies Son Gual, considered by many to be the island’s top course.
While Alcanada is blessed with outstanding vistas at every turn, Son Gual is less fortunate, being directly under the flight path of the island’s Son Sant Joan airport international airport. With in excess of 10 million overseas visitors a year, you can easily understand why there is hardly a moment without a flight coming or going in the sky above you.
Thankfully this doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of golf at Son Gual, its breathtaking course and fantastic clubhouse.
With wide fairways, 60 swirling bunkers and plenty of water it has an American feel to it, yet its 800 cultivated olive trees and mix of wild flowers in the rough areas place it very much in Europe.
This course is well maintained and offers plenty of variety and with large, undulating greens, players need to consider where to place their approach shots if they are not going to three putt.
The finale par 5 18th is simply gorgeous, with water mid fairway and in front of the green with the clubhouse as a backdrop. This is certainly a challenge, but its hole that will stick long in your memory particularly if you can plot your way up the fairway and two putt for par.
While Palma and its surrounding area has the largest cluster of golf courses, most of the island is now very accessible following extensive road improvements in recent years. Now there is no reason why you shouldn’t head inland and enjoy some of the great contrasts that makes Majorca such an enjoyable place to visit and play golf.
One of the greatest assets is the Serra de Tramuntana, a mountain chain declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2010 that runs from the south western tip to Pollensa in the north.
Long enjoyed by birdwatchers, cyclists and hunters, their foothills are also the home of a relatively new course at San Termes Golf Club, about 40 minutes drive north of Palma.
While not the best, it does have its attractions beyond the herds of goats that roam the fairways to the amusement of golfers.
San Termes is a members’ club that welcomes visitors, and it famed for its excellent clubhouse hospitality and quality local cuisine.
The course is short and tight, with a par of just 70, so the driver is rarely required. While birdie chances abound, so does trouble if you get your club selection wrong, as I found at the 8th and the 13th where to my peril my well struck rescue club from the tee ran off the end of the fairway into scrub never to be seen again.
There are some demanding holes too. The 4th and the 8th are the pick of the front nine while the 18th requires an accurate tee shot to a severely sloping fairway. To make up for its lack of length there are numerous elevated greens adding difficulty.