Costa Brava golf

'Experiencing my first golf trip outside UK and Ireland'

Alan McDermaid
Tue, 2 Jun 2009


Approaching the final hole at Emporda

  North-east Spain's Costa Brava is famed as a holiday destination, whether it be for its sprawling resorts like Lloret de Mar or quaint seaside towns such as Pals and Begur.

Though without a big reputation for its golf courses, the area shouldn't be overlooked, especially with the jewel in its crown the spectacular, yet treacherous, PGA Catalunya, which recently hosted Spanish Open on the European Tour.


Open tee shot at the demanding PGA Catalunya course

Boasting rolling terrain, manicured fairways, slick greens, and a number of elevated tee's that invite a well struck shot, it's an eye pleasing challenge that will certainly appeal to the better amateur.

For lesser mortals the challenge proved unfortunately too demanding for my 21-handicap and was the least enjoyable of the four courses we played in a four-day odyssey.

Although it rewards a accuracy and good ball-striking, anything wide, short or long is invariably punished by sand, water or gnarly rough.

For me it was torturous but in a sadistic kind of way I'd still recommend it as a 'must play' for any golfer visiting the region. I can have only the most utmost respect for a player like Thomas Levet who can shoot 64 in the first round and win the tournament with 72-hole score of 18 under par.

Although not as spectacular or as demanding, the flexible layout at Emporda proved my favourite of the quartet courses we played. Designed by the world famous and prodigious, Robert von Hagge, the complex boasts four loops of nine – two forest-lined and two links-style played in any preferred permutation.

We elected to play the two links loops, a prospect which left me nervously eyeing the course map with its abundance of large, blue areas [of water]. However, the course proved less intimidating than I feared and eminently playable. The links 'nines' are flat but artificially styled with humps and hollows in a respectful nod to the classic courses of the UK and Ireland.


Claustrophobic trees at Platja de Pals

In fact, it plays nothing like a links but the layout was pleasing to the eye, hid no tricks and I was able to, largely keep the water out of play sensible course management. Course conditioning was again excellent, with the fast, smooth greens proving particularly testing.

Platja de Pals, a tight, tree-lined course beside the coastal town of Pals had front nine that was almost claustrophobic with narrow fairways lined with Umbrella Pines. Throw in small, firm greens wer were left with a challenge that tested most of our patience.

It's one of those courses that's better second time around. Playing it once, merely punished our naivety. Even one of the better players in our group found discovered what looked like a well-placed tee shot merely favoured the wrong side of the fairway with overhanging branches not only obscuring but preventing a shot to the green.

Mercifully, the course opened up a little on the back nine, and with strait-jackets loosened it's an easier challenge. Pals finishes with a typically tight challenge, a twisting par-5 with trees at strategically growing from the fairway.

The greens were slick and true, the fairways trim and smooth but curiously the tees were scruffy and the length of semi-rough. Few were even flat!


First tee at Girona

The Fred Hawtree-designed Girona course was the last venue on our whistle-stop trip. Set among the hills just outside the ancient city, it too, is a parkland course framed by trees on many holes and a similar level of accuracy off the tee.

The front nine plunges up and down the hills and among woodland but it's the holes on the back nine from 11 through 13 most memorable and its signature stretch. They sweep down towards a lake at the course's low point, with the 11th a par-4 dogleg from an elevated tee.

The 12th is a great 'risk and reward' par-4 while the 13th demands an accurate tee shot drive and tricky approach to a green where anything long meets a watery end.

Probably the weakest of the four we played, with the practice area one to be wary of. Only a thin mat protecting you and your clubs from a strip of concrete below - hardly the conditions under which to recover from a recovering sprained wrist. As for the heavily sloping practice putting green it's too severe for any meaningful practice.

Verdict

Overall the courses provided an enjoyable test and, with the exception of PGA Catalunya, can be savoured by golfers of all levels. This was my first golf trip beyond the shores of the UK and Ireland, and while I the condition of the courses (and the 'craic' among my mates), I found golf tough to endure in such heat.

Additionally Girona and PGA Catalunya were plagued by swarms of annoying black flies, and the exchange rate in euros makes for an expensive trip once food and drink are added to the flights, green fees and accommodation. Based on my first experience, I still think I I'd prefer a few days in Scotland or Ireland – but then I'm a parochial sort…

FAct File

Flights: Ryanair from Glasgow Prestwick to Girona (booked direct via their website)

Accommodation: Stayed in Begur, one hour drive from Girona airport (15 golfers in two adjacent villas) booked through www.havenonearth.co.uk.

 

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