Being a first year golfer this was to be my inaugural venture overseas with the sole intention of playing golf. Jan was booked into the tennis academy (La Manga is the official training ground of the LTA) while the kids were going to Cyprus with grandparents.
On arrival I was surprised at the enormity of the resort. I hadn’t been sure what to expect but it’s surrounded by hills on three sides with the hotel, shops and restaurants in the centre and all the villas and apartments on the slopes. (The resort has its own private beach three miles away, to which regular transport is provided).
La Manga boasts three courses, unimaginatively titled North, South and West presenting three, quite different challenges. My first outing was on the South course, originally designed by Arnold Palmer’s company. Unfortunately, the course had only had nine holes open due to maintenance work so I played my first nine off the yellow tees and my second nine off the whites.
It suited a big hitter but with not much need for course management, other than steer clear of several barrancas (dried up river beds). What I found surprising was the speed of the greens compared with back home in Hertfordshire. They were lightning fast needing only the softest of touches that unfortunately bumped my score up quite considerably.
The course was quite bland and the proximity of some of the villas seemed to act like a magnetic force for any wayward strikes of the tee. In fact, one of my playing partners hit a shot which riccocheted off the cart path, missed a window by six inches and landed in a pool where some kids were playing.
The following morning I had set time aside time on the range but I decided to forego it in favour of serious putting practice.
After about two hours I felt I could handle the greens and was ready for whatever the North Course had to throw at me. With the same playing partners we set off and within a few holes were all in agreement that this was a much better course, a little more challenging and more to think about.
On one hole I played a lob wedge to reach the green only for ball to disappear into the crown of a palm tree, while one of my partners hit a wild duck hook into a building site only for it to rebound off a concrete pillar into the middle of the fairway. Needless to say with that luck, he went on to birdie the hole!
The final hole finishes in front of the hotel swimming pool so you’re guaranteed a gallery. My fading tee-shot ended up on a downslope next to a fairway bunker my view to the green obscured by a large tree. Somehow I was able to curl it round the tree on to the green about 20ft from the hole and sank my putt for birdie and a round of 92. A memory to cherish.
I had heard that the West course, formerly the ‘Princessa’ when first designed by Dave Thomas in the early 1990s, presented a much sterner challenge winding its way up into the hills and through a woodland of cork trees.
The par-3 second hole was my first stumbling block - twice out of bounds and running up a seven!
The Golfmagic editor’s advice of requiring a plentiful supply of balls looked spot on at this stage but despite my dismal start, I survived with the same ball though one of my playing partners lost eleven!
Some of the holes boasted narrow fairways and challenging doglegs and I opted for playing safe rather than taking risks. My course management paid off.
The only downside to the day was cooler weather and, after serious watering, local mosquitos having a field day on our exposed legs.
Overall the complex was ideal - clean, safe and plenty to do for all ages. There were none of the ‘football shirt brigade’‚ with loutish, anti-social behaviour (despite the fact that pro footballers have gained somewhat of a reputation here. ED)
I enjoy a drink but when I go out I like to feel safe without looking over my shoulder all the time. Apart from the golf and tennis, with their adjoining academies to improve your game, there are numerous swimming pools and places for kids to enjoy themselves.
Restaurants were generally excellent with prices on a par with the UK. We were particularly impressed by ‘Asia’, which served a mixture of Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and Chinese dishes - and having lived in South East Asia I can recommended the food.
Such was the level of service from the complex and the assistance of the tour operaters,
Barwell Travel, we are already planning another trip next year.
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