It took me until my fourth tee shot to realise that it was unlikely that mine would be used in the Catalonia Ladies Masters Pro – Am’s Texas Scramble. The format dictates that all four players play the next shot from the best drive and as Georgina Simpson, our chirpy professional from Leeds, had again blasted her tee shot 20 yards past me with the fluid ease of a golfer playing well within herself, I was beginning to feel slightly inadequate.
But what a great way to get up close and personal with a professional golfers and learn from their game. It was rare for any her three male partners to improve on her shot making, particularly from 100 yards in, though we all had chances sink birdie putts from most of her approaches.
For a while we thought we might be in with a shout – at eight under par for the first nine holes. Sadly we couldn’t keep it up, despite her encouragement. We added only three more birdies.
Hopefully, however, Georgina learned something from our support and experience and went on to pocket a nice little cheque at the end of the week for her 16th place finish in the individual competition.
Pals was designed in the early 1960s by Baltasar Parera Vilar and his wife, Rosa Coll Llach under the management of the English architect Fred Hawtree. Pine-flanked fairways dominate every hole, providing an established network of canopies.
Trees are strategically (and irritatingly), stationed in some fairways, requiring good course management to lay-up and avoid them. Soft fairways and greens also demand accurate club selection. Where it lands, the ball stops. The back nine was less claustrophobic with the 11th an outstanding downhill par-3 demanding a tee shot fired over a pine umbrella, encircling a receptive green.
This is a visually appealing course in tip-top condition, only a few metres from the beach at Pals, where the skyline is dominated by red and white striped radio masts, a legacy of the Cold War but soon to be demolished. Within the complex is the resort Hotel La Costa (www.lacostahotel.com) and the 18-hole Serres de Pals course.
A new 18-hole complex will open next month but currently only nine holes are available for play, demanding an inconsistent nine on the ‘old’ course’ and nine on the indifferent new complex, which includes a greenside pond with visually unappealing algae floating on its surface.
When the original course is re-established, the masochists will relish the twists and turns, lakes, dells and bunkers of a this former European Tour venue, once regarded by the pros as one of the best on their circuit.
The second hole, a par-4 with an approach shot over a scrub-tangled dell and a severe slope in front of the green, sucks the ball back down into trouble. The third, a par-5 with its green set hard against a lake, is dangerous for every conceivable approach shot.
Fairways and greens sweep and swoop with flowing contours, making them difficult to gauge and read, but the unkempt look of the bunkers, filled with what looked and played like brick dust, tended to taint the course, which appeared in need of some TLC.
Care, too is need with an approach to the 18th as anything left will scatter those watching course activities from the terrace and ensure a frosty reception in the bar. It’s an uphill shot to a final green which is surrounded by three huge tinaja’s, a timely reminder to get the drinks in, and believe me, without the use of a buggy, you will need one.
Girona has its own airport, served by Ryanair from Stanstead though we flew BA scheduled into Barcelona, requirng a two-hour journey to our hotel, the Mas Salvi in Pals a beautifully restored 17th century stone village not far from the gawdy resorts of Lloret de Mar and Callella de la Costa. Hotel Aigua Blavaalso caters for golfers, visiting other courses in the area including Emporda and Golf Club de Golf Costa Brava
Advantages in Catalonia include a pleasant climate, particularly during the UK’s autumn and winter, coastal and inland courses in terrific settings with plenty of trees and greenery and more of an English parkland feel than offered by the palm tree and cactus courses of southern Spain.
Away from the package tour resorts, this area is a real eye-opener in style and quality of accommodation and food. There are also some wonderful historic places to explore around Girona.
Pals is around 100 kilometres Barcelona airport, not a particularly comfortable ride if loaded with golf travel bags which may not fit in a taxi. Girona airport is served by Ryanair from various UK airports, including Stanstead. While there are some amazingly cheap deals with this carrier watch carefully for excess baggage allowances. Golf equipment is included in the 15 kilo weight allowance by Ryanair and on return journeys you may be subject to hefty surcharges. .
Some courses we visited were being renovated or were in need of renovation and had damaged fairways and disease in some of the greens. However, I hope to return to play some of the other courses in the region as well as spend more time explorin, travelling though France as part of a tour of this fantastic region.
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