GolfMagic tees it up on the Costa Brava

Andy Roberts's picture
Mon, 11 Nov 2013

My next stop was Platja de Pals.

Jumping spritely off the bus like an excited six-year-old on Christmas morning, I was greeted by the unfortunate sight of an old Spaniard reminiscent of Santa, reversing out of his parking bay and into a tree. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as his back window shattered. I couldn't help but stifle a sympathetic chuckle.

I loaded my bag onto buggy and drove up to the first tee, passing an El Autoglass van en route.

Locked away in the north-east corner of Catalunya, near the French border, Platja de Pals is a classic course routed through a dense forest of umbrella pines. Flooded in golf history, it hosted the first tournament staged on the PGA European Tour - the 1972 Spanish Open - and has never looked back.

Located on former farmland of Arenals de Mar, on dunes covered by an immense pine forest planted 70 years ago, the course was an idea created by Baltasar Parera Vilar and his wife Doña Rosa Coll Llach. They provided the land and maintenance equipment as well as the construction of the first nine holes and the clubhouse.

Although the magazine Destino, in its February edition of 1961, published the first sketches of the future golf course, work did not start until 1964, shortly before its introduction to the public in 1966 by renowned English course architect Fred Hawtree - the man behind Royal Birkdale and re-furbishment of St Andrews New.

And while the year 1966 resonates proudly to us English, it’s by no means the only aspect giving this course a distinct St George flavour. The course has a combination of crisp seaside-style turf and tranquil pines offering a wonderful local element. 

From my experience, Mr Hawtree loved a good dogleg, a strategically played fairway and greenside bunker. Just like PGA Catalunya, the greens at Pals are some of the finest I’ve putted on. Not as quick as the PGA but they were incredibly true and rolled purely.

Five par-5s offer ample chance for birdies and eagles, but only if you’re able to work your ball both ways. If you come armed to Pals with just a fade or draw, some of these holes will bite you in the dimples.

A perfect example was the panoramic 18th with overhanging branches on the left-hand side of the fairway and trouble down the right. With pin located behind the tree - and having found the fairway with my longest drive - it needed a huge, sweeping draw to find the green; and not the OB right. An unzip of the bag was not what I'd planned. It was some bogey, though!

The course opens with several gentle, straight par-4s but then gradually gets tougher, with the need to keep the leash on the big dog at times and just pull out the fairway, hybrid or long iron to keep your ball in play. Although some holes on the outward nine aren’t brutally long, there is a premium on finding the straight and narrow.

My favourite holes on the course were those around the turn, with the par-3 ninth across the water and playing into a raised green with bunkers short and left, as well as the next par-3 11th that plays from an elevated tee box over a canopy of trees. I really enjoyed that tee shot as it led to one of two birdies in the round.

Another great hole is the long par-4 12th. After crushing a drive on this left-to-right dogleg par-4, I still had to nail a 5-iron into a raised green. I thought I’d struck what was the perfect approach but without taking the elevation into account, my next shot was being played from one of the biggest greenside bunkers I’ve ever seen. To make matters worse, my ball had plugged in the face. 

Without doubt, the toughest hole is the par-4 17th, played over a giant tree in the middle of the fairway and another guarding the right-hand side of an uphill green. It's all about strategy and finding the fairway but if you find the rough, there’s absolutely no chance of reaching in two.

Platja de Pals offers what might be seen as a generous par-73 but with the tight fairways guarded by pines and fairly small greens, there are plenty of holes to catch you unawares.

Given the length of this layout, I’d encourage all ages and abilities to get involved with Platja de Pals when next out in Costa Brava. Just bring a few balls with you. You won’t regret it.

You also won't regret a trip to the incredibly popular Par-3 pitch and putt at Gualta.

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