Tom Huntley, a 30 year-old IT consultant from London, and three pals have recently returned from a weekend break playing golf courses on Spain’s Costa Blanca.
Over the four-day period they played El Saler, rated one of the finest in Europe and former home of the Spanish Open, Oliva Nova, designed by Seve Ballesteros and the La Sella, the first course created by Jose Maria Olazabal.
Joining Tom, a 16-handicapper, were two fellow Swansea-natives Henry Williams (29) who plays off 12 and insurance broker Ben Holborrow (30) off 22. Liverpudlian ‘Baz Bailey (30) another 16-handicapper and a self-confessed equipment junkie, completed the quartet.
This is Tom’s story….
Thursday – El Saler
Having arrived on EasyJet at Alicante the previous day, we made an early start on Thursday to get to the course for our tee time. Used a multi-map website for our directions but it was unreliable. The course isn’t well signposted, so we recommend you buy a map.
We eventually found it but the pro shop was closed and with no visible staff elsewhere we waited and admired the golf guide ratings on the clubhouse walls (including No.2 in Europe from Golf World) and a signed scorecard from Bernhard Langer’s 62. (This is also the course where the Seve Trophy was played last year ED).
Eventually we were ushered to the caddiemaster and paid our 75 euros each for the round and were on the first tee almost before we knew it.
The first nine holes turned out to be very tight and not the links course we had expected. The fairways were undulating and we were impressed with the course itself and the fairways and greens. There was some quite heavy rough but, basically, if you missed the fairways you ended up in the trees. Quite a few provisional balls were hit!
The back nine opened out a bit along the Mediterranean shore and the wind picked up as the dunes came into play. There are some very long holes and a couple of challenging par-3s. We all rated the 18th, a sweeping downhill dogleg to the left, as one of the best closing holes we had played and imagined that it was a quality hole to finish a big tournament. The green is big but tough; bogey-5 is quite acceptable.
We were looking forward to a beer, but the lack of activity was astonishing. The hassle involved encouraged us to move on to a local bar. The course is wonderful but don't expect much hospitality.
(It was here about ten years ago, that my wife and I had our luggage stolen from our hire car in the car park at El Saler. So make sure your belongings are kept out of sight as it's a bit obvious that easily identified number plates on hire cars are going to be a soft touch when their owners are away on the course for at least four hours. Security is somewhat lax. ED)
Friday - Oliva Nova
We had seen the signs for Oliva Nova on the way to El Saler the previous day so easily found this Seve-designed course.
Unfortunately the weather had turned wet overnight and the course was quite waterlogged, not helped by the fact that it is completely flat. Appreciative of the conditions, the pro shop charged us only half rates.
We were alarmed as we sized up our second shots to the Par-5 opening hole by a 'twister' looking menacing a few miles away up in the mountains. The storms hung around but we suffered only mild rain showers, not the downpours we had expected.
Main feature of the course is the barranca that runs through it, regularly coming into play together with a few strategically placed lakes, making the final three holes very interesting - a short par-3, a par-5 and a short dogleg par-4 to finish.
Although we didn't see the course in its best light and there were a few temporary greens, Oliva Nova has potential and I will definitely return. The clubhouse is large and modern, the club shop upto date and staff friendly.
Saturday - La Sella
After a fairly ‘heavy’ night on Friday and committed to some local sightseeing, we played only nine holes at La Sella in the evening, saving ourselves for Sunday.
Sunday - La Sella
After our appetiser the night before, we were looking forward to playing the full 18 and we weren’t disappointed. We arrived early for breakfast on the veranda overlooking the ninth green and 10th tee
The course was in magnificent condition with fast greens and fairways like carpets. All holes are tree-lined (some created from a former orchard) so be prepared to improvise, because you will often find your backswing hampered by trees or the need to hit low and high shots. (Just what you’d expect on a course designed by one of the game’s finest shot-makers and escapologists).
The first couple of holes are fairly tame, though raised greens make it difficult to stop a long approach from shooting over the back. The third (stroke index 1) is a tough par-4 over 450 yards requiring a good long drive followed by a long iron over water to a large green.
After the par-3 fourth hole a walk under the railway track reveals a beautiful set of four elevated holes, tight and undulating where good shots are rewarded and bad ones are severely punished. The scenery is stunning and it’s hard to concentrate.
The closing holes aren't as good as the opening ones but that may be a little harsh as there are not many holes in golf we have found that are as good as the front nine at La Sella. It also finishes with a par-5 which is reachable and a good chance of ending with a birdie.
Everything about La Sella was impressive - the food (we had tapas after our game), the service, the pro shop (though expensive), the range, the starter, not to mention the golf.
When we embarked on this weekend I was a little sceptical about the weather in the region at the beginning of May (though only Friday was a disappointment) and the surrounding area for post-golf activities. The decent courses looked far away on our map.
However, my fears were mostly unfounded. You can do this long weekend fairly cheaply if you get a budget flight to Alicante, stay in cheap accommodation and hunt for decent restaurants.
The main expense is the golf, El Saler was the most expensive with the others usually about 60 Euros a round.
I'll certainly be returning and advise it strongly for an alternative to the Costa del Sol and the Algarve.
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