As boutique providers of upscale golf travel to exceptional destinations worldwide, we take the opportunity from time to time to share our findings regarding some of the great new courses in our footprint, which covers the U.S. West Coast including the Pacific Northwest, Europe and Argentina, among other dynamic destinations. One needs to be prudent when booking golf vacations outside the U.S. As you might also find with hotel properties, you simply can’t believe everything you read in a guide book or on the Internet. Have you ever been to a hotel or resort that hasn’t met your expectations or is living on past glories? Probably so! That’s why we personally play and inspect the courses we recommend to our upscale clientele.
In the past year, we have either played or inspected more than 40 golf courses in Spain and Portugal. While Spain golf and Portugal golf experiences are tops in the continent, what we found was surprising. Specifically, we uncovered some very strong new courses we had never heard of both in golf-rich regions as well as provinces not known for golf. Additionally, we found some much-heralded courses that no longer make the grade, in our professional opinion. With careful planning and expert counsel, your Spain golf vacation or Portugal golf vacation can be the stuff of lifelong memories.
So here are the unvarnished reviews of what we consider to be the top Destination Golf Courses in Spain and Portgual. Our criteria are based on a U.S. perspective from the point of view of a golf professional or scratch amateur (yes, I am a former PGA professional), which means we match our courses with the wishes and abilities of our guests as we place the highest value on the following course attributes:
Spain Golf – Destination Golf Courses:
When Americans and Brits think of Spain golf, they naturally think of the Costa del Sol, which straddles the Mediterranean coast from Malaga to near Gibraltar. Yes, some Golf Equipment of the best golf courses lie in this year-round resort area, but golf in Spain is about much more than the Costa del Sol. One can experience championship golf in the Barcelona area, in Seville, and we even found very strong courses in the Basque region (most notable are Izki Golf, a Ballesteros design, and Jose Maria Olazabal’s Golf Artxanda). Here’s our take on the best of the best of Spain golf:
o RCG El Prat is the private, but accessible, Greg Norman-designed complex of 45 holes set in the upscale western suburbs of Barcelona. As all of the nines were designed and constructed simultaneously by the same architect, players can forge ten distinct 18-hole combinations that fit together seamlessly. As expected from Norman, most fairways are reasonably wide, but trouble lurks beyond their borders and approach shots challenge your iron skills. You will feel like a member for a day when you experience Real Club de Golf El Prat. This is a lovely setting and very relaxing getaway from the energy of Barcelona.
o PGA Golf de Catalunya is one of several properties owned and operated by the PGA European Tour, and is the only one in Spain. It’s easy to fall in the love with this place that is located in the Costa Brava (“Wild Coast”), just 75 minutes from Barcelona. There are two courses on the site, Green and Red, with the Green being the longer and stronger test of the duo. The Green is a big, tournament-ready course nestled in the forest just a bit inland from the Costa Brava shore. Mature “umbrella” pines and cork oaks line the well-manicured fairways, and the smooth but undulating greens will test one’s short game. The Verde is simultaneously challenging and fun. There are quite a few elevation changes on these tracks and the scenery is outstanding. There’s just something about those symmetrical umbrella pines that spells relaxation.
Costa del Sol Golf
o Valderrama arguably is the finest course in Continental Europe. The course is located in the upscale Sotogrande development that includes some of the finest golf courses in Spain. Sotogrande is located approximately 45 minutes from Marbella, the gem of the Costa del Sol. Valderrama is literally a legend in mainland Europe, having hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup, the World Golf Championship and countless Volvo Masters tournaments. That tournament elevated the stature of Spain golf to completely new heights. This Robert Trent Jones, Sr. gem is a must-play for the serious golf enthusiast touring the Costa del Sol. One can easily be distracted by the spectacular scenery and mesmerizing cork oaks that line the fairways, but this course demands your undivided attention. You can measure yourself against the best players in the world as you tackle the infamous 17th. The service is outstanding, the design is challenging and the conditioning is nothing short of world class. This is European golf at its very best and a must play for any Spain golf vacation! Maximum handicap: 24 Men; 36 Women.
o Sotogrande is the granddaddy of Costa del Sol golf and perhaps of Spain golf. Sotogrande is Valderrama’s older and less-menacing sibling, located at a lower elevation than most of the others courses on the Sotogrande property. Approximately ten years the senior, she provides wider landing areas and less intimidating greens complexes. Nevertheless, the ever-present breeze is enough to heighten the challenge on this nearly-seaside track. Although Valderrama tends to overshadow it as the best of Spain golf, Sotogrande remains one of the top five venues in mainland Europe.
o La Reserva is an impeccably-maintained and relatively new private club on the Sotogrande property. This Cabell Robinson design stretches to more than 7,300 yards from the back tees. Fortunately, there are four additional sets of tees from which to choose, so choose appropriately! La Reserva’s length is somewhat mitigated by meticulous grooming and generous fairways and greens, so relax and enjoy the wonderful Costa del Sol setting. Few courses offer such incredible curb appeal. The course straddles the rolling hills of the Western Costa del Sol, making this one of the most beautiful golf courses in Spain. The course view from the drive to the club house alone is worth the trip.
o Santana Golf is not a course you read so much about as it is new, but rest assured that it is one of the most talked-about new golf courses in Spain. Set in the hills above the coast in a beautiful, former avocado orchard, Santana is the young upstart of the Costa del Sol golf scene. This track blends a beautiful setting, quality design, attentive service and splendid conditioning to create a grand Spain golf experience. Santana Golf is easily walkable, employs water hazards and bunkers prudently and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Mediterranean. The par-72, 7,000-yard Cabell Robinson design offers four sets of tees so that you can bite off as much or as little as you desire of this wonderfully-diverse layout. If you are in the Costa del Sol, experience Santana while it is young and relatively undiscovered.
o Finca Cortesin is another newcomer to the Costa del Sol. The course is located near the mountaintop “white village” of Casares, which looms like a beacon amidst the majestic Sierra Bermeja mountain range. This new Spain golf course opened in early 2007 and is quickly making a name for itself as one of the best golf courses in all of Spain. The Cabell Robinson design offers a challenging variety of holes, as evidenced by the scenic par-4 13th that confronts the player with two water hazards, yet sooths with eye-pleasing green complexes. As bonuses, the routing remains unspoiled by development, the modern practice facility is quite extensive and the customer service is absolutely among the best we have encountered in all of Spain. We suggest that you play this one before the word gets out about one of the best new Spain golf courses!
Portugal Golf – Destination Golf Courses:
As is the case with Spain golf, Portugal golf is much more than a slew of courses situated in one location, which, in this case, is the Algarve. Sure the Algarve has long been known for great golf and great beaches! Quieter and less overbuilt than the Costa del Sol, the Algarve is experiencing a bit of a golf course building boom. There are no fewer than 10 Algarve golf courses either under construction or on the books. But there also are some very strong golf courses on or near the coast in Lisbon. Here’s our take on the best available Portugal golf experiences: