Catalan Region Calls One and All - by M. James Ward
Many from the United Kingdom have made visits to the Catalan region of Spain, and for good reason. This captivating area has been a magnet in attracting golfers and non-golfers alike for a host of reasons. Start with generally first-rate weather, working in tandem with top tier food and drink in concert with rightly touted hospitality.
As an American, my only previous visit to Spain came during the ‘97 Ryder Cup Matches at Valderamma. The push from Spain - specifically from PGA Catalunya in the Costa Brava area - to once again serve as host to the ‘22 bi-annual matches drew my interest. However, a final decision in early December gave the nod to Italy with Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, a location just outside of Rome, securing the host role.
Costa Brava is roughly a little more than an hour’s drive northeast from Barcelona and is ideally located with the Mediterranean Sea to the east and the Pyrenees Mountains to the immediate north. The justly celebrated town of Girona serves as the main hub and is a great base to centre one’s activities. For golfers the advantages are several.
The key courses are within a very short drive and there is an array of lodging options fitting all budgets and requirements. The same holds true for greens fees which are quite competitive. Catalan culture is also rich in its many offerings: while technically in Spain - the Catalans have a clear pride in what they have so uniquely created - both from the past and ongoing today. The Costa Brava provides a glorious intersection of fascinating elements. The golf dimension is part of the overall storyline, but set aside sufficient time to fully explore all the other key elements when visiting.
COURSES RATED ...
Torremirona Golf Club
Par- 72 / Yardage - 6,741
Course rating: 72.9 / Slope - 137
Opened - 1992; Architect: Jordi Soler Peix
The stretch run of holes from #14 through #17 is very good and closing out a round is no sure thing without good execution. Plenty of width on most holes and can handle higher handicaps without unduly penalising them. The uphill par-4 8th is especially well done and needs to be treated with particular care. The short par-3 10th tempts the bold play - but be mindful when the pin is tucked to the extreme far left with water lurking ever so close. However, like vanilla ice cream - Torremirona is simply satisfactory - nothing more. The facility could also stand a makeover given the competitive nature of what other nearby layouts are doing - both on the golf and lodging side of things.
Course grounds were satisfactory, but needed a bit more attention to various details such as level tee boxes, new sand in a few of the bunkers and several of the greens rolled. The Torremirona footprint is certainly there for an even better overall golf experience. Getting all the details sorted out can make a major future difference.
Club Golf d’Aro - Mas Nou
Par-72 / Yardage - 6,800
Course rating: 73.2 / Slope 135
Opened - 1990; Architect: Ramon Espinosa
Situated 300 feet above sea level - Golf d’Aro is blessed with superb land - clearly memorable. Having such a splendid piece of terrain excites the senses before the first tee shot is played. The main impediment? Lack of consistent conditioning holds back what should be a thoroughly enjoyable day of golf. One of the strengths of the course is the turning points for a number of holes which necessitates the wherewithal to shape shots with a clear resolve. Unfortunately, far too often when stepping on the tees you have uneven lies, frequently with little consistent grass cover.
Golf d’Aro, as I mentioned at the outset, is a scenic wonder - early on the front side you catch glimpses of the shimmering Mediterranean Sea in the nearby distance. The putting surfaces are also well crafted since approach shots must be played with precision. One of my favourite holes is the mid-length par-4 6th. The hole turns left and the avenue of available fairway becomes a tricky proposition to attain i as the hole turns gently left. The green is ably defended and is sloped from back-to-front so any half-hearted approach will mean needed real work to escape with a par.
Golf d’Aro provides a low key clubhouse that is quite functional and there is a sufficient practice area to loosen up prior to playing. The elevation changes your encounter and the variety of hole types makes for a fun time, but getting the course in a more consistent presentation will only add so much more to the time spent there.
Club de Golf Peralada
Par-71 / Yardage - 6,639
Course rating: 71.8 / Slope 133
Opened - 1993; Architect - Jordi Soler Peix
Peralada is well designed and minus a few spots on the conditioning side is quite good on all accounts. The 1st hole belies what comes quickly in the round. At the 430-yard par-4 2nd you are tested quite thoroughly. The fairway gives you sufficient width, but the optimum angle favours the right side. Play away from that side and you encounter a solitary tree, well-positioned to impede approach shots favouring that side. Shaping tee shots is a regular item when playing Peralada - none more so than the devilish 5th. Playing just under 400 yards, you find a turning point to the left off the tee. Strong players can attempt the boldest of plays by going over the trees and cutting off as much as possible. Unless played with ideal precision, the net result will be a severe penalty of one sort or the other - a tour de force strategic hole. The par-3 6th that follows is also a demanding hole - tee set high above the green - necessitating total control and sufficient length to get to the putting surface.
The main deficiency with Peralada is the middle portion of the course, which fails to keep pace with what the early holes create. None are particularly bad, but none especially noteworthy either. The saving grace for Peralada comes with the final four holes: each demands careful thought coupled with steadiness. Holes #15 and #16 are both excellent long par-4 holes, with the latter helped with a pesky fronting pond more than eager to swallow any timid approach. The 17th is a par-5 that can yield birdies, but again the shots must be properly played. To Peralada’s credit the original ending hole was a mundane short par-4. That has since been changed as the facility used the former teeing area and portions of the hole for expansion of the building footprint. The present 18th - a solid long par-3 of 234 yards - can easily stretch out beyond 250 when rear left pin area is used. Secure a par here and you’ll head cheerfully back to the clubhouse.
The most enduring element of Peralada extends beyond the golf course. The resort is essentially an ideal adult getaway. All of the elements intersect together - customer attentiveness is a main focal point from the moment you arrive. Be sure to visit the Wine Spa: ably staffed and organised to provide total comfort and ease away any aches, pains and stresses. The lodging is in the process in being upgraded and the food and drink adds immeasurably to the experience. The golf at Peralada is very good - but turf conditions and a bit more attention to the middle part of the course - can make for an even grander time playing.
Club de Golf Costa Brava
18-configuratiuon RED layout opened 1962
6,537 Yards / Par-73; 72.3 CR / 137 SL
Architect: Hamilton Stutt & Co.
18-configuration GREEN layout opened 2011
6.124 Yards / Par-70; 69.3 CR / 122 SL
Architects: Jorge Soler Fish & Eugenio Algado
*Private club accepts green fees
During my visit to the area I was recommended to visit Costa Brava and I am happy I could make a quick visit to the semi-private facility. The layout is surrounded by housing, but fortunately the impact of the housing poses little invasion when playing. The facility added an additional 9-holes in recent years and the array of holes is a good mix. When playing Costa Brava you have two routings that equate to two 18-hole courses covering the 27-holes provided. The Red Course is the more challenging and has the better array of different holes.
The main issue for Costa Brava is the intrusion from so many trees on the course. It is not unusual for the canopies to intrude on playing angles for many of the holes. The net result? Holes can only be played in just one manner and this only serves to limit the architectural aspects. Frankly, the 2nd hole on the Green Course is one of the most bizarre holes I’ve ever seen with this in mind. Opening up corridors will also mean greater sunlight getting to the grass and with that a clear improvement in turf sustainability - most notably on tee boxes.
The plus side at Costa Brava is that the putting surfaces, for the most part, provide sufficient contour without ever being too excessive. Avoid the big temptation to hit driver, because accuracy is the more important ingredient when playing either of the two configurations. The 18th hole lies close to the Catalan Clubhouse, which dates back to 1841, and is splendidly preserved.
PGA Catalunya Resort
Architects for both courses: Angel Gallardo & Neil Coles
Stadium Course: Opened 1999 - 7,311 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating: 76.5 / Slope 152
Tour Course: Opened 2005 - 6,561 Yards / Par-72
Course Rating: 72.1 / Slope 131
The most striking feature when you enter the grounds of the acclaimed PGA Catalunya Resort is the sheer majesty of the site. The grounds are rolling and the design accentuates the corridors provided. The land simply ebbs and flows like waves on the ocean. Towering trees flank nearly all of the holes, yet allow for enough wiggle room so that the impact is anything but claustrophobic. I have always believed the land a course occupies makes up no less than 60% of the total equation. Catalunya uses what Mother Nature so ably provided and your desire to play is raised considerably before you have even struck the first tee shot.
For several years Catalunya’s Stadium Course has been rated at the top of the golf charts for Spain and near the top for all of Continental Europe. The facility has played host to a wide range of big time professional and amateur events, and has enough elasticity for the movement of tee markers as well as hole placements that put a premium on top quality driving of the ball. In order to stage such an array of events one needs an ample footprint of space and Catalunya can easily do so.
The Stadium Course mandates a high dexterity with the driver - for both length and accuracy. The course puts considerable pressure on any player failing to do just that. The elevation changes also make yardage determinations a very real concern. The best aspect of the Stadium Course is that it constantly seeks to keep you off balance – there is really no set pattern one can simply lock onto for all the holes.
The Tour is a credible course blessed with the same turf quality but very much less intense shotmaking demands. The terrain is good and there is sufficient width to handle the occasional stray ball and it provides the quintessential resort course - solid eye-candy but little real architectural heft. Candidly, no person should opt to play The Stadium until they have shown some sort of wherewithal to play The Tour Course at or below their respective handicap. The Tour has five par-3 and par-5 holes respectively so there are opportunities present to score and boast to your mates.
PGA Catalunya is the consummate location for serious golfers to visit. Interestingly, the site was originally intended for the Circuit de Catalunya Formula 1 and Moto GP race track. Racing’s loss is golf’s clear gain. All of the creature comforts avid players seek are present here. No visit to Costa Brava is complete without scheduling sufficient time to thoroughly take in what is provided at PGA Catalunya. Just play the appropriate tees, because if you do not know your limitations will most certainly come to the forefront when playing the Stadium Course, which will quickly remind you in a very direct manner.
Overall Golf Assessment -
The layouts visited possess good routings and design ingredients. Clearly, PGA Catalunya is the headliner - with the rightly acclaimed Stadium Course leading the way. Yet, despite the qualities of the Stadium as the country’s number one course, it is completely fair to say the layout would not even sniff a top ten position in either England, Scotland or Ireland. What that means is that Spanish golf still has room to develop compelling architecture that resonates as a item of particular note. It is easy for many people to miss this when presented with stellar weather, top tier food and drink, and all the other magnificent reasons to visit the Catalan region of Spain.
The other Costa Brava golf options are more than able to provide quality routings with a number of holes standing out. However, with the exception of PGA Catalunya / Stadium, the other courses are support actors nowhere near the status of world class golf. There is also the issue of maintenance and what it means in bringing out the design elements they possess. None was totally deficient, but none were at the same level as the architecture provided. In numerous cases, tees rolled and trimmed accordingly, sand replaced as needed and greens cut to provide a true test with the putter are needed to maximise the golf experience. If these items were in sync, then the golf experience would clearly benefit.
When one advertises oneself as a big time destination, delivering on what you promise is essential for overall credibility. To be considered a top tier location - worthy of international acclaim - there can be no flaws which take away the moments at-hand. Firm and fast conditions provide the optimal outcome, and the courses in Costa Brava I visited generally played slow and overly lush. Recent rains no doubt played a role, but the qualities of drainage are then put to the test. Golf in the Costa Brava is smartly priced and the discerning traveller can certainly reap a good deal for the money they have to spend. However, to be a force in today’s ever competitive golf travel market the degree of leeway and tolerance for errors is ever tightening. All facilities must realise that consumers can just as easily make other choices for their precious leisure time and money.
Costa Brava provides hospitality of the first order, world class gastronomy, solid lodging options and a historical / cultural dimension that delivers in a big time way. The golf side of the aisle has the potential to be no less. Right now the key details need attention. Costa Brava golf cannot slide to being nothing more than a sideshow addendum to everything else. Getting the golf side of the equation to that same level is the test that needs to be addressed. We shall see.
Ratings Guide -
*World Class Golf - Among the elite golfing areas on the planet - go now!
*Outstanding - Few lulls, extraordinary - never a dull moment.
*Exceptional - Clear qualities throughout but missing one or two central elements.
*Good - Roughly half and half in terms of quality versus pedestrian golf offerings.
*Fair - Fleeting moments of quality - not worth a special trip.
*Poor - Save your time and money.
The community is a cultural and gastronomic feast of the highest order. The only proper way to fully enjoy the many attributes of Girona is to walk the fabled city. Girona’s population is just under 100,000 so it is not so large as too hamper your desire to negotiate on foot. Best of all, walking gives you the opportunity to really appreciate all the elements directly. The architecture is grand indeed. Just hold onto one’s credit card because there is a wide range of shops and stores that will cater to every consumer impulse.
Be sure to visit The Jewish quarter with its labyrinthine streets and passageways. You will feel transported back in time. The Jewish quarter is one of the best preserved, historical quarters in the world dating from the 12th century - the stonework is detailed and clearly authentic. Amazingly, as the sunlight ebbs closer to sunset the shadows creep through the openings and provide for a vista you will long remember. For history and hiking buffs, there is a one-mile stroll around the city on the 14th-century fortress walls, part of which afford views of the Pyrenees.
One of the key stops that is a must see is the Girona Cathedral. Occupying the highest ground in the town, the Cathedral provides a visual feast from its lofty perch. Work began on the Cathedral dating back to the 11th century. The interior nave is the widest Gothic in the world with a width of 22 meters and is the second widest overall after that of St. Peter’s Basilica. When visiting be sure to take in the museum area, which houses the incredible Tapestry of Creation.
Food lovers can attempt to get seated at El Celler de Can Roca, winner of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants last year. Keep in mind, if you can get a table - waiting lists can stretch to one year. But the qualities of the gastronomy go beyond just one restaurant. No less than 20 Michelin-starred restaurants are in the area. Even the ice-cream shop has a gourmet flavour, run by the Michelin-starred Can Roca chefs. More than 3.5 million bottles of wine are produced annually in the Costa Brava area. Need a central lodging site? Head over to the AC Hotel Palau de Bellavista by Marriott, which is just short walk from the Jewish Quarter. The hotel provides stunning views from its elevated deck of Girona. A great perch for a late day cocktail - just note the walk is a bit of a climb for those not up to the task. Without any question, Girona provides the ideal location serving as one’s hub when coming to the Costa Brava region.