- Discover a thoroughbred golf course on Spain’s “rugged coast”
- Take the Q-School Test
- Views that captivated esoteric painter Salvadore Dali
- “Corking” good Catalonian landscape
- Get off the beaten track in Girona
Spain remains one of the most popular golf destinations for European golfers.
With busy resorts and lots of spikes treading the fairways of the Costa Del Sol, Andalucia and Murcia, it’s worth looking North for a quieter corner that still delivers world class golf courses, unbroken sunshine and a cultural city.
Girona on the Costa Brava is that secluded corner of Northern Spain and a land of mountains and sandy beaches.
PGA Golf de Catalunya, just 15 minutes from historic Girona and five miles from Girona Barcelona airport, is a golf resort that has always been billed as home to one of Europe’s best courses since it opened in 1999.
When the PGA European Tour decided to build a golf course to rival that of the US PGA Tour’s TPC Sawgrass course in Florida – it chose a lush, rolling setting among pine and bent cork oaks near the quiet Catalonian town of Caldes de Malvella.
The Green Course at PGA Golf de Catalunya was born.
Within a year of it opening, on a piece of land that has previously been earmarked for development as a Formula One racing track, the golf world wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
In 1999, the course hosted the Gene Sarazen World Open won by Thomas Bjorn. A year later, the Peugeot Open de Espana arrived in the Spring, with a field comprising Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie.
Number one in Spain according to influential rankings
More recently, PGA Golf de Catalunya has been home to the European Tour’s Qualifying School and the influential golf rankings website Top-100 Golf Courses voted the Green Course the number one inSpain in its 2012 rankings.
Many would contest that rating especially with Valderamma considered Europe’s finest golf course.
While rankings are subjective and usually opinion led, there is no denying PGA Golf de Catalunya deserves its reputation and its place among the elite of Spanish golf courses.
Nearly a decade after the Green opened, a second course, The Red, has been added and the resort has developed understated, luxury residential properties for high net worth individuals and discerning golf travellers looking for second homes.
Easy and cheap to reach by air
The good news is that it couldn’t be easier, or cheaper, to get to PGA Golf de Catalunya.
Ryanair, the world’s most popular low budget airline, services Girona Barcelona Airport from hubs across Europe.
It is important to note that Ryanair does charge heavily to transport clubs, in the region of £50 and so it is always worth looking at other airlines with more generous baggage allowance.
If no-frills isn’t for you, the resort is within 50-minutes drive of Barcelona and is serviced by British Airways and Iberia Air.
The four-star Melia Golf Vichy Catalan hotel is pleasant to stay in.
The hotel offers a chic, ultra-modern environment with minimalist luxury and views over the Montseny and Pyrenees mountains.
After a night’s sleep in one of the hotel’s large and comfortable beds, you can warm up for golf by taking a dip in the Nordic style outdoors pool or by hitting balls on the driving range close to the Red Course.
Course designers Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo combined 25-years of European Tour experience in the development of the Green and the result is, without doubt, a special golf course.
The elevated tee of the first hole offers a breathtaking view, and the first of nine downhill tee-shots, only one, the clever dog-leg 6th, climbs back the other way.
This heart-pumping par-four is just the start of a course that impresses more and more as the round goes on.
The 486-metre par-five third evokes thoughts of the 11th hole at Augusta National, and is the first introduction to the impressive lakes that dominate the centre of the course layout.
The area around Caldes de Malvella is known as the “Jungle” for its lush vegetation and proliferation of cork trees – cork is one of the area’s major industries – and the golf course benefits from the green firs, scrub and heather that frame the holes.
The greens are innovatively designed and no two are shaped the same.
Well devised bunkering poses a constant challenge when trying to find the best way to approach each flag and while the course is beautiful it’s unrelenting and difficult.
Red for danger – but not at PGA Golf de Catalunya
For those who prefer an easier challenge, The Red course at the PGA is more generous in the size of its greens and width of the fairways.
During summer its greens are firm and fast, and can be equally as difficult to score on as those of the Green.
A city craved by Empires
Off-course, historic Girona has a rich cultural, artistic and religious heritage that make it a must-explore.
Meander through the cobbled streets of its Call, one of Europe’s best preserved Jewish quarters and site of the world’s first Kabbalah school.
You’ll discover Girona’s Gothic Style Cathedral – which has the widest knave of any ecclesiastical building in the world – where it’s easy to lose yourself and forget the time.
The city has interested many great people through time, including the Romans who fortified it by constructing large stone walls – which are excellently preserved – as part of the Via Augustus, the road from Rome to Cadiz in Southern Spain.
Napoleon’s troops sacked the city in 1808, and the city authorities held a festival of celebrations in 2008 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French military occupation.
If you visit Girona in May, don’t miss the Time of Flowers festival.
The streets of Girona are filled with beautiful, blooming flowers unique to this region of Catalonia.
Blend of ancient and modern
The city is hailed for its unique blend of the ancient and modern and its rich cultural heritage.
This makes Girona perfect for weekend breakers or for those who want to take longer, wiling away time drinking coffee, eating the rich sumptuous local veal dishes and enjoying the fabled Mediterranean lifestyle.
Seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong lived in Girona’s Jewish Quarter and used the mountains and coast to prepare for cycling’s most gruelling race.
His best-selling autobiography ‘Every Second Counts’ says that life is about living for now, with that in mind it’s well worth booking a golf break here.
Whether it is Spain’s #1 course – we cannot say until we have played at Valderamma and compared the great old lady to the young pretender.
If you have played both courses, we’d love to hear from you, why not write a review comparing them or start a thread in the forum on which is best?….
WHERE TO STAY
Melia Golf Vichy Catalan
Luxury four-star hotel situated close to the 18th green of The Red Course, a short walk from PGA Golf de Catalunya.
Tel: 00 34 972 181 020
WHERE TO PLAY
PGA Golf de Catalunya
Tel: 00 34 972 472 577
Green Course (Verde)
Length: 6588 meters
Designed by: Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo
Green Fees: from EURO 67 to EURO 94, depending on season, see website for details
Description: A magnificent, rolling championship layout set amid pine, bent cork and oak forests, with spectacular views over the Pyrenees. Two large lakes between the 3rd and the 5th and 11th and 13th provide a scenic dimension to the course and create a dramatic atmosphere. There are five tees for each hole, a system that is unique among all Spanish golf courses, making the course highly enjoyable for golfers of all abilities. Small, sloping greens and uncompromising driving conditions make the Green course a thorough test of golfing skill.
Red Course (Rojo)
Designed by: Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo
Green Fees: EURO 67 to EURO 94 dependent on season
Description: The Rojo (Red) course is a shorter, gentler test compared to its famous older brother, and offers wide, generous fairways and larger greens to hit at. Despite its less demanding layout, the course is cleverly designed, and makes great use of changes in elevation and sloping contours. The firm, fast, contoured greens reach high speeds and were a major reason for its selection by the PGA European Tour for Qualifying School in 2008.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly into Girona Barcelona Airport from multiple European destinations. The airport is only 15 minutes drive from PGA Golf de Catalunya.
Tel: 0871 246 0000
British Airways/ Iberia Air
Both airlines service Barcelona International Airport, or El Prat, as the locals call it. El Prat is 50-minutes drive from PGA Golf de Catalunya.
Tel: 0844 493 0 777
Tel: 0870 609 0500