Small Island, Big Golf - Golf in Mallorca
The Mallorcan Tourist Board really couldn't have scripted it any better. There they were, plastered all over the tabloids. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones cavorting in the sunshine, enjoying a cosy twosome, and even finding the time to play a little golf. Entrapment? Or romance par excellence. Hollywood comes to the Balearics. Sun, sea, sand and ...er... sex appeal. What better endorsement could any Mediterranean island possibly wish for?
Douglas first visited Mallorca in the 1970's and fell in love with the place. He has a home perched high in the hills at Deia, 20 minutes north of the island's capital, Palma, and a million miles from the thumping beat of Magaluf, a monumental hangover of the 70s-package-tour-disco-boom that has for so long jaundiced general impressions of this, the largest of the Balearic island quartet.
A self-confessed golf nut,
Douglas holidays here for the simple pleasures in life - the island's landscape, its climate, its isolation, and, increasingly, for the quality of the golf. Arriving from the north, Mallorca's beauty is apparent the moment you spy it from the plane.
A ragged coastline gives way to pine forest and a windmill-speckled vista upon which agriculture has changed little over the centuries. The highest peak is situated in the cen¬tral part of the Serra - the Puigmajor rises to 1,445 metres - while the interior is relatively flat, the extensive plains yielding a sea of almond blossom in early spring - the 'snow of Majorca'.
The northeast coast is known for dramatic cliff scenery punctuated with intimate coves and transluscent waters, while on the low-lying southeast coast are some of the island's excellent beaches, all points leading to Palma's bustling harbour that is the centrepiece of the island. Here, in the labyrinthine streets, you will find galleries, shops and a multitude of tapas bars in which to indulge in the local cuisine. A long promenade with palm trees lines the seafront, while the Gothic cathedral and the Almudaina Palace sit imperiously above, dominating the bay.
This attractive combination of geography, climate and culture has made Mallorea the busiest holiday destination in Europe, with something approaching five million visitors each year. Traditionally, that popularity has been satiated by tour operators, but increasingly golf is seen as the hook by which to attract a new clientele. Prestigious hotels such as Read's and Richard Branson's La Residencia do the 'celebrity' bit, while others, such as the contemporary Valparaiso Palace Hotel, overlooking the bay of Palma, offer understated luxury and convenience, particularly for the featured courses, all within easy reach. In short, Mallorca has matured into a perfect short-haul destination for golf, and a viable alternative to mainland Spain, Portugal and Tunisia.
Because it's a real belter, the Golf de Poniente is as good a place as any to take your first shots on Spanish soil. Opened in 1978, this is a traditional Spanish club. Designed in a rustic Mallorcan style, you could be forgiven for venturing no further than the clubhouse and sun terrace, where you can enjoy the voluminous home cooking as you watch players tackle the short but pretty 15th.
Once you do make it to the first tee, you can look forward to a manicured course which, after a fairly gentle introduction, changes its character dramatically deeper into the round. The first six or seven holes are relatively open, giving you the chance to find your game before tackling a closing stretch of holes that run through mature avenues of trees with several dramatic changes in elevation. A number of these are worth special mention, not least the 8th, a tumbling downhill par-four, where a good drive seems to run forever. From the tee, the view of the surrounding mountains is the first of many glorious photo opportunities.
After the relative ease of the front nine the journey back to the clubhouse is particularly memorable, though potentially for the wrong reasons. The opportunity to murder a good score is presented to you on a plate at the 10th, and it's easy to see why this hole is ranked the toughest on the course. Measuring 440- yards from the back tee, and usually played into a breeze, this monster par-four is curled around the practice range. Basically, it's a nice five. A series of good strong holes brings you to the 16th, another daunting par-four with a precipitous drop-off to the right of a sloping fairway, while the 17th hole, at 420 yards, could grace any championship parkland course. Redemption is finally yours for the taking at the last, a very reachable par-five and a relatively gentle hole on which to sign off.
Next up is Santa Ponsa, 18 kilometres south west of Palma. A villa community dedicated to sporting pleasure, Santa Ponsa has it all: there are two marinas, a fair stretch of coastline, two 18-hole and one 9-hole golf courses, and umpteen tennis courts. Santa Ponsa 1, which opened in 1977, is the championship model, and a brute at over 7,000 yards. Sprinkled with water and dotted with olives, pines and almond trees it is something of a flagrant pleasure. There are one or two odd holes, and water on at least five. Generally, it's turned out in excellent con¬dition and it hosted the Turespana Masters and produced quality winners in Seve Ballesteros (twice) and, most recently, Miguel Angel Jimenez. Jose Maria Olazabal holds the course record of 64. And will do for some time.
The community of Santa Ponsa features one of the Mallorca's most demanding courses, at Santa Ponsa I
Santa Ponsa II, which is shorter but just as pretty, is generally reserved for members, though limited tee-times are available to guests of the resort. A nine-hole 'short course' circuit is ideal for beginners and a good short-game test for anyone wanting a couple of hours' worth of fun.
A few minutes north of Palma, the welcoming SON VIDA GOLF CLUB is another good if puzzling course with one or two bizarre holes thrown in for good measure. Designed by Fred Hawtree, and opened by Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1964, Son Vida represents the birth of golf on the island and is ever-popular with visitors for its quirky but stylish manner and wonderful views across the Bay of Palma and the Tramuntana mountains. With several tight driving holes, a number of severe doglegs, the occasional blind shot, and fast, well-contoured greens, this is fun golf and a good short-game is essential to your survival. So you won't be surprised to learn that Seve won the Balearic Open when it was played here in 1990.
This tee-shot across the
water awaits you at Son
Vida's short 17th, one of
four excellent short holes.
However, the course is tight, and not until you reach the 11th do you feel you can let rip with the driver, and even then you need to be mindful of the fact that the left side of the fairway offers the best view of the raised green. This sweeping uphill par-four is the first of a string of longer and more testing holes that characterise the back nine.
When you consider there are currently 12 courses under construction on an island roughly the size of Cornwall, you begin to realise the importance the investors in Mallorca's future have attached to golf. Nowhere is this more evident than at Marriott's latest development, SON ANTEM, 30 minutes east of Palma. Here there has been much activity in recent
months, with the resurrection of the original 18 holes to create a wonderful parkland layout that will only continue to get better, along with a new clubhouse, a 150-room luxury hotel, timeshare apartments and a spa. In conjunction with European Tour Developments, Marriott is also building a second championship course, the intention being to attract a European tour event and eventually host the annual qualifying school.
Marriott has spent over half a million pounds renovating the course. The result is a perfectly condi-tioned layout that will challenge and entertain players of all levels. There really are some cracking holes of golf to be enjoyed, and the quality of the course reflects the reputation Marriott has around the world.
This concentration of golf in and around Palma is enough to keep you occupied for a week. The guide books tell me that the further east you travel, the quieter and more rustic the surroundings become as you encounter the old Mallorca. And I have it on good authority that there are three courses well worth the effort: CAPDEPERA, CANYAMEL and PULA.
The perfect excuse for a return visit.
Golf Today Course Directory - Balearic Islands