Exquisite golf in Gaudi country - Golf in Barcelona & Girona
Originally built with the intention of bidding for the Ryder Cup – only to
lose out to Valderamma to stage the ’97 match – the PGA Catalunya
resort boasts 36 holes of championship golf and is within an hour of the
stunning architecture of Barcelona and the delights of Girona.
John Hopkins, for one, was impressed
When you go on a golfing trip
you expect to play golf, to talk about golf, perhaps
even to watch some golf. You expect to lose a few
balls, sink a few drinks, perhaps tip over a buggy (I
did that in Ireland), buy a long-case clock and lose
your golf clubs (yes, both of those, too) and have a
memorable if tiring few days (ditto).
What might not be expected is that on a golfing
trip to Spain you and a golfing partner end up
in a cathedral discussing the meaning of life.
Nevertheless, there I was with Gary in the 14th
century Gothic cathedral of Girona one recent
autumn day.We were a few feet away from the
second widest Gothic nave in the world at
22.98m and the second widest nave of all styles
after St Peter's Basilica in Rome and as we stared
in wonder at a 12th century tapestry depicting the
Creation I turned to my golfing partner.
“Gary, do you believe in the Immaculate
Conception?” I asked.
There was a pause as Gary cleared his throat, a
sure sign of a man who has been caught unawares.
He looked as though he had been dreaming of his
birdie on the 15th the previous afternoon.
“I certainly think about it now and again” he
replied, audibly racing through the gears.“But as to
whether I believe in it, I am not sure.” He coughed
again, nervously.“I shall have to think hard about
Think hard, too, about Spain as a golfing destination.
The southern part of the country, as you will
no doubt be aware, is and has been a popular golfing
destination for years.The Costa del Sol was
renamed the Costa del Golf during the 1997
Ryder Cup and continues to draw thousands of
tourists.The Balearic Islands are growing in popularity
and there are those who like to make forays
across into Spain from south west France.
But Girona for golf? Barcelona?To most people
the attractions of these areas lie in the nearby
beaches of the Costa Brava.Yet PGA Catalunya,
for example, a 36-hole resort with another 18
holes being built is only an hour from the architectural
delights of Barcelona, claimed to be Europe's
most stylish city, and almost on the runway of
Barcelona Girona airport.
“We are 80 kilometres from Barcelona, 10
kms from Girona, 15 minutes from the coast and
you can be skiing within one hour”Augustin
Garcia, the general manager of PGA Catalunya,
said.“For years we were considered to be in the
middle of nowhere.Now we are in the middle of
The land on which the resort is laid out was
sold by the Royal Automobile Club of Catalunya
to the PGA in the early 1990s to be developed as
the site for the first Ryder Cup to be held on the
Continent of Europe.As it happened Valderrama
on the Costa del Sol won that particular contest
but having been overtaken to that prize PGA
Catalunya is coming into its own, a PGA European
Tour Courses venture with a cracking, if somewhat
unusually designed, hotel.
There are two courses, the Tour,which is wider
from the tee and more inviting, and the Stadium,
the more difficult.
Naming one course the Stadium is a nod to
towards the Tournament Players’ Club in Sawgrass
outside Jacksonville, Florida,where The Players
Championship is staged on a course of that name
each summer.The Stadium, where Thomas Bjorn
won the 1999 Sarazen World Open,was recently
named third best course on the Continent of
Europe by a golf magazine the name of which
escapes me and was chosen as the venue of the 2009 Spanish Open.To get an idea of the challenge
the two courses present think of Woburn with
more elevation changes, Sunningdale with more
trees and water, Swinley Forest with the hum of
traffic in the distance.
Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo, two of the senior
statesmen on the European Tour,were responsible
for designing the courses,which are testing
and self contained.The visitor is struck by two features:
the first is that most of holes on the
Stadium and some of the holes on the Tour are
self contained. It is not possible to see many other
holes from them.
What is also striking is that on the Stadium
course almost every tee is raised, thus giving you
the encouraging prospect of a fairway that falls
away from as you prepare to hit down it.Very few
holes on the Stadium course are uphill; perhaps
only the 6th, 16th and 18th.Many of the holes are
As well as Gary, my golfing partner, I was playing
with Enrico Lopez, a smiling young man who was
a pro in the making. Enrique had a slow swing and
bent his left arm in a way that was reminiscent of
As I slashed and hooked around the Stadium
course with an exaggerated use of my hands, he
saw it as his job to offer advice.He did not want
me to go home in a bad frame of mind or to harbour
grievances about the course.“Keep hands
still” he commanded me again and again.“Then
turn body forward and turn it back.”When I executed
a swing that pleased him he was in the habit
of saying:“more better,more better.”
So it was that after our golf,Gary and I found
ourselves in Girona itself on an autumnal afternoon.
If you don’t know Girona, you ought to. It is
pretty, old and historic having had Roman,Arab,
Jewish influences down the years .Napoleon conquered
it in 1809.
Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist, lived in
an apartment down a narrow street when he was
racing for a local team.The local cuisine combines
fish and meat to an unusual degree. For example a
local favourite is “Niu”, a dish made from cod, cuttlefish,
pigeon and sausage. But you can also eat
chicken with spiny lobster, goose with pears or
pigs trotters with snails. El Bulli, one of the world's
most famous restaurants, is only a short drive
from the hotel. If you want a table you had better
book now for, oh, say, 2011.
When you go to Girona, make sure that as well
as walking the ramparts of the ancient city (shades
of Chester) you climb the steps leading to the
cathedral and wonder how many people have
driven a car up and down them.
“Travel instead of broadening the mind lengthens
the conversation” someone said, somewhat world
wearily.Play golf at PGA Catalunya and amble
around Girona and you will find that to be partially
true .Travel does lengthen the conversation but in
this case it broadens the mind, too.You will be the
better for it, having learned about life in another
country and in another millennium.And you don’t
even have to believe in the Immaculate Conception.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine