THIS MONTH, INSPIRED by Thomas Hood’s poem November*, rather than consider one course we take a look at some sunshine breaks to find the best places to stay and golf. Our requirements are simple, no flight takes more that four and a half hours, and we shall be staying in extremely comfortable surroundings in our quest for some Winter sun as well as taking in some first rate golf courses.
This lush Portuguese island attracts a mature clientele so do not expect the raucous party atmosphere to be found in parts of Ibiza or Mallorca. The only raves here will be about the lush vegetation, dramatic scenery and two rather fine golf courses.
The older of the two courses is Santo da Serra, once a simple nine-hole track on the foothills on the south east side of the island. Golfers were unlikely to be surprised at the quality of the golf but more likely to be shocked at the donkeys grazing the fairways and rough.
That was until 1991 when Robert Trent Jones created the Machico and Desertas, two loops of nine that remain the best to play and host the Madeira Islands Open, although another nine, the Serras, opened in 1997. With a fast modern road linking the capital Funchal, victors can leave their hotel and be at the clubhouse in 15 minutes.
The other course on the island opened in 1993 and is nearer to Funchal on the Palheiro Estate where a 200-year old hunting lodge has been converted into a five star country house hotel set in lush gardens. This undulating 18-hole course runs through a pine covered hillside and does not suffer from the sea mists that occasionally blight Santo da Serra yet still provides some wonderful views.
Porto Santo, Portugal
Just a short hop by plane or a two-hour boat trip from Madeira is the best course to be found on either island- a Seve Ballesteros design on Porto Santo, the smallest inhabited isle of the Madeiran archipelago.
Here the back nine is the real star of the show with the par three 13th played over a gorge with a 200′ drop to the ocean and the par four 14th reachable for big hitters if the wind is in the right direction. With the ocean on one side and extinct volcanoes as a back drop the other added beauty of this course is that it gets nowhere near as busy as those on Madeira.
The best way to book is through your hotel which can either be on Madeira or Porto Santo, both of which will be cheaper than by going direct.
The Canaries, Spain
Whilst offering some excellent golf the problem with both Gran Canaria and Tenerife is that it is so hugely popular with the mass market winter sun seekers that courses can become particularly crowded and it is no fun getting stuck behind that German four ball that will remain stolidly oblivious of anyone playing behind them for their entire six hours out on the course.
Gran Canaria’s Real Club de Las Palmas, situated hard by an extinct volcano, is well worth the effort and possibly the patience of playing. If you can beat the Germans to the tee it is a quality experience and as an alternative the upmarket Salobre Resort, a green oasis in the mountains, also delivers a first rate product.
Possibly the best venue, and certainly the most peaceful, in the Canaries is on the north west coast of Tenerife, far enough away from the youthful bacchanalian intensity of Playa las Americas to the south. Designed by Seve Ballesteros, the course offers six par threes, six par fours and six par fives, with wonderful views out to the ocean. No wonder it is called Buenavista.
There are also some quality boutique hotels to be found on the north side of the island as well as the five star luxury of the Hotel Botanico and Oriental Spa Garden at Puerta de la Cruz that can arrange transport over to Buenavista and also sight seeing expeditions up Mount Teide, an excellent trip but only one for those with a head for heights..
Gloria Golf Resort, Belek, Turkey
Belek has thrown down the gauntlet to the Costa del Sol and Algarve as a sunshine destination for British golfers. The biggest attraction of Belek is the ability to offer all- inclusive packages at competitive prices.
The Gloria resort is an unashamedly upmarket location that will not attract those golfers from the UK that many of us try our upmost to avoid when in Spain and Portugal as well as offering two top flight, American style courses together with a nine hole track.
The Old Course at Gloria opened in September 1997, and is one of the oldest in Turkey, running through a forest at the foot of the Taurus Mountains. The New Course, created by the same French architect, offers its own version of the 17th at Sawgrass with an island green and a steady trade in lake balls. Whereas the Old Course has hosted three PGA seniors’ tour events these are now being held on the New.
The 45 holes on offer here may not provide the most testing of those available in the region but they will deliver well maintained and throughly enjoyable holiday golf that is sufficiently challenging to warrant a short break in top quality surroundings with plenty of Winter sunshine thrown in
With temperatures ranging from 20-23 degrees from November until March and a wide range of courses to choose from Marrakech is a splendid Winter destination. For over 70 years the only golf in town was at the short and rather uninspiring Royal Marrakech but over the last 25 years a number of new and far more interesting courses have opened.
The Montgomerie Marrakech, only five minutes from the airport, is certainly worth a visit although the pick of the bunch is to be found close by at Assoufid, (see picture above) a desert style course designed by former journeyman tour player Niall Cameron proving that you do not have to have been a big name in golf to design a first class track.
The best hole on the course is undoubtedly the par three, 149 metre, 17th where, from an elevated tee at the highest point of the course we can see not only the Atlas mountains in the distance but also all the back nine holes. With large areas of waste, plenty of bunkers and some seriously tough par fours, none more so than the 410 metre 5th, this is a course worthy of our attention.
Whilst in the city the Jack Nicklaus designed Samanah and Kyle Phillips’s Al Maaden are also well worth a visit. First time visitors may well be taken aback by the noise in central Marrakech, especially when assailed by marketeers when visiting the city’s enormous open market or souk. At least in the centre is the La Mamounia hotel, an oasis of calm for over 90 years and still very much the place to stay.
*No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –