==== ====For great golf tips, check this out:Odin88888==== ====As boutique providers of upscale golf travel to exceptional destinations worldwide, we take theopportunity from time to time to share our findings regarding some of the great new courses in ourfootprint, which covers the U.S. West Coast including the Pacific Northwest, Europe andArgentina, among other dynamic destinations. One needs to be prudent when booking golfvacations outside the U.S. As you might also find with hotel properties, you simply cant believeeverything you read in a guide book or on the Internet. Have you ever been to a hotel or resort thathasnt met your expectations or is living on past glories? Probably so! Thats why we personallyplay and inspect the courses we recommend to our upscale clientele.In the past year, we have either played or inspected more than 40 golf courses in Spain andPortugal. While Spain golf and Portugal golf experiences are tops in the continent, what we foundwas surprising. Specifically, we uncovered some very strong new courses we had never heard ofboth in golf-rich regions as well as provinces not known for golf. Additionally, we found somemuch-heralded courses that no longer make the grade, in our professional opinion. With carefulplanning and expert counsel, your Spain golf vacation or Portugal golf vacation can be the stuff oflifelong memories.So here are the unvarnished reviews of what we consider to be the top Destination Golf Coursesin Spain and Portgual. Our criteria are based on a U.S. perspective from the point of view of a golfprofessional or scratch amateur (yes, I am a former PGA professional), which means we matchour courses with the wishes and abilities of our guests as we place the highest value on thefollowing course attributes:oDesignoConditioningoServiceoValueSpain Golf - Destination Golf Courses:When Americans and Brits think of Spain golf, they naturally think of the Costa del Sol, whichstraddles the Mediterranean coast from Malaga to near Gibraltar. Yes, some of the best golfcourses lie in this year-round resort area, but golf in Spain is about much more than the Costa delSol. One can experience championship golf in the Barcelona area, in Seville, and we even foundvery strong courses in the Basque region (most notable are Izki Golf, a Ballesteros design, andJose Maria Olazabals Golf Artxanda). Heres our take on the best of the best of Spain golf:Barcelona Golf
oRCG El Prat is the private, but accessible, Greg Norman-designed complex of 45 holes set in theupscale western suburbs of Barcelona. As all of the nines were designed and constructedsimultaneously by the same architect, players can forge ten distinct 18-hole combinations that fittogether seamlessly. As expected from Norman, most fairways are reasonably wide, but troublelurks beyond their borders and approach shots challenge your iron skills. You will feel like amember for a day when you experience Real Club de Golf El Prat. This is a lovely setting and veryrelaxing getaway from the energy of Barcelona.oPGA Golf de Catalunya is one of several properties owned and operated by the PGA EuropeanTour, and is the only one in Spain. Its easy to fall in the love with this place that is located in theCosta Brava ("Wild Coast"), just 75 minutes from Barcelona. There are two courses on the site,Green and Red, with the Green being the longer and stronger test of the duo. The Green is a big,tournament-ready course nestled in the forest just a bit inland from the Costa Brava shore. Mature"umbrella" pines and cork oaks line the well-manicured fairways, and the smooth but undulatinggreens will test ones short game. The Verde is simultaneously challenging and fun. There arequite a few elevation changes on these tracks and the scenery is outstanding. Theres justsomething about those symmetrical umbrella pines that spells relaxation.Costa del Sol GolfoValderrama arguably is the finest course in Continental Europe. The course is located in theupscale Sotogrande development that includes some of the finest golf courses in Spain.Sotogrande is located approximately 45 minutes from Marbella, the gem of the Costa del Sol.Valderrama is literally a legend in mainland Europe, having hosted the 1997 Ryder Cup, the WorldGolf Championship and countless Volvo Masters tournaments. That tournament elevated thestature of Spain golf to completely new heights. This Robert Trent Jones, Sr. gem is a must-playfor the serious golf enthusiast touring the Costa del Sol. One can easily be distracted by thespectacular scenery and mesmerizing cork oaks that line the fairways, but this course demandsyour undivided attention. You can measure yourself against the best players in the world as youtackle the infamous 17th. The service is outstanding, the design is challenging and theconditioning is nothing short of world class. This is European golf at its very best and a must playfor any Spain golf vacation! Maximum handicap: 24 Men; 36 Women.oSotogrande is the granddaddy of Costa del Sol golf and perhaps of Spain golf. Sotogrande isValderramas older and less-menacing sibling, located at a lower elevation than most of the otherscourses on the Sotogrande property. Approximately ten years the senior, she provides widerlanding areas and less intimidating greens complexes. Nevertheless, the ever-present breeze isenough to heighten the challenge on this nearly-seaside track. Although Valderrama tends toovershadow it as the best of Spain golf, Sotogrande remains one of the top five venues inmainland Europe.oLa Reserva is an impeccably-maintained and relatively new private club on the Sotograndeproperty. This Cabell Robinson design stretches to more than 7,300 yards from the back tees.Fortunately, there are four additional sets of tees from which to choose, so choose appropriately!La Reservas length is somewhat mitigated by meticulous grooming and generous fairways andgreens, so relax and enjoy the wonderful Costa del Sol setting. Few courses offer such incrediblecurb appeal. The course straddles the rolling hills of the Western Costa del Sol, making this one ofthe most beautiful golf courses in Spain. The course view from the drive to the club house alone is
worth the trip.oSantana Golf is not a course you read so much about as it is new, but rest assured that it is oneof the most talked-about new golf courses in Spain. Set in the hills above the coast in a beautiful,former avocado orchard, Santana is the young upstart of the Costa del Sol golf scene. This trackblends a beautiful setting, quality design, attentive service and splendid conditioning to create agrand Spain golf experience. Santana Golf is easily walkable, employs water hazards and bunkersprudently and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Mediterranean. Thepar-72, 7,000-yard Cabell Robinson design offers four sets of tees so that you can bite off asmuch or as little as you desire of this wonderfully-diverse layout. If you are in the Costa del Sol,experience Santana while it is young and relatively undiscovered.oFinca Cortesin is another newcomer to the Costa del Sol. The course is located near themountaintop "white village" of Casares, which looms like a beacon amidst the majestic SierraBermeja mountain range. This new Spain golf course opened in early 2007 and is quickly makinga name for itself as one of the best golf courses in all of Spain. The Cabell Robinson design offersa challenging variety of holes, as evidenced by the scenic par-4 13th that confronts the player withtwo water hazards, yet sooths with eye-pleasing green complexes. As bonuses, the routingremains unspoiled by development, the modern practice facility is quite extensive and thecustomer service is absolutely among the best we have encountered in all of Spain. We suggestthat you play this one before the word gets out about one of the best new Spain golf courses!Portugal Golf - Destination Golf Courses:As is the case with Spain golf, Portugal golf is much more than a slew of courses situated in onelocation, which, in this case, is the Algarve. Sure the Algarve has long been known for great golfand great beaches! Quieter and less overbuilt than the Costa del Sol, the Algarve is experiencinga bit of a golf course building boom. There are no fewer than 10 Algarve golf courses either underconstruction or on the books. But there also are some very strong golf courses on or near thecoast in Lisbon. Heres our take on the best available Portugal golf experiences:Algarve GolfoVilamoura-Old Course is the elder-statesman of golf in the Algarve. Owned by the Oceanicoconsortium, this landmark course was constructed in 1969 by Frank Pennink and has beenconsistently refurbished over the years; however, it has not lost its original and classic parklandcharm. The many umbrella pine trees that border the fairway corridors are definitely in play, therolling landscape challenges your club selection and the undulating greens test your short game,but all the difficulties are mitigated by meticulous grooming. Add to all that the soothing views ofthe surrounding hills down to the coast. We love this property.oMonte Rei is a course that you definitely will hear quite a bit about if it hasnt already come toyour attention. This delightful new Jack Nicklaus design, located in a pristine natural setting in theeastern Algarve not far from the border with Spain, is winning the hearts of all those who play it.The first of two Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses, Monte Rei North, opened in 2007 to ravereviews. The second is in the advanced stages of construction. Nicklaus has utilized the naturallandscapes to sculpt a unique layout of approximately 7,200 yards, with eight par 4s, five par 3sand five par 5s - of these eighteen holes, water comes into play on eleven. Monte Rei is a must-
play on the Portugal golf scene, especially while it remains somewhat undiscovered. That wontlast long!oSan Lorenzo Golf Club is located in the central Algarve, which is the most developed part of theregion. This Joe Lee design undoubtedly is one of the best Portugal golf courses, as it combines afabulously diverse layout with a gorgeous setting. You will likely use every club in your bag as youtraverse this track of slightly less than 7,000 yards, and you will believe that the scenery cannotget any better until you reach the 17th and 18th holes, which are set in the serenity of a birdreserve. On the downside, San Lorenzo gets quite a bit of play, but once you experience it, youwill understand why.Lisbon Area GolfoPraia dEl Rey is links golf at its best and ranks near the very top of the Portugal golf list of bestcourses. In 2003, Golf World ranked it the 13th best course in Continental Europe, and we do notargue the point. Cabell Robinson has done another masterful job creating a Portugal golf coursethat exemplifies tasteful diversity. Ten holes meander along the coast in a links fashion, as theother eight twist their way through a thinly-forested section. To top it off, all the holes offer strategicbunkering and quick greens with plenty of movement in them to keep your attention. There hasbeen some recent real estate development on the perimeter, but so far, not so much as to destroythe ambiance. Praia dEl Rey is Portugal golf at its best!oOitavos Dunes is a newcomer to Portugal golf, having opened in 2001. This Arthur Hills design isone of the most intriguing that you will find anywhere and it reminds us quite a bit of BandonDunes in Oregon. The design itself is excellent, as the par-71 layout can stretch to more than7,000 yards and the fast, undulating greens challenge even those with the finest short games. Addall of this to spectacular ocean vistas on one flank and mountain views on the other, and you getone very special property. You might not want to worry about your score here, at least not afteryour first round, for the courses challenges and the distracting scenery can create some highnumbers. Oitavos Dunes is a great addition to the Portugal golf scene and is worth everyadditional stroke!So thats our take on the best of the best of Spain golf and Portugal golf. The Ryder Cup atValderrama in part contributed to a golf course construction boom on the Iberian Peninsula.Thankfully, well be back there soon to check out new courses such as the second course atMonte Rei and Nick Faldos Oceanico course, also in the Algarve.Gene Holland is a principal of CORK & TEE http://www.corkandtee.com a boutique travelcompany that specializes in customized Epicurean Golf Travel, blending championship golf withinsider wine and interactive culinary experiences. He has more than 15 years of experience in thegolf industry. He spent 11 years as a club professional and also was a member of the varsity golfteam at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he played with notables such asDavis Love, III and Jack Nicklaus, II.