• Long Drives

    Amateur golfer Geoff Wood advises on the best golfing locations along the south coast of Spain.

Bag a bargain on the Costa del Crash

But don’t forget to take a car, otherwise it’ll be a long walk. I begin my tale on a negative note, this recession really was worldwide and the Costa Calida was not the one that got away.

Back in the day the area between Alicante and Cartegena was largely rural, in fact the area known as Murcia was also known as the bread basket of Spain. There was little there save a wonderful complex called La Manga Club. I know a lot about La Manga Club as I have a house there which, incidentally, was given to the late and great Severiano Ballesteros back in 1983 as a fee for him being their touring professional. La Manga Club was an oasis in a very rural area, and quite alone, until the property boom that is.

Then the region got the go ahead to build a Paramount Studios theme park and a massive new International Airport named Corvera, which features in many films as it’s finished but not open; a bit of a white elephant. I’ll come back later to the subject of elephants.

At that point a huge golf and property boom began.

It started with Hacienda Del Alamo near that airport and five Polaris World developments. Using Jack Nicklaus as a course architect, each resort has several thousand villas and apartments built there and Polaris World was launched with a hefty TV commercial spend. That was followed by the go ahead for around 50 new developments in the Mar Menor area.

The Mar Menor is an inland sea known for it’s healing properties. In fact, not too long ago it was voted by the World Health Organisation as the healthiest place on the planet. That was before the boom!

Now I have to say I’m not sure how many were built, but in the middle of all this the market crashed and many developers went spectacularly bust. Many of these properties are now waiting to be occupied, although few are buying the properties anymore. Nearly all the courses are kept open by the banks to try and get some revenue. Sitting back and waiting for the market to return can be a long game.

I’m no clairvoyant but I would suggest that’s a long way off. The silver lining to this considerable cloud is that bargains are there to be had and I’ve yet to find a bad course.

What this means for the avid golfer like me is that there are a plethora of fabulous value courses to play and all within a two hour drive.  Drive really is the operative word here, as many of them are some distance from the major conurbations and are indeed off the beaten track. But if you are a golfer, or merely looking for a bolt hole in the sun, it’s like being a kid in a chocolate factory that has just found the golden ticket.

You can start by playing ‘the Bear trail’, the phrase given to the courses in the area designed by the legendary Nicklaus. All are a real test of golf and all are spectacular, as you would expect from Jack.

Alternatively, you could base yourself at La Manga Club or Hacienda Del Alamo and play yourself silly – in the summer you can shoot 36 holes a day and have change from €90, and that includes a buggy. Believe me, in that heat you’ll be glad you hired one.

You could even fly into a small airport called Murcia. Low cost airlines such as EasyJet or Ryanair fly in almost daily from all the major UK airports or BA and Monarch fly into Alicante which is around an hour away. January playing conditions are pleasant, clocking in at around 18 degrees whilst in August it can get into the 30’s. Thankfully for the summer golfers, the area gets a nice cooling breeze in the evenings, unlike its cousin, the Costa Del Sol, where the heat and humidity rarely let up.

In terms of what you can expect to play, the Nicklaus courses have elevated tees and plenty of water, La Manga Club has a mixture of pine and palm trees and Hacienda Del Alamo is more of a desert course. There is also a Ballesteros course at Peraleja which is a 20 minute drive from the airport at Murcia. In fact there are at least a dozen courses within half an hour of the airport so you really are spoilt for choice.

My personal favourite is a nice little gem called Roda, which is almost next to Murcia’s San Javier airport. It has generous fairways; a massive bonus for me as I have been known to be a little wild off the tee! So if your idea is to get started straight from the off, you can jump in your hire car at the airport and within Cinco minutos you’ll be on the course.

La Manga club has a 5 star Hotel with 3 courses, East, West and South. The South has hosted several Spanish Opens and in fact just lost out to Valderrama in hosting the Ryder Cup; it was actually Seve’s choice.

All the courses have property for sale so if you are looking to invest, interested in a bargain and like cheap golf, then the Murcia region of Spain is a real must.

I didn’t even mention the food but a short drive from the Club is the City of Cartagena, the departure City for the famous Hannibal. Not the fictional sadist that Anthony Hopkins portrayed, but the General of Carthage that crossed the Alps with 40,000 soldiers and 200 elephants. Well, that was what he started with anyway…And rest assured, Cartagena has hundreds of fantastic restaurants to feast in, Roman ruins to see and plenty of shops for when you’re not playing golf, house hunting or driving.

Have fun and if you are really adventurous you could always keep going. Granada is three hours in the car from Cartagena and it really is a wonderful drive. You can ski there in Europe’s most southerly resort or visit the famous Alhambra Palace, which is well worth a visit. Film buffs amongst you may be interested to know that on the way you’ll pass the desert courses of Almeria, the city made famous by the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood many moons ago. And if that doesn’t take your fancy, you could always go to the Costa Del Sol and play. However, the courses around the Costa Calida are a lot less crowded and I think, much nicer, so enjoy!