H1 Club Hack Pete Richardson has been on his travels again to The Costa Del Sol.
Pete plays four lesser-known courses in a quest to win “The Amazing Trophy” from his cousin James
Travelling abroad to play golf is I think one of life’s great pleasures.
Unless you’re a touring pro it probably only happens once every couple of years, if that, unless you’re either a lottery winner, retired golfer, single golfer with pots of cash, or married to a golf pro, lottery winner or retired golfer – or perhaps a golf travel writer.
I was privileged earlier this year to play at Finca Cortesan on the Costa del Sol with cousin James and a new golfing relationship was born.
James has an apartment in Spain and travels across a few times a year but is new to the great game of golf. That one round sparked a rivalry that bubbled under the surface for several months.
Then came the phone call: “Pete, how do you fancy flying to Spain to drive the car back with me because I had to leave it there on our last trip. We could perhaps play some golf before we set off on the three-day journey back – maybe four rounds – if you fancy?”
Not ten minutes later flights were booked, 3.45am taxi to Manchester was sorted and golf planning was supposed to begin.
However, there was no golf planning.
It was all to be arranged on the hoof in Spain.
Can that be done, in September? Surely all the courses are rammed and tee times swallowed up by lottery winners, retired golfers and their spouses, Brits living abroad and plane loads of pre-planning golf tourists from across Europe?
No – we were going to wing it…even round one on the day we arrived.
Landing in Gibralter in September of 2019 felt a little strange – a couple of months before the dreaded B-word and who knows what checks and queues and issues.
But not today.
Pick up clubs and walk to Spain in ten minutes to get the car to base camp.
Searching for golf in the heart of the Costa del Sol is like searching for fish & chip shops in Whitby – there are thousands of them.
But James is nothing if not shrewd – he’s a Yorkshireman like me and has a nose for a bargain.
Twilight golf is every-where and rates are amazing.
Play after 2.30/3pm and on many courses the deals come in at below €120 for two people including a buggy. The most we paid over the four rounds was €130 including a buggy.
And you can invariably book on the day online - easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
Please humour me as I describe not only the golf, but the competition for The Amazing Trophy (So-called because it’s a bronze-ish golfer trophy given to me as a gift with a plaque which just says “Amazing” inscribed on it). Bizarre but true!
Golf abroad is an all-round experience defined by people and places. More really by the people so the context of “The Amazing Trophy” even if it’s played for between just two rather useless Northerners I think helps define what golf travel is all about. People and places.
So round one and the pre-tournament handicap committee.
After each round it was agreed that the difference in gross score would be the handicap difference the following day – with me starting round one as a 10 and James a South American 28. Please, please, please remember this – it’s important to me.
After some bleary-eyed debate it was off to La Cala for round one.
La Cala is home to three courses, Europe, Asia and America.
We played Europe and it’s a great course. You definitely need a buggy for this quite spread-out layout but its eminently playable and has some really good holes.
At 5570 metres, the Par 71 course is open and accommodating but beware the monster 14th par 3 at 201m off the club tees – but at least its downhill.
La Cala won’t be the best golf course you ever play – but you may just find you have one of the best welcomes and most welcoming service you ever have.
From the second we arrived after almost 13 hours travelling, the staff couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful. La Cala is a brilliant resort and has golf to almost match.
You’ll cross bridges and ravines, play some shots you’d take back if you knew where you were going, but will enjoy the ride.
It’s very, very Spanish and great fun….but the golf experience is dramatically heightened by the food, service, bar and people.
Match score Pete 28 pts James 31 pts – new handicaps please – Pete 13 James 28
Day two and another morning planning where to play.
Alcaidesa has two courses, the links and the heathland course.
It’s another never-heard-of resort near Sotogrande, Valderrama and the like.
The links has a bit of a reputation as being the better course but is prone to windy conditions (no kidding – a links – really).
So, we decide on heathland and maybe links for round four – the finale.
Heathland is great. I loved it.
It’s 5,900m of wide fairways, Mediterranean views, good greens, some great short Par 4s, long Par 5s, and good bunkers.
We didn’t see another soul on the course over our 18 – and probably a good job for James who must have had a victory hangover.
Not as quirky in design as La Cala thanks to designer Dave Thomas and a more real feeling course. Maybe more a golfers’ golf course if that makes sense. It doesn’t feel like a resort course.
Of all the courses we played I think this may be the one I would choose to be a member at if I inherit James’s apartment.
Match score Pete 56 pts James 52 pts - new handicaps please - Pete 13 James 36 (Yes 36).
Day three and we both made the cut and golf booking conversations seem to take forever.
There is just so much choice and all less than an hour’s drive.
Atalyaya Golf & Country Club is very local. It feels local, looks local and is in the middle of a local area. But is great fun. It’s not so prim and proper - and one thing to note is that the first tee of the New Course is MILES from the clubhouse. Definite buggy land.
The Old Course is purported to be the better course but the new is again a fun course.
It’s not a typical resort course and feels raw and unrefined. But the holes are a real challenge and the greens true. People often look at golf courses with a nose turned slightly upwards as if we are all golf course designers and professional critics.
This course could be low on the list of many who travel but I’d dispute that.
Its great fun to play (with the right people) and has some great holes.
A massive downhill par 3, some really short Par 4s (one just 231m and another 250m) and a monster closing hole at 545m make for a challenging but very playable Spanish round of golf.
There are points to be had here and many mid to high handicappers will love this and walk away satisfied and with a below-par round.
James was in heaven.
Match score Pete 88 pts James 96 pts - new handicaps please - Pete 26 James 36 (Yes 36).
For the record James scored 44 points and loved the course – which is a great advert for those of us who aspire to scoring well, playing well and feeling good about our golf, which is surely what a good course can do for us.
Round four again booked on the day. Indeed, all four rounds were booked on the day of play, so don’t feel the necessity to pre-book all your golf.
Believe in some free spirit and take advice from people you meet along the way. Take account of the day’s weather and how far you feel like travelling. Do you want to play early or late depending on tapas and beer consumption the day before!
Round four and a recommendation from guys we met in the clubhouse on day two.
The best website, the best course, the best scorecard and the best lightning storm we encountered. It’s a real hidden gem and what we would maybe call a “proper” golf course. Pristine in almost every respect.
A massive Par 5 to open followed by a great Par 3 and a mega downhill, weird lake Par 4.
Number 9 uphill and am amazing 10 downhill.
The “Amazing Trophy” decided on the 268 drivable Par 4 13th.
James with a 3 for 5.
Numbers 13, 14, 15 are Par 4s that total less than 880m!! But there’s water and hazards and fun and games. Again, a course for the “average” golfer to love and come back to again and again. Immaculate greens and superb bunkers.
And no-one else there.
Ladies and gentlemen have a look at the Costa del Sol in September.
Play twilight golf.
Get off the beaten track and enjoy Spanish holiday golf at its best.
I did - despite handing over the trophy.
Final Match score Pete 132 pts James 139 pts - new handicaps please for the next trip.