Golfing in the Spanish sun doesn't come much better than this
by Ham&High Series sports editor Pat Mooney LA Manga Club, which has recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, has always been synonymous with golf all the year round. With three 18-hole championship courses – the North, South and West – as well as superb practice facilities, it is perhaps hardly s
LA Manga Club, which has recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, has always been synonymous with golf all the year round. With three 18-hole championship courses - the North, South and West - as well as superb practice facilities, it is perhaps hardly surprising that it has been voted Europe's top golf resort three times in the past five years.
Sitting in the Murcia region of south-east Spain, covering 1,400acres - the size of Monaco - La Manga was the brainchild of North American entrepreneur, Gregory Peters.
Having been inspired by the vast and beautiful golf resorts in California, Peters saw the potential when he first set foot in the Murcia region and the resort was the first in Spain to open with 18-hole courses in 1972. Since then many international tournaments have been held at La Manga, including the Spain Open (five times), the Spanish PGA Championships and both the Spanish Junior and Senior Opens.
The North and South courses meander between palm trees, lakes and barrancas, with both 18th holes finishing beside the Hyatt Regency La Manga hotel.
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The golfing highlight is undoubtedly the centrally located South course, which has recently undergone a comprehensive refurbishment with improvements to layout and design.
Originally designed by Robert Putman in 1971 and modified by Arnold Palmer in 1992, the most recent main changes involve more water being brought into play, on 15 of the 18 holes. So pack extra balls.
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The front nine are particularly challenging, with two par-3s over 200metres, several daunting par-4s, which demand accurate driving between lakes, using long irons or fairway woods to the green.
The back nine, although shorter, has a number of intriguing dog-leg holes. The par-5 18th, with water on both sides of the fairway and a ravine just short of a well-protected green, provides a stern finish.
The North course - refurbished in 2001 - is somewhat shorter and more undulating than the South with tighter fairways and larger, faster greens.
It is 6,400yards long from the back tees with a par-71 and relies more on precision, especially on the greens. None more so than the second, which has three distinct plateaux. Needless to say, I three-putted for a bogey five.
The West course, formerly known as La Princesa, is more undulating than the other two. It is set in the pine-clad hills, with winding fairways and presents a number of blind shots. And with numerous ravines and dense Spanish grass there is every chance of losing a ball or two. It is also advisable to hire a buggy.
There is also a 18-hole pitch and putt course, known as the Par 47, which is great for a quick round after tea. There is a golf academy with state-of-the-art facilities run by PGA-qualified teaching professionals and an 80-bay floodlit driving range.
La Manga also boasts of one of Europe's finest tennis centres. It has 28 courts, mostly floodlit, with a choice of surfaces, including clay (20), hard court (four) and artificial grass (four).
The resort is the official winter training base for the LTA and in the past has staged Davis Cup and Federation Cup matches as well as several ATP tournaments.
Again, there is a team of teaching professionals to offer individual and academy lessons from the beginner to national levels for juniors and adults.
And if you want a break from tennis there is a glass-back squash court, a fully-equipped gym and a lawn for bowls.
However, if sport is not your bag, don't worry. At the heart of the resort lies the five-star Hyatt Regency La Manga, a 194-room hotel which offers superb views over the golf courses and the Mar Menor inland sea beyond.
The hotel, which has undergone a complete renovation, including the lobby, reception area and a new Piano Bar, still retains its Andalucian-style architecture.
All the rooms have luxury bathrooms, satellite television with on-demand movies and air-conditioning. There is a large heated outdoor swimming pool and the hotel's a la carte restaurant, Amapola, is well worth trying.
The newly opened Regency Wing offers an exclusive Club Lounge, upgraded rooms and access to all areas of the Spa La Manga Club - just three minutes drive away in Las Lomas Village - there is a complimentary shuttle service from the hotel.
The new spa, built over four floors on the top of a hill with breathtaking views across the resort and beyond to the Mar Menor, offers a variety of treatments as well as a gym, saunas, jacuzzis and a 25m indoor swimming pool.
After playing 18 holes, a visit to the spa is timely and treatments have been tailored with the sportsman in mind, including the "golfer's tonic", consisting of a hydrotherapy bath, reflexology foot massage and aromatherapy massage.
And non-golfers are not forgotten. There is a four-hour package designed predominately for women to while away the time while their partners enjoy a round of golf.
The Las Lomas Village - a Spanish pueblo - is well worth visiting and ideal for families and groups or those who prefer a self-catering environment rather than a hotel. It has recently refurbished apartments and townhouses, swimming pools as well as Italian (Luigi's), Chinese and Indian restaurants.
In short, La Manga Club is the complete resort - it even has its own beach - for the golfer and non-golfer.
Patrick Mooney travelled to La Manga Club as a guest of Barwell Leisure and stayed at the Hyatt Regency La Manga Hotel.
For more details on Barwell Leisure phone 020-8786 3000 or www.barwell.co.uk.
The club is 20 minutes from Murcia (San Javier) airport, and one hour from Alicante (El Altet) airport.
The resort has more than 20 bars and restaurants.
For more information go to www.lamangclub. com.