How to go green and have a swinging time in Mallorca
Ham&High series sports editor Pat Mooney continues his own personal tour in an attempt to find the perfect golf course MALLORCA can arguably claim to have the world s top tennis player in the newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal. Now, the large
Ham&High series sports editor Pat Mooney continues his own personal tour in an attempt to find the perfect golf course
MALLORCA can arguably claim to have the world's top tennis player in the newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal. Now, the largest of the Balearic Islands - which lie in the Mediterranean Sea off the south-east coast of Spain - can boast of having a championship golf course to rival the very best in Europe.
Golf Son Gual only opened its doors in October 2007 but already the newest star on block has become the most desirable golf address on this golf-mad island - unbelievably there are 21 courses.
Unlike other Med resorts such as the Costa del Sol in Spain and the Algarve region of Portugal, golf has not traditionally featured too highly as a reason to visit Mallorca. That is about to change.
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Laid out across beautiful Mallorcan terrain, just east of the capital Palma, Golf Son Gual is the realisation of one man's dream. German Adam Parmer, a double-glazing magnate and a self-confessed golf nut has been visiting the island since 1974 and bought a holiday home there in 1994.
Frustrated with the poor condition and service he experienced on many of the island's courses, he decided to build his own dream club and employed three-time German amateur champion Thomas Himmel to create it over a plot of 175 acres.
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Five years later, at estimated cost of 30 million euro, Himmel has literally worked wonders, moving 1.4 million cubic metres of earth to deliver a stunning championship set-up.
The course itself flows into two loops with seven large lakes - originally built as irrigation reservoirs - punctuating the fairways at regular intervals. There are also 66 bunkers on the course - some of the biggest I've ever encountered anywhere in the world.
Indeed, everything is on a grand scale at Son Gual. The greens are massive, with elongated approaches and run-off areas. And if you miss the green - as I frequently did - the very closely mown aprons offer the use of the putter to salvage par. Even the size of the tee boxes will astound you - an average 900 square metres and almost as smooth as the putting greens.
A feature of the course is the 800 olive groves, some as many as 1,000 years old, which were shipped in to give the course a more mature feel. The course was virtually treeless when work began.
Another special touch is the small vineyards that have been planted on the course from which the club hopes to be able to serve its own wine in the clubhouse inside a few years.
The opening tee, perched at the highest point on the course, plays down to a fairway some 100 yards below your feet and offers a "feel good" start to the round, especially if you hit the fairway, avoiding bunkers right and left.
The two par-fives on the front nine - the fourth and sixth holes - feel reachable in two but there is the risk of finding water along the way. On the first par-five the green juts out into one of the large irrigation lakes on the low side and calls for a precision fairway wood approach. The second tees over a second such lake and will catch greedy drives - not mine.
In between is the tricky par three fifth, again over water to the left and a large bunker back right.
The ninth is another superb par three - 190 metres off the backs - and requires a full-blooded strike over more water on the left.
After tapas and a cool beer on the clubhouse terrace - the 15-minute breaks between tee-times make this possible - the 10th is a gentle introduction to back nine. But beware of the sloping bunkers on the right.
The closing stretch of the course is not easy and requires constant concentration. The par five 12th calls for accuracy off the tee and nerve for the second shot with water coming in to play on both sides of the fairway.
However, the pick of the par threes is probably the 15th. It is played from a tee that looks as long as a football pitch, calling for anything from a six iron to a fairway wood. A huge bunker stretches the length of the hole on the left and eats into the front left of the steeply sloping green which is framed by a beautiful old palacio dating back to 1919.
At the par four 16th drives disappear out of sight on a sloping fairway to the right. The approach shot needs to be spot-on as water and sand guard both sides of another sloping green.
The final par three, the 17th, demands correct club selection. Another huge teeing area could mean as many as four clubs difference in length There is water on the right and anything short in front will be find a massive bunker.
The par five 544-yard 18th is as good a home hole as I've played. It offers two stretches of water to avoid - a stream will catch anything hooked off the tee and then the same stretch of water will claim anything pushed with your second or third shots on the right.
And if you stay dry - as I did - and reach the green in three there is a real possibility your round will end up with three jabs of the putter - as I did.
Buggies are available so a round at Son Gual is easy enough to walk. Although membership is likely to be limited to 500, the course is open to the public for a couple of hours a day with green fees of 150 euros.
The Gallant restaurant, as you would expect, offers excellent food, while the terrace, overlooking the 9th and 18th holes, has as a central feature a huge panoramic window offering sweeping views of the Tramuntana mountains.
Off the back tees the course is a whopping 7,243 yards but those large teeing areas allow golfers of all standards a fair chance.
Yet, I suspect the par-72 course is destined to host a European Tour event, sooner rather than later.
Golf Son Gual is only 8km from the capital Palma. For more information visit www.son-gual.com or telephone 00 34 971 7858.
Patrick Mooney flew with Monarch Airlines from Luton. Monarch offer flights to Palma during the summer season from £46.50 one way (£76.99 return. For further details visit www.monarch.co.uk.