Villaitana Resort-Levante and Poniente Golf Courses
I’ve kept my golfing to the local golf courses since arriving in Alicante. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Melia Villaitana Resort in Benidorm. Benidorm is about 30 minutes north of the Alicante Airport.
Once a sleepy fishing village, Benidorm is now Europe’s biggest holiday resort destination. Some 5 million visitors arrive each year. Benidorm exploded with high rise housing to accommodate the surge of tourists. In fact, Benidorm has the most high rise buildings, per capita, than any city in Europe. Its skyline, dominated by the huge “M” of The Tempo building. From six kilometers away you see it rising on the horizon.
I’m lucky I was not heading for the hustle and bustle of Benidorm’s downtown. A haven from the city’s hoopla, Villaitana is an easy access by car from all points in Spain.
As I drove through the gates, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had been here before. This dèjá vu stayed with me until I played my first round of golf. On the third hole of the Lavante Course, it hit me. I was at Villaitana before.
Remember when the volcano erupted in Iceland? It happened in 2010 and it disrupted air travel for a week in Europe. I was at Villaitana for a conference of club managers (CMAEurope) when it blew. It left dozens of attendees stranded at the resort, scrambling for anyway to get back to their homes. The Swedish contingent hitched a ride on a bus of Swedish golfers returning home from a golf holiday.
Which leads us into the golf courses of Villaitana. Villaitana contains two 18 hole golf courses. While they share a Nicklaus Design, they couldn’t be more different.
Starting with the Levante Course, a 18 hole par 72. I enjoyed a continuous vista of the city’s skyline, the sea and the coastal mountains. While the waters of the Mediterranean are in view, water on the course is hardly in play. Before you sigh in relief, Levante does have 106 bunkers to traverse. While the fairways are wide, almost generous, the bunkers are definitely in play. By the way, if you haven’t played Levante in a while, the bunkers have improved a lot. In fact, the maintenance of the entire course is a priority with the new management. Fairways are Bermuda grass and greens are tricky and in great condition.
Except for the 14th hole, the other par threes are a challenge for all handicaps. Remember, I mentioned the par 3 third hole earlier? It is a real treat hitting the shot from an elevated, and I mean elevated, tee. Watching your ball descend from high on a ridge and hitting the green results in a sigh of relief. Along with some high fives from your playing partners.
The second Nicklaus Design at Villitana is the Poniente Course. Poniente takes you on a trip through the adjoining pine valley’s hillside. There are no par fives on the Poniente course for a par of 62.
Don’t dismiss Poniente on account of its length and stroke count, take a closer look. Poniente, for most of your round will have you hitting tee shots on the par 3s over ravines and small canyons. While the views are spectacular, Poniente lives up to its Executive title. You will have to make the right “executive decisions” to score well. One round at Poniente you will understand the popularity of this captivating golf experience. It’s little wonder that Poniente is almost always booked solid.
The golf courses’ professional shop has everything that you would expect at a top resort. But it does carry something unexpected. After my round I tasted and chose a wine to take home with me. The Prado Rey wine shop, located on the hotel property, sells its own local wines at the golf course. What a concept! Enjoying a bottle of fine local wine will will have you looking forward to the next round at Villaitana.
Between rounds you can stay at the luxurious hotel and spa at Villaitana. Modeled after a traditional Mediterranean village, it has a large plaza with a church on one side. At Vilaitana the hotel and spa surround the plaza. The conference center replicates the focal point of any Spanish town, the church. The “church” bells mark the time.
While the facade will transport you to Old Spain, inside the walls you will re-enter the modern world. The hotel rooms are elegant with views of the Gran Bahia of the Costa Brava. The resort boasts a huge lagoon swimming pool as well as a variety dining options. Please, take it from me, the breakfast buffet is sensational.
Something to experience is downtown Benidorm and its beaches. Villitana is only about ten minutes from the city center. A different adventure is a visit to the impressive waterfall of Algar. The water falls near the town of Callosa d’en Sarrià, a 15 km drive from Benidorm.
The Fuentes del Algar should be on the top of your list for places to visit. The Algar waterfalls offer a sharp contrast to the normal days at the beach. They show you a different, quiet and cooler Spain. This is not your typical country swimming hole. The Fuentes del Algar are enchanting and unforgetable.
All in all, my weekend stay at the Melia Villaitana offered a lot more than your usual golf holiday. You can enjoy this destination just as I have. Villaitana offers excellent golf and stay packages to meet your specific needs. Contact them at: www.meliavillaitanagolf.com/en/contact-us
or +34 96 681 3013.
In Golf, It’s a Small World After All
When I was a kid, I would hear the adults say, “It’s a small world, isn’t it?” I never could make sense of what they meant. I was an avid reader of the National Geographic magazine, so to my mind the world was enormous and mysterious and full of adventure.
But in the last week, the phrase came to me twice and both times it was related to golf.
Englishman Alexander Ward is a teaching professional in Pilar de la Horadada. Formerly associated with the Lo Romero Golf Club, Alex now owns and operates the Golf Stash Golf Boutique. While using the words golf and boutique in one sentence may be rare, in Alex’s case it is true. Alex is an individual with some distinct notions on the game of golf. He believes that the current concept in golf marketing, stuffing every sq.cm with products confuses customers, especially non-golfers who enjoy the clothing styles or may be looking for gifts for their golfing friends. The Golf Stash has plenty of room to amble around and focus on the items at hand.
Anyway, Alex and my Eva were in a discussion so I do what I normally do when I’m not involved in the conversation. I pantomime my golf swing. As I swing a few more, Alex asks me how I hit the ball? Did I draw hook it? Fade Slice it? I answered, “Mostly straight, I guess….” Then Alex said something that jolted both Eva and I. He said, “Golf for Adults?”
For those of you who don’t know Golf for Adults is the English translation for the book by Sacke Frondelius, Golf för Vuxna. I have been associated with Sacke for a couple of years, but to find someone, an Englishman no less, in the middle of Spain who knows Sacke and the book was a trip all right. We found out that Alex represents and is an instructor in the Golf för Vuxna.
3 Fun Finns
This past Friday I played golf at Lo Romero Golf Course, which IMHO gives you the best bang for buck in the south Alicante area. I joined a 3some of Finns who were on a golfing holiday. On the second tee, one of the three, Aulis Ranua, comes up to me and asks if I would write my name on the scorecard. I thought it a nice gesture, he wanting to keep my score. I filled in my name and we proceeded to play the hole.
Aulis Ranua, Discerning Golf Scholar, Ace Photographer and Good Guy.
As we came off the green. Aulis comes up to me and asks if I’m a writer? In my head, my voice says how ITF did he know that but my voice said, “Yes, I am.” My new Finnish friend then says, “Did you write the book, The Swedish Golf Experience?” That sound you just heard was my mind blowing. I was able to mouth the words,”Yeah, I did. How do you know?” “I OWN that book! I love it. I look at it all the time.”
It was a real nice day after that bit of ego boost. I mean it doesn’t come near hearing, “Did you write Moby Dick?” Still, it was cool.
It’s taken a few years but it has become a small world, after all.
Arnold Palmer – The People’s Champion
The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young,
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.
– King Lear act V scene iii
The King is dead. We can decommission the Army. As Bill wrote in King Lear, we “Shall never see so much…”
In my lifetime, Arnold Palmer was golf. I remember on rainy Sunday afternoons my Dad and I watching Arnold hitch up those baggy pants and take such a tremendous lash at the ball that his follow through would twirl around his head. Arnie wasn’t the longest hitter on tour but nobody hit the ball any harder. I used to imagine that the golf ball screamed in pain, like the baseballs in the Looney Tunes. A wristy putter, with his scrunched over, knock-knee stance Palmer was deadly on the greens. It wasn’t until he changed to the “normal” putting stroke, with no wrist break, that he lost his touch on the greens, never to return to him.
I have no clear proof, but Arnie was the first pro with a clothing line. Musingwear produced the golf shirt styled after Palmer’s polo style shirt. On Arnie, the shirt highlighted his trim and muscular physique. On his “Army”, that shirt highlighted a different part of the anatomy, having little to do with trim.
Later, Arnie has a canned ice tea named after him. At home, Palmer would drink a mixture of three parts unsweetened ice tea to one part lemonade. The canned tea, distributed by the Arizona Beverage Company is made half and half and is named as such. At The Seminole Golf Club in Florida they spoil you and serve Arnie’s original recipe mixed on the spot. I never enjoyed the can version since.
Today’s pros fly private planes from tournament to tournament. Arnie was the first professional golfer that I know who flew his own private planes and later jets. When I say flew, I don’t mean enjoyed the ride. Palmer actually was the pilot who flew the aircraft.
It was Palmer who renewed the American interest in the British Open. Like I said earlier, my Dad and I watched the grainy B&W images beamed back on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Not since Bobby Jones had the golfers of the British Isles embraced an American competitor. I’m sure it was the rugged image of Palmer dragging on his cigarette, throwing it to the ground and taking that mighty thrash. It was the British Open where “Arnie’s Army” began it’s recruitment. Counting its TV members, that army was in the millions.
I only met Arnold Palmer once. He was playing an exhibition in the State of Washington, outside of Seattle. After smashing his customary tee shot, he began walking down the fairway. I was in a position where he would walk right next to me. As he neared, I nervously wracked my brain for something to say. I stuck my hand out and said it was a pleasure to be here with him and (in shear panic) blurted out, “I love your design at the Semiahmoo Resort.” I never played the course but knew that it opened the year before. He stopped and, while still shaking my hand, said, “Well, thanks a lot.”
My only other contact with Palmer was by Six Degrees of Separation. I met his dentist in Orlando. He was very proud of his friendship with Arnold Palmer. I think he wrote a book about it. And why wouldn’t he?
They say that the modern pro owes much to Tiger Woods for his popularity raising interest in golf worldwide and for the amazing purses they now play for. Professional golf would still be a minor sport watched by dilettantes and played for little money, if not for Palmer.
Arnold Palmer was a man every man admired and every golfer of his era wanted to be.
The King is dead. There is no heir and there will never be one.
One For The Ages
Just a few miles away from Royal Troon, on October 17, 1860, eight professionals assembled at Prestwick for a tournament to determine who would be the Champion golfer. The competitors played three rounds on the then 12-hole links, with Willie Park Sr beating Old Tom Morris by two shots. A year later, Prestwick announced that the tournament “shall be open to all the world.”
With all the world watching, with all the pre-tournament noise, the 146th British Open came down to two men. The rest of the field played this Open like a weekend gathering of golfers that you and I would enjoy.
Just a few miles from Prestwick, where the Open’s time began, two golfers played four rounds of golf for the Ages. One golfer stood on the 18th fairway of Royal Troon, six under par for his day, and was two strokes behind his fellow competitor.
The golf course, the weather and Phil Mickelson threw everything they had at the winner from Sweden, Henrik Stenson. He didn’t just overcame those deterrents, he dominated them, playing better and better each day. On Sunday’s final round, normally a knee knocking, nerve rattling day for anyone in contention, Henrik Stenson fired 1o birdies at the Royal Troon links.
In 2002, Henrik Stenson ranked 336th in the golf world. As late as 2011, Stenson was ranked #211. Watching Stenson play was not a matter of if he would melt down but when. That same year, Stenson had not qualified to play in the PGA Championship, so he opted to play for his club championship at Sweden’s Barseback Golf Club. He lost, finishing second to Henrik Hilford Brander.
2011 is just five years ago, but it is light years away from the man who raised the claret jug this day. How good was Henrik? Let the man who battled him for four days explain. Tell us Phil:
“I thought we played pretty good golf. I hit a lot of good shots and Henrik made 10 birdies. He and I have been friends for quite some time and I really like and respect him. I’m really happy for him, as much as I’m disappointed with the outcome. He’s a class act and he played phenomenal. He hit the ball so solid yesterday and today especially. What a great champion. He just played some incredible golf. I threw as much at him as I could and he didn’t make any mistakes. Just incredible play. What a great champion he is.”
Not only has the weight of not winning a major been lifted off of Stenson’s back but that weight is off the country of Sweden, as well. Sweden delivered major winners in woman’s golf but, until today, never a man.
In one round of golf, Swedish golf is now, itself, a major.
Bro Hof Welcomes Back the European Tour
This week, The Nordea Masters comes back to Stockholm and the Bro Hoff Slot Golf Club for the first time since 2013. The last winner of European Tour event at Bro Hoff was Miko Ilonen. Other Bro Hof winners are Lee Westwood, Alex Noren and Richard.S. Johnson.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson will start as the favorite as golf’s #6 ranked player in the world. Stenson was in good form earlier this season but in recent starts his game has fallen off. He played the Nordea Masters well in the last few years but not at this venue. Bro Hof will put a question over anyone’s chances this week. Watch hole 17, it’s an island green where golf rounds are saved or sunk in the drink.
Lee Westwood won here three years ago and is playing well in recent weeks. Last week, he was 15th at Wentworth and a Top Ten in the Irish Open. It was his runner-up finish at the Masters that indicates this could be his week.
Another Swede, a two-time winner of this event, is Alexander Noren. He is the defending champion and has recorded two other good finishes at Bro Hof. Noren showed glimpses of that winning form at times this season and, given his liking for the event and the venue, he could be a factor.
Rikard Karlberg was the runner-up last week at Wentworth and did finish 4th in this event when it was last played at Bro Hof. Karlberg also finished 10 at the Ireland Open two weeks ago so he could be in the hunt.
Australia’s Scott Hend will be carrying a little scar tissue from last week’s horror show finish at the BMW Open. He was the leader going into the final round but his 6 over 78 ended that story.
The Nordea Masters begins Thursday, June 2 and the final round is Sunday, June 5. You never know in Sweden, but the weather prognosticators are calling for good weather. Stenson and Westwood will be paired for Day 1 and Day 2.
Masters Thoughts At The Turn
Augusta National should be a lesson for every golf course,everywhere. Like its ancient uncle, the Old Course at St.Andrews, it takes apart a golfer’s game and makes every stroke important. Both accomplish this without any rough. There is no need to toughen up golf courses with knee fescue and narrow fairways. Both are risk and reward tracks with big rewards for the great shot and severe penalties for the ill struck ball. If golf wants to shorten playing time, shorten the rough.
Jordan Speith experienced the Augusta trait of leveling the playing field during his second round. Mis-fires and long putts for pars were his undoing on Friday. Still, he maintains the lead because no one mounted a charge at him. If he does not win this Masters it will be because he allowed unforced errors to allow the field to get close.
I watch the amateur, Bryson DeChambeau, with more than a curious eye. The young man, who won both the NCAA Men’s Individual crown and the men’s US Amateur last summer, remained an amateur for the chance to play at Augusta. Not only has he made the cut but until a disastrous triple on his 36th hole was one stroke off the lead. What makes me more than just a curious bystander is his approach to the game. DeChambeau uses clubs all the same length with a baseball grip and single plane swing. Last season I became a disciple of “Golf för Vuxna,” the Swedish swing thoughts of Sacke Frondelius. Bryson DeChambeau is the example of what you can accomplish by simplifying your golf swing.
Finally, how painful is it to watch Phil Mickelson play golf? The once poster boy for short game magic, aa well as getting better with age, looked like a poor imitation of his former self. During Friday’s round he took two to get out of a bunker as well as many mis-struck chips and pitches. All of those shots were ones he was once able to pull off blindfolded.
What was really painful was seeing one of the great “feel” putters of all time reduced to using the claw grip for assistance. It was no help as he missed putt after putt from distances he used to never seem to worry about.
It’s a lack of putting accuracy that sends great players down the road to retirement.
Speaking of retirement, while the fans were respectful and gave him many standing ovations, didn’t it seem as if Tom Watson’s final round at the Masters was ignored by the golf press? A storied career treated like an afterthought. If we were in Scotland, it would have been a National holiday.
Watson was glad to leave the Masters on his own terms.
“I’m grateful for the fact that they allow the past champions to pick the time they say no mas to retire,” he said. “I think that’s really a good thing. I know a few years back, there was some talk about maybe setting an age for retirement, but it didn’t work. I think we know when it’s time to say no mas, and let us make the call. That’s what makes the Masters unique compared to all the other tournaments, all the other majors. It allows the players to make the call. I still think that’s a very special thing about this tournament.”
One of the very special things about this tournament was you, Tom Watson.
So, The Season Begins…
I played golf last Monday, my first round of the year. No big deal for most golfers but it was for me. I’ll speak to that a bit later.
In the last few months, I have been stuck in a golf dissatisfaction. The game has changed and I’m not sure it’s for the better. More attention is paid to the money list than the leader board. Many golfers on the professional level are content to just cruise through the season staying in the Top 25, earning a nice living, if pulling in €4 to 5 million or more is just a nice living.
Golf news has become who is involved in the latest war of words on Twitter. The golfer’s love life is a priority. Tiger, Rory and Dustin, more words written on Jason Duffer for his divorce than ever for his golf. Arnie’s Army wasn’t formed because of his personal life. It became that way because of the way it was described when he hitched up his pants and went to work for come from behind wins in the 1960 Masters and the US Open.
The golf ball is juiced, the golf clubs are rocket launchers and no sooner do you buy a new set of these gee-whiz clubs, than a new and “better” set arrives. You would think golf clubs were manufactured in Silicon Valley. The tournament schedule just runs one after another, until only the Majors become meaningful, except that most people can’t tell you who won the British Open or the PGA.
Which brings us to my golf round last week. I had spent a month in Spain and hadn’t played one round. It just seemed, I don’t know, unimportant. Finally, Eva threatened drastic measures and dragged me to the first tee.
When I bent over, placing the tee in the ground and the golf ball upon the tee, it all came back. All the reasons I play this game came rushing back, filling my soul making no room for all the silly stories and bad vibes that golf had become. I was home.
Why this was important is that it reminded me that I don’t play this game for the gossip or the latest trends. To quote George C. Scott in *Patton,* “I love it. … God help me, I do love it so.”
Golf Shots of the Month-November 2015
Thanks to the European Tour
Another Lost Opportunity
Last month, I was at St. Leon-Roc for the 2015 Solheim Cup. I had the pleasure of talking to Björn Örås, who was also in attendance. There was little doubt that Mr. Örås was doing some last minute lobbying to bring the 2019 Solheim Cup to Bro Hof Slott in Stockholm.
At the Annika Invitational at Bro Bålsta, Club Manager Patrik Wester was hoping for Bro Hof to get the Solheim. It would mean that Bro Bålsta would be hosting the Junior Solheim in 2019.
Today it was announced that both Swedish golf clubs would not be hosting either event.
The Ladies European Tour announced that the 2019 Solheim Cup would be held at Gleneagles Golf Club in Perthshire, Scotland. Gleneagles hosted the 2014 Ryder Cup. I just visited the Perthshire region and I can tell you that Gleneagles is located in one of the more scenic areas of Scotland and has many golf courses to play while attending the Solheim event. Take it from me, why wait? The area and its golf is that good!
Ivan Khodabakhsh, chief executive of Ladies European Tour said: “I want to congratulate the Scotland bid team for their work. It was an extremely close decision and our heartfelt thanks go to our friends from Sweden for their hugely impressive bid. The Bro Hof Slott Golf Club is one of Europe’s very finest courses and we look forward to working with them in the future.”
Commenting on the news that the Ladies European Tour’s Board voted in favor of Scotland, The Right Honorable Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland MSP, said: “The outstanding success of 2014 still looms large in the memory and I am delighted that Gleneagles and Scotland will once again play host to a major international team golf event. It will help cement Scotland’s reputation as the Home of Golf and the perfect stage for major golf events and help inspire a new generation of children to take up the game invented in their home country.”
Once again, Bro Hof Slott is denied the opportunity to host a golfing international event of the highest calibre. The failed bid for the 2018 Ryder Cup went to France. Why has Bro Hof Slott and Sweden lately become the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to these major events?
One reason may be found in this fact. Scotland’s bid, which was led by the EventScotland team within VisitScotland’s Events Directorate and backed by The Scottish Government, was submitted in August and received huge support from stars across the golfing, sporting and media spectrum. The local area around Gleneagles is also supportive as the locals realize the importance of major golf event’s positive impact on the local economy.
It seems that unless the Swedish government, Visit Sweden and the Swedish corporate community realize the value of hosting international sporting events, Swedish golf will continue to be on the outside looking in.