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:

or +34 96 681 3013.

Campo de Golf Villamartin

Mother Nature welcomed me back to Stockholm with cold and snow. Looking out the window, it made me think of better days and playing golf in Spain. Lucky for me, I’ll be back swinging at the end of the month.

On our first visit to the Villamartin golf course, it was a breezy and cool day in March . Of course, cool is a relative term. Some vacationing Swedish golfers were wearing shorts and polo shirts. By our tee time, the bright sunshine had warmed the course up to provide us with a gorgeous day for golf.

Villamartin is one of the classic golf courses in the Alicante region. It remains the standard that other local golf courses measure themselves. The golf course, #17 Villamartinthe clubhouse and its location make Villamartin as popular now as it was opening day.

Villamartin Golf Course has a large international family of residents. The residents enjoy a relaxing new way to live. The heart of this new life style is golf at the Villamartin Golf Course.

The club house at Villamartin offers a contemporary restaurant. The menu offers a selection that will please any palate. Enjoy your meal or after-round drink on the spacious terrace overlooking the golf course.

Villamartin remains one of the best golf courses of the Valencian Community. Over forty years of hospitality is the reason for Villamartin’s continued popularity. The excellent golf is just a bonus.


Making an Offer You Can’t Refuse

Verdura-18West-Aiden-BradleyOver the centuries, many visitors, welcome or not, have traveled to Sicily for rest, relaxation and the occasional occupation.

Sicilians are known for their great pizza; expressive conversation and their unique look at family values and organizational skills. What has never been mentioned has been Sicilian golf, until now.

What happens when you take one of the world’s foremost luxury hotel visionaries and a modern golf course designer dedicated to creating golf courses inspired from the classic courses of Great Britain and continental Europe? You create a remarkable resort called Verdura.

Verdura is located on the southwest coast of Sicily near the fishing village of Sciacca. The resort is the latest in the Rocco Forte Collection of highly individual and luxurious hotels and resorts.

Verdura is set over the stunning landscape of Sicily’s coastline giving a true sense of space and privacy. All rooms have private terraces with undisturbed Mediterranian views and interiors that combine every modern luxury with authentic Sicilian motifs. The care and attention to detail is manifest in every aspect of the resort. From the spacious and comfortable living areas to the opulent spa, every wish that a guest may dream seems to be already thought of. In addition, the staff genuinely cares for your comfort. There is always a friendly acknowledgement and quick response to your requests.

Sir Rocco Forte has found a beautiful piece of seafront ground where he’s developing this five star hotel, 36 holes of championship golf, plus a nine-hole par three course and full practice facility.

Kyle Phillips designs the golf course. Phillips is familiar to Swedish golf as the designer of the PGA of Sweden National Golf Course outside of Malmö. Verdura is a shoreline property utilizing a low-impact environmental concept, where only electric vehicles will be allowed inside the resort. Golf purists will love it!

Phillips is trying to give it a links land feel, with a rugged seaside look, transitioning to large, rolling, natural features as it moves back away from the sea. It is gratifying that you can be at the most inland part of the site, but still feel connected to the sea. The feel is similar to the feeling at Kingsbarns, in Scotland. The goal is to create a firm fast surface; with greens and bunkering that have a links style feeling to them. Both courses have roughly equal amounts of seaside and inland parts, and so it is possible a composite course that features the ocean holes could be created.

While there seem to be no “signature” holes, the overall design seems to blend effortlessly into the landscape it occupies. As they mature, the golf courses at Verdura will take on a “timeless” spirit, as if they have been played on for decades. Phillips has accomplished a design feat. Verdura is a golf course where no hole stands out from another, but the overall impression after a round is not just satisfying, but leaves you wanting to play more.

Another unusual feature of Verdura is that Phillips was also the project planner. This allows the hotel, restaurants, spa and golf course and clubhouse to seamlessly flow through the property. None of the resort attractions requires alternative transportation. All are just a stretch of the leg from one to another.

The golf courses at Verdura are young, but Phillips’ history is that his designs grow up very well. When the native grasses take hold, Verdura will successfully fulfill the Forte Collection’s dream for an outstanding luxury golf destination for continental Europe.

For more information on Verdura:

Telephone +39 0925 99 81 80

The Golf Club St. Leon-Rot – Germany

Aerial view of hole #8 on St. Leon.

Not far from Heidelberg lies the Golf Club St. Leon-Rot, one of the most interesting golf clubs in Germany. The club, founded in 1996, is the brainchild of SAP founder Dietmar Hopp. The Golf Club St Leon-Rot is a high-end private facility with two 18-hole championship courses, St. Leon and Rot. It hosted the Deutsche Bank – SAP Open, a professional golf tournament on the PGA European Tour, four times. The world’s best players have played St. Leon-Rot. Tiger Woods has won the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open three times. The Golf Club St. Leon-Rot is not only one of the best golf courses in Germany but has established itself as a top European destination.

As proof, this stunning complex will host The Solheim Cup in 2015. For the first time in Solheim Cup history both tournaments, the Solheim Cup and the PING Junior Solheim Cup, will play at the same club. In 2015, the Solheim Cup will be the largest sports event in Germany.

St. Leon, with many water hazards, requires length and precision. St Leon has undulating fairways, abundant deep bunkering and well built greens. Some traps look more difficult than they are. They feature huge faces but flat surfaces making it easy to escape from unless right underneath the lip. Kept in immaculate condition with greens that roll well and can pick up speed when prepared for tournaments.

Did you know?

Almost every golfer has played to an island green somewhere. But what golfer has mastered an island fairway? The rather short 308 yard par 4 # 8 on the St. Leon course is not only scenic but is one of the most dramatic holes in Germany. You need two shots over water, a precise drive and a well-placed shot to the green here are necessary to secure a chance to par. The hole design is ​​more difficult still by placing fairway bunkers in the landing area of the tee shot. Furthermore, a green side bunker protects almost the entire green.


Formby Ladies Club, Formby, England

33_94The town of Formby, just north of Liverpool, was home to wealthy cotton merchants of the Victorian Era. In 1884, a group of 24 businessmen launched the Formby Golf Club situated between Southport and Liverpool.

In that same year, 1884, an important change in England’s social structure happened. It was an amendment added to the Married Women’s Property Act. That amendment said that women were independent and separate persons. Women were no longer a possession of their husband.

Women started to enjoy outdoor activities from this new independence. Bicycling, croquet and tennis became popular along with golf, particularly.

By 1896, the men of the Formby Golf Club faced a dilemma. So many women were playing golf at Formby, that the men of the Formby Golf Club were losing tee times. Yet, unlike some other golf clubs, Formby did not limit access to women golfers to one day of the week. Neither did it ban women from playing altogether. The men of Formby did something extraordinary.

The Formby Golf Club leased the undeveloped property in the middle of their golf course to the women golfers of Formby. To design a nine-hole golf course, they hired Willie Park. At that time, Park was a noted golf course designer and former British Open Champion. Founded in 1896, Formby Ladies has become a charming golf course close to the shoreline of the Irish Sea.

During World War I, golf play continued on Formby Ladies. After the war, Harry Colt added nine more holes to bring it to its present 18 holes. During WWII, conscripted men tended to war time duties. The greens chairman, herself, cut the grass on Formby Ladies by using a two wheeled carriage called a trap pulled by a horse.

In the 1960s there was talk about merging the operations of the Formby and Formby Ladies clubs to conserve costs. The concept was abandoned after deliberation. Daphne Johnson is a former club secretary. Ms. Johnson said “Both clubs, realized that they had something special at Formby.”

After a visit to the course, two-time Open Champion Greg Norman wrote in a letter to the club. “Over a hundred years old and still your course can stand the test of time. What a beautiful course. It shows that courses do not have to be 7,000 yards-plus to be formidable,” wrote Norman.

Measuring 5,374 yards, the course challenges golfers with a variety of small greens and sandy bunkers. The narrow fairways and the rough of heather at Formby Ladies demands thought and accuracy on every shot. Formby Ladies Golf Club is a links course, but as it sits amongst the pine trees and sand dunes, you could mistake it for being otherwise.

When asked what the differences is between the two clubs , Daphne points out that the men’s club has a much larger membership. Formby Ladies has a rich tradition of volunteerism to carry out the necessary duties of the Club.

A club’s House Committee is in charge of the social programs and the duties that make a club attractive for the members. “If there is a difference in management styles it’s in the House Committee. Our events are much less formal,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We are much more attuned to the small details that make for success. You would not be wrong to say that a woman’s touch is the biggest difference.”

Nowhere is the woman’s touch more obvious then the clubhouse at Formby Ladies. The unassuming one story building contains a pleasant changing room. But it is the delightful sitting and dining area that charms you.

It is a small multi-purpose room where they serve afternoon teas and light meals in a sedate and genteel atmosphere. One can imagine the women who have sat in that same room through the club’s history. The room has changed little.

The club’s memorabilia and golf awards adorn the shelves and the wallpapered walls. There’s a classic picture of Queen Elizabeth II on another wall. The furniture is delicate and light in color, the opposite of the overstuffed leather and dark mahogany of the Formby club.

Establishing a golf course today for women, and operated by women, it would praised as some new chapter in modern women’s golf. Formby Ladies is now closing in on its 120th year of doing that exact thing.

This unassuming and charming spot in the middle of one of England’s storied golf areas continues today as it did over a century ago. The Formby Ladies Golf Club provides golfers of all genders and ability the same conditions to play this great game.

Girona Golf

93743Costa Brava, in sunny Spain, offers some of the finest golfing in Europe. One of the best golf clubs in this golf lover’s paradise is Golf Girona.

They say that one of the keys to success is location, location, location. Golf Girona enjoys a privileged location. Only 4 km from the ancient city of Girona, Golf Girona is an hour’s drive north from Barcelona and the Pyrenees and France to the north.

Golf Girona designer was the esteemed F.G. Hawtree, founder of Hawtree Ltd. Hawtree Ltd. The course at Girona Golf Club still stands as one of his best designs. The front nine is a demanding challenge while the back nine offers superb views, as well. Both nines loop back to the club house. Utilizing the natural contours Golf Girona offers the visitors a true experience.
The standards of Hawtree continue because of the excellent maintenance. It is the only course in Spain with Penncross grass, the highest quality grass for golf. Like most Hawtree designs, the course settles in the terrain in harmony.

The golf course meanders between the valley and hills. You will get the sense that your group is on the course alone. The hills also form a perfect windbreak on windy days.

My visit to Girona Golf was one of those good news/bad news days. First, the bad news. The tourist board will frown, but it poured rain. As in buckets. When it wasn’t pouring, it drizzled. That’s the bad news.

The excellent drainage of the course was the good news. There was no standing water anywhere on the fairways and greens. The round was as pleasant as playing in the rain can be. A tip of the hat to Hawtree’s design and the outstanding maintenance work of the Girona Golf crew.

Girona Golf tells visitors there are five “G’s” they think will help you remember what Girona Golf is all about. They are Girona, Golf Girona, Grande, Gourmet and Good Service. I can vouch for all five. Girona is a beautiful city with a history that dates back to the Greeks. Golf Girona, despite that day’s weather, is a scenic and challenging golf course. It deserves the reputation that it has in Spain. Grande means large, with a clubhouse that is over 32,000 square feet built of glass and natural stone. The clubhouse contains meeting rooms, comfortable common areas, restaurant, snack bar and pro shop. Girona Golf also has a full size children’s play room.

Gourmet goes without saying. Catalonian cooking is so good that delicious meal are common in this area as are the meals at Golf Girona. Every bite I took from the chefs at Golf Girona was passion on my palate.

Finally, the fifth “G” stands for Good Service, as it should. Every one from the receptionist to the waiter to the grounds crew makes sure you are well taken care of.

The five “G”s more than compensated for the weather. You’ll come away from Golf Girona in a warm and sunny mood.

Platja de pals

costa-bravaGolf Platja de pals , on the Costa Brava in Spain, is a beautiful golf course built by the legendary designer, F.W. Hawtree. Built out of a Mediterranean Pine forest planted 70 years ago, Platja de pals lies on a unique piece of land.

Each hole is framed by mature sea pines with huge canopies on top of tall trees trunks. It’s like some psychedelic dream in which you’re playing golf in a forest of broccoli sprouts.

Hawtree did a remarkable job with his design. There are some very imaginative holes and fairways that dogleg left and right. Many of the greens are hidden from the tee with the treat of finding where Hawtree has put the green. The front nine is narrow, reminding one of bowling alleys from the tee. As the bordering pine’s canopies have matured, their spread has narrowed the fairways in the air. In fact, hole #11 has two massive pines whose treetops have converged to the point you have to carry over the top of them. Luckily, with the elevated tee and having the green several meters below the tee makes it easier. I’m sure that the smart guys out there have said you could go under them? Uh, no. Hawtree has placed three bunkers directly in front of the green with faces that look like waves that any surfer would love to rip turns on. It’s a great hole, scenic and a high playability factor.

Unfortunately, while the course runs parallel with the Pals beach, the coastline is not visible from course. The pines are the dominant view. While Hawtree has a clever design and the course has some exciting holes, the pines have created a similarity to the holes which makes no hole stand out from another, *except #11*.

For the non-golfers in the group, there are some fun bike trails running through the forest and the coastline. There is also the mediaeval city of Pals just a few kilometers from the course. The ancient city looms on the hilltop overlooking the modern town below. Plenty of photo ops for the interested.