Flamenco, sherry, horses as well as superb golf
The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.
If you are one of the literally millions of American golfers who have been dreaming of taking a golf trip “Across the Pond” for as long as you can remember, 2015 could well be the ideal year to turn the dream into reality. Choose your European destination carefully, selecting a country with plenty of good golf, as well as a wide variety of other, non-golfing activities and family and friends will be clamoring to join the trip as well.
Nothing says a golf trip should be restricted to only golfers, even the most ardent players are unlikely to spend more than four or five hours a day on the golf courses, leaving a lot of free time for other pursuits, so perhaps this shouldn’t even be called a golf trip at all — how about a vacation that happens to include some golf?
Among the few European countries noted for both the quality and quantity of their golf courses, as well as the abundance of other attractions, Spain stands out as a shining star. Making a good thing even better, the value for money Spain offers this year is nothing less than outstanding. The strength of our U.S. dollar versus Spain’s currency, the Euro, would be enough to make this a very affordable destination in 2015 for many Americans, but there’s more.
After a couple of lean years for tourism, due to the global economic situation, signs of recovery are now clearly evident and Spain’s tourism professionals have taken a very aggressive approach toward tempting visitors with even better prices. Hotels, car rentals, restaurants and practically every other element that goes into a vacation, have all reduced their normal prices down to the lowest levels seen in years. In 2015 Spain may well be the best vacation bargain to be found anywhere in Europe.
Anyone thinking about taking a golf trip to Spain is certainly considering one of Europe’s top golf destinations. With well over 300 golf courses, located throughout the country, all of a very high standard, they include some of the most highly ranked layouts in all of Europe. Combine the consistently excellent quality of the courses with the ideal, year round golfing weather of the southern region of Andalucia and you will have discovered a paradise for both golfers and non-golfers alike. But if you do decide on Andalucia, there will be many more choices to be made.
Visit this fascinating region without experiencing at least some of the endless array of other things Spanish, away from the courses and you will never forgive yourself. There is no question that Spain is golf — but there’s much more besides and in Andalucia, it’s abundant and all so close by.
Stay in the bustling resort town of Marbella and the Mediterranean Sea will be at your door step with a selection of more than 30 of Andalucia’s very best courses, all within a brief, 30 minute drive, including Valderrama of Ryder Cup fame and Europe’s top ranked course for more than 20 years. The stunning layout at Finca Cortesin, host to the European Tour’s World Match Play Championships, is just as close, as are the highly regarded layouts at La Reserva, Sotogrande, San Roque, along with two dozen more.
Explore Marbella’s charming Old Town for a taste of the Andalucia of yesteryear; take a half day shopping excursion to the nearby and thoroughly intriguing British outpost of Gibraltar, or the historic, mountaintop town of Ronda, a sightseers delight and once a favorite haunt of our own, Ernest Hemingway. It’s only a little further to Cordoba and Granada, two of Spain’s most classic ancient cities, each filled with marvels of astounding Moorish architecture that has stood here for more than 1,000 years.
Experience Marbella’s vibrant nightlife, with its endless selection of restaurants, bars and nightclubs and for those who may prefer a game of chance, Marbella’s bustling casino offers the opportunity to dance with Lady Luck until the wee small hours of the morning. But there is more golf to be played and sights to be seen, or for a change of pace, just a lazy day, relaxing on the beach under the Mediterranean sun.
Make Marbella the center for your entire Andalucia stay and you will not be disappointed. But to experience another flavor of this thoroughly enchanting region, spend a few days in a totally different, historic city environment, where an excellent choice for both golf and non-golfing pursuits is the ancient city of Jerez de la Frontera.
Located less than a two hour drive from Marbella, Jerez de la Frontera is a wonderful slice of pure Spanish delight that simply must not be missed — this is flirtatious charmer of a city that manages to capture the heart of every visitor. Only adding to this small city’s appeal is the excellent Jack Nicklaus layout at Montecastillo, sitting just a few miles beyond the city walls and ranked among Spain’s top 10 courses. No matter whether you are staying at the five-star Montecastillo Resort Hotel or in the intriguing town of Jerez, the wealth of discoveries to be made here, warrants an extra night or two, just to take in everything that demands to be seen, which can be summed up in four words – sherry, horses, golf and flamenco.
Blame the English for corrupting the word Jerez into sherry, the fortified Spanish wine that appealed so much to 17th century British palates and Jerez remains the world capital of sherry production. All of the major producers are headquartered here, together with their cellars or bodegas, most of which are open to the public for tours and tasting sessions. Take in at least a couple of bodegas and you will be amazed to learn there is much more to sherry than you may have thought and variations from the very dry, typically consumed with another local delicacy, tapas, to the very sweet. It isn’t difficult to turn most visitors into budding sherry aficionados. Jerez is also the center of Spain’s thriving brandy production and the brandy bodegas should not be missed either, with a new appreciation for the excellence Spain has achieved with this liqueur, guaranteed. But sherry and brandy are only the beginning.
Jerez is the heart of Spanish horse country and the Andalucian horse is one of the oldest horse breeds known, dating back well over 2,000 years. Prized the world over for their courage and strength, they were once used as warhorses, but today it’s the elegance and beauty of these magnificent animals that appeals to horse lovers and even those who are not a part of the horsey set. In the center of Jerez is the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre — the Royal School of Equestrian Art, something not to be missed.
Housed in and around an impressive 19th century palace, the school is a celebration of the Andalucian horse and equestrian art with museums of carriages, harness and the spectacular highlight of the visit, a show entitled, “How The Andalucian Horse Dances”. This is a thoroughly amazing performance, showing off the skills of the riders and their magnificent animals. It’s a world-renowned event that draws huge audiences to every Thursday’s colorful performance. But if a Thursday doesn’t fit in with your schedule, the practice sessions on most other weekdays, are open to the public and equally as worthwhile.
Despite its name, you don’t have to be a horse lover to enjoy one of Spain’s liveliest fiesta’s that takes place in Jerez each May. Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair) is a weeklong celebration of Spanish life, when the entire town dresses up in their best finery and parades around town, usually on horses, each trying to out strut the others. It’s a week of music, dance, bullfights, horses, riding displays and more than a fair share of drinking and just enjoying life, Spanish style. Extremely popular with locals and visitors alike, there’s still be time to book yourself in for next years fair, taking place during the second week of May.
There is probably nothing that says Spain as much as flamenco, that combination of guitar music, soulful singing, castanets and the stomping feet of dramatic Spanish dancers and flamenco’s heart and soul is right here in its birthplace, Jerez de la Frontera. There’s no better place to experience genuine flamenco than in the flamenco clubs and taverns that abound in the old town. By all means attend one of the professional shows, offered by many of the better restaurants, but a little bar hopping between the smaller establishments can reveal some fascinatingly spontaneous performances from locals that will make you feel privy to witnessing something quite special. And if you still have time before that next round of golf, there is more to see and do around town.
Be sure to visit the 18th century, Palacio de Penmartin, home to the Andalucian Flamenco Center for an introduction to this music and dance tradition. Jerez Cathedral makes for another worthwhile visit as is the Moorish, 11th century Alcazar, now a catholic church but encompassing a well-preserved mosque. Not too far from town is the beginning of the Pueblos Blancos, a succession of fortified, hilltop towns and villages dating from the medieval days of the Moorish occupation. Arcos de la Frontera is one of the most intriguing with an amazing old quarter of narrow winding streets leading to a 15th century castle and Arcos is only a 20 minute drive from Jerez.
There is so much to see and do and still the golf calls out to be played. Be sure to play Montecastillo, but don’t overlook the 36 holes of Seve Ballesteros design at Nova Sancti Petri, nor Jose Maria Olazabal’s much lauded layout at Costa Ballena. For for a thoroughly fun day, try the appropriately named, Sherry Golf, conveniently located only a few minutes from the town center.
Andalucia really does have something for everyone and with so much to see and do, you just might need to extend your stay in this sunny corner of enchanting Spain — At the bargain prices being offered, why not?
For more ideas and suggestions on including Jerez de la Frontera and its nearby courses into your Spanish golf trip, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling 1 800-833-1389 or click here.
©2014 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.