Our verdict on the best Spain has to offer, from family holidays to winter breaks and seaside escapes
How do you sum up the myriad options of such a large, diverse country so steeped in golf? You decide eight categories and award prizes accordingly.
Whether you're in need of a perfect winter break, want to plan a last minute holiday or start getting ideas for next year's family holiday - these locations won't disappoint. From all-inclusive to the best of golf & gastronomy, there's something for everyone!
Winter Breaks: Gran Canaria
This is our favourite of the Canaries or Balearics for a golf break. Majorca and Tenerife have their merits but Gran Canaria quite comfortably tops them in our view. Enjoy 20 ̊C and sunshine every month of the year plus a wide choice of hotels (and budgets) given it is such a popular general tourist destination. The golf is excellent too, led by two Arizona-style courses at Salobre (see later). Near neighbour Anfi Tauro (pictured) offers a similarly jaw-dropping landscape while the island’s Royal club is a classy parkland on the edge of a volcano.
El Cortijo is an exciting course that’s hosted the Tour while there are clifftop views from Meloneras and a touch of easy-to-enjoy, easy-walking enjoyment at Maspalomas, by Turnberry’s creator Mackenzie Ross.
Top 100 Classics: Sotogrande
Lots of good options in Spain for this accolade but to be honest, only ever going to be one winner. Valderrama is a good starting point, simply one of the must-plays in world golf. And the good news is you can actually play it. It’s exclusive, hardly inexpensive, but they will welcome you warmly. Save up, and just do it.
Next door is Real Sotogrande, the original course in the area and which has just been renovated to high standard. La Reserva de Sotogrande is a undulating rollercoaster with superb views while San Roque’s duo are guaranteed to challenge even the strongest players. Finca Cortesin is just 15 minutes away, a modern classic set among the hills. Stay at Almenara to make things very easy.
Family Holiday: La Manga Club
The most impressive aspect of La Manga? That it’s managed to stay the most comprehensive resort out there, despite this kind of development being increasingly popular these days. It was the original ‘super resort’ and it remains one of the very best in Europe, with only the best in Belek and Terre Blanche in France offering as much to the travelling golfer.
That was borne out with its position in the top 10 of Golf World’s inaugural Top 100 Resorts in Continental Europe. La Manga can cater for any kind of holiday; groups that want 36 a day (given it has 54 holes on site); couples who want to golf, dine and spa (given it has a five-star hotel, new spa and numerous restaurants on site) or families who want to tire themselves out every single day (given it has, in addition to the golf, tennis, football, horse riding, pools and cricket [and much more] on site).
Golf & Gastronomy: PGA Catalunya
This is a resort that could have won a couple of other awards in this article, it’s that good. Definitely the family one, given the sparkling new Camiral hotel has just opened (and is instantly world class). The villas to hire are also chic and ideal families or groups. Plus, given Barcelona is just 45 minutes away, a big city break is entirely possible while staying here. It has Golf World’s top-ranked course in Spain too, plus one in the Next 100 that is pushing for the main list.
Yet despite these attractions, the USP of PGA Catalunya is the region’s expertise in food. It has an abundance of Michelin stars, and when that is the case you also know there are literally hundreds of aspiring restaurants just below Michelin standard that are basically just as good. Oh, and you can also head a little further north to the Peralada Resort for a wine spa too... Yes, that really is a thing.
Seaside Experience: El Saler
As regular Golf Escapes readers will know, we don’t think links really exist on continental Europe. Certainly not like the links that sit on our coastlines. El Saler is the closest you’ll find in Spain (even if a course is called ‘Links’, trust us, it’s not). It might not even be by the coast! El Saler is, albeit it is not a fescue-dominated hard-pan experience.
It is sandy, lined with dunes and blustery... and notably well designed, by the doyen of Spanish architecture, Javier Arana. There is a hotel on site while Las Colinas provides a second top course fairly nearby.
All-inclusive ease: Salobre Resort
The best resort on well-endowed Gran Canaria, Salobre is the kind of place you struggle to extricate yourself from after a week... and not just because you have hammered the buffet every night (and at breakfast).
Everything just works nicely here; the hotel is the right size and with the right amenities, the golf is right on the doorstep, there’s lots to do away from the course and, as intimated earlier, the weather is superb. Oh yes, and that buffet... it is immense; if you can limit yourself to three courses, you are an absolute hero.
Big city entertainment: Madrid
OK, hardly an inspired choice to select the capital, but what may well surprise you is how much high-calibre golf there is in Madrid. So as well as the shops, football, restaurants, sights and bars, you also have three courses within our Continental European Top 100 to choose from.
The top-ranked course here is Santander and as well as Puerto de Hierro (Arriba) and Villa de Madrid there is terrific depth just outside the list in the likes of the La Moraleja complex. You could play here for a week and play nothing but good courses.
Off the beaten Track: Bilbao
We love this trip idea; drive to Portsmouth and take the ferry to Bilbao. It’s not a short sailing, but just like when you go to Belgium with P&O or to France on the EuroTunnel, you roll off the other side with your clubs in your car, and you’re away. And you’ve disembarked somewhere none of your mates (or even many golf writers) have ever been to.
The locals will welcome you warmly because you’re the first golf tourists they’ve seen since 2003 when that load of Scandinavians arrived, thinking Valderrama was just round the corner. And the courses are top-class; Neguri (pictured above) is the key attraction but there’s also the chance to play at Pedrena, home in every sense to Seve. Yep, thought you’d like that...
The Climate: Mainland Spain has a distinct difference between the north and south – in Santander in the north, expect the sun for six hours from April to the middle of September. The further south, the warmer and drier, culminating in Almeria’s desert climate. The Canaries get year- round sunshine.
When to go: Canaries are great in winter but not uncomfortably hot in summer, when the courses are quieter. Spring is ideal for Sotogrande; stick to largely the summer months for Bilbao.
Getting There: As most courses are located in or near large tourist areas, Spain’s courses are very accessible.
Time: GMT +1