TG Travel Awards 2014: Continental Europe's Best Value Destination - Murcia, Spain
This was a major upset; underdogs Murcia came out on top against all the odds, pipping strongly-fancied Belek (Turkey) by the narrowest of margins with 2013's winners the Algarve in third. Murcia lacks the glitz and glamour of the Costa del Sol, but this corner of Iberia promises an equally special golfing holiday – and for considerably less money. You really do get great value-for-money in this part of the golfing world. Indeed Murcia is now giving the Costa del Sol, which finished fifth in the TG Travel Awards 2014, a good run for its money as a major golfing destination and it’s fair to say it has established itself as Spain’s fastest-growing destination.
Naturally the legendary La Manga Resort remains the main attraction but the region now features a wide variety of 18-hole courses, including several created by Jack Nicklaus and the late Dave Thomas – such as Hacienda del Alamo and Roda.
Off-course attractions include great beaches, Mar Menor lagoon and the historic ancient cities of Murcia and Cartagena – all within striking distance of San Javier airport, which is located in the heart of the region.
Murcia - Spain's unofficial capital of golf
Murcia, in the south-eastern corner of the country, is Spain’s unofficial capital of golf resorts. They are scattered throughout this hot and sunny region offering a wide range of facilities and obviating the need to go anywhere else. The list is as long as a thumping drive – Serena Golf Resort, Roda Golf and Beach Resort, Peraleja Golf Resort, the InterContinental Mar Menor Golf Resort and Spa, La Torre Golf Resort and so on.
Of course, the grand-daddy of them all opened here many decades ago. Created by a visionary American, magnificent La Manga is more a small town than a holiday resort and offers everything a sports fanatic could possibly want. It boasts three fabulous golf courses, two dozen tennis courts, squash courts, countless swimming pools, a spa and fitness centre, eight football pitches, Spain’s finest cricket wicket, rugby and hockey pitches, bowling greens and more besides.
But most go for the golf and there are three outstanding championship challenges. The longest and most renowned is the South. Remodelled by Arnold Palmer 20 years ago and completely refurbished in 2004, it has hosted numerous Spanish Opens and the European Tour Qualifying School. The North is significantly shorter but demands more in the way of precision. It also contains a barrage of barranca (natural storm gullies) that present real problems. The large greens are tricky and several are tiered.
The West has the greatest elevation and consequently the best views. Despite the height, the course is still eminently walkable. Set amid pine woodland, it’s tight at times and some regarded it as the toughest. Serena Golf Resort is the nearest to La Manga and lies on the shore of the Mar Menor. Designed by Manuel Pinero, it’s a flat course that’s easy to walk but tricky to play. If it’s length you’re after then Hacienda del Álamo at 7,353 yards off the tips is for you. It’s yet another impressive resort with a Dave Thomas-designed course at the heart of it all.
Sensol Golf offers a game of two halves with a fairly gentle front nine followed by an altogether stiffer examination on the back. Undulating and set amid unspoilt scenery, it’s certainly worth a visit. Murcia enjoys a hot, semi-arid climate with mild winters and warm to hot summers. Temperatures range from 16°C in January to 33°C in August. The record stands at an egg-fryingly high 46.1°C recorded on July 4, 1994. Off-course attractions include the largest, open-air, mud therapy area in Europe – located at the top of the Mar Menor in Las Charcas de las Salinas. And you should also visit Murcia city itself with its rich legacy of art and contrasting cultures.
Murcia is a popular destination with a number of airlines including easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, BA and Iberia, who between them cover most UK airports, flying there.