Why go so far for a round of golf?
Spain is the most popular golfing destination in continental Europe, with 313 courses to choose from and a climate that can be relied upon year-round.
The coastal regions – the Costa Brava, the Costa del Sol, and, increasingly, the Costa de la Luz – are the most appealing for holiday golfers. But the major cities have their greens and fairways, too: next time you are visiting Barcelona, think about playing a round at El Prat (00 34 937 281000; rcgep.com), where the course was designed by Greg Norman.
Or if you fancy something more rural, book a tee-time at the Salamanca course (00 34 923 329100; salamancagolf.com), 15km outside the city in the dramatic surroundings of the Monte de Zarapicos.
Where should I tee off first?
Malaga is a good gateway for many of the golf courses of Andalucia. The city is easy to reach from the UK. British Airways (0844-493 0787, ba.com) flies to Malaga from Heathrow and Gatwick; and easyJet (0871-750 0100, easyjet.com) flies from Bristol, East Midlands, Glasgow, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle.
Jet2 (0871-226 1737; jet2.com) flies from Blackpool, Leeds-Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle. Monarch (08700 405040, flymonarch.com) flies from Birmingham, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester. Ryanair (0871-246 0000, ryanair.com flies from Birmingham, Bournemouth, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Stansted.
There are more than 50 courses to choose from along the Costa del Sol, the oldest of which – and the closest to the airport – is the Parador de Malaga course, a couple of miles south of the city on the motorway towards Algeciras. This 18-hole course comes with a Parador hotel attached (00 34 952 381255; parador.es), which is currently offering bed and breakfast accommodation and green fee from €91. An additional night at the hotel, without golf, is €63, and the green fee on its own is normally €56.
Elsewhere in the region, Seville boasts an 18-hole course, the Real Club de Golf (00 34 954 124301; sevillagolf.com), designed by Spanish champion golfer, José Maria Olazábal. Located just outside the city on the highway towards Utrera, the complex also contains tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool. Green fees start at €105, with an extra €8.70 for admission to the club facilities.
The up-and-coming resorts of the western Costa de la Luz are accessible from Seville and Jerez airports, both served by Ryanair, although flights to Faro on the Portuguese Algarve are often cheaper and more frequent.
Faro is 50 miles from the Spanish border; a regular bus service, operated by Huelva Transfers (00 34 959 393873) connects the airport to the main resorts across the border. This 50-mile stretch of coast, from the frontier to the boundary of the Coto de Doñana National Park, has a number of golfing destinations to offer, including two attractive courses set among orange groves and marshland at El Rompido (00 34 959 024242; golf elrompido.es), and a 27-hole course at Islantilla. Here, the Islantilla Resort Hotel (00 34 959 204500; islantillagolfresort.com), located in the centre of the course, opposite the clubhouse, offers the best accommodation for golfers. Double rooms are available from €98.50, singles from €71.70; breakfast is an extra €11.
Who can organise it for me?
A number of companies specialise in arranging golfing holidays, the largest of which is Golf breaks.com (0800 279 7988). It offers ready-packaged trips in a range of mainland coastal destinations as well as the Canary Islands of Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria. Holidays can also be tailor-made: arrangements can be made for every aspect of the trip, although flights must be booked separately. Prices vary according to requirements, but among the company's current offers is a three-night break at La Cala, on the Costa del Sol for £225, including bed and breakfast accommodation and three rounds of golf, available from May to August.
Greatgolfholidays.com (01462 437611) can put together bespoke breaks based around a dozen of the most popular courses on the Costa del Sol; requirements must be emailed to the company who will then propose a suitable itinerary.
Best Spanish courses?
Every golfer has his favourite, but several of the Spanish courses regularly appear in lists of the best courses in Europe.
Among these is Valderrama (00 34 956 791200; valderrama.com), located in Sotogrande, just north of Gibraltar, which was recently voted Top European Course by Golf Monthly magazine. Designed in 1974 by Robert Trent Jones Senior, one of the leading course architects of his day, it has hosted many international tournaments, and membership is highly prized as well as highly priced. Non-members are allowed to play, but rounds must be booked, and the €300 green fee paid for, in advance.
Other championship courses include PGA Catalunya (00 34 972 472577; pgacatalunya.com), south of Girona. Although this is a challenging course even for experienced golfers, it has been designed with five tees at each hole, enabling players of any standard to test their skills. Out of season, the green fee for 18 holes is €72, rising to €100 in the high season.
So, it's going to be pricey...
A golfing holiday doesn't need to break the bank. A round at the Club de Campo Villa de Madrid (00 34 91 550 2010; clubvilla demadrid.com), an excellent course on the outskirts of Madrid, costs €56; the club also offers swimming, riding and tennis facilities.
And wherever you decide to play there are ways of keeping costs down. If you are taking your own clubs with you on holiday, this might have a bearing on the airline you choose to use. Any of the low-cost airlines will charge extra to carry sporting equipment, in addition to normal check-in baggage charges. Even if you pay in advance, there will be a charge of £17.50 per bag per flight with Monarch, €16.50 with easyJet, and £30 with Ryanair. Airport rates are higher.
In contrast, British Airways will carry golf bags at no extra charge, although there are certain weight and size restrictions. Jet2 is also offering free transportation of golf bags from May to October, subject to restrictions.
If the main purpose of your trip is to play golf, it is usually worth choosing accommodation linked to the course since, in a number of resorts, green fees are offered at a reduced rate. At the Islantilla Resort Hotel , for example, green fees of €65 for 18 holes are reduced to €27 for hotel guests.
When the round of golf is finished?
Many golf resorts also provide facilities for other activities to fill the hours when you are not on the course – or to occupy other members of the party who may not be golf aficionados.
A popular example of this is La Manga Club near Cartagena on the Costa Calida (00 34 968 175577; lamangaclub.com), which began life as a golf course in a residential development. Now it is a major resort covering an area the size of Monaco, with a five-star hotel, self-catering apartments, restaurants and bars, a spa, tennis facilities and three championship golf courses.
Various special deals currently on offer are attractive for golfers: a four-night break with five-star bed and breakfast accommodation and unlimited golf is available from €630; and a four-night stay, including one free night, is available from €150 per night. This includes bed and breakfast accommodation, club hire and use of the fitness centre; and green fees which can be exchanged for spa treatments or dinner by non-golfing partners.
In the swing: where to learn
If you have always meant to take golf lessons and never quite got round to it, combining some lessons with a trip to Spain could be the answer.
The Moncur Golf Academy (00 34 952 813999; moncur golfacademy.com) is based at the Santa Clara Golf Club in Marbella, and offers group courses of two days, costing €180, or five days, costing €380, as well as individual instruction and playing lessons. Accommodation is also available.
In Alicante, the ZadorSpain Spanish language school, at 14 Avenida de la Constitución (00 34 965 142371; zadorspain.com), runs courses that will allow you to combine learning Spanish and playing golf – or, if you are a beginner, learning golf. Prices vary according to whether you take group or individual lessons, but a five-day group Spanish course and five golf lessons cost €440; flights, accommodation and €60 registration fee are extra.