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5 Star European Golf A luxury experience awaits

Golfing in Europe presents a delightful dilemma. What country and where to play? Many courses are linked to luxury resorts, where you’re guaranteed the ultimate golf and lifestyle vacation with top-notch service, pampering spa treatments, gourmet dining and world class golf. Here are five of Europe’s best 5-star golf resorts.


Ever since the 1950s, when the first charter flights began to arrive in Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands has continued to attract millions of visitors every year in search of sand, sea and sunshine. The good news for golfers is that the island is well supplied with 24 quality courses, and several are within chipping distance of the capital, Palma. The best address is the Castillo Hotel Son Vida — an oasis of luxury nestled in the heart of the exclusive villa district of Son Vida, about a 20-minute drive from the airport.

Situated high above the Bay of Palma, this gorgeous 13th- century castle hotel exudes a rich Spanish grandeur with its historical architecture, exquisite antiques and collection of valuable paintings. Since opening in 1961, the hotel has attracted a long list of famous guests including the Spanish Royal Family and film stars like Brigitte Bardot and Steve Mc- Queen. Surrounded by fragrant lush gardens, the view from the hotel’s extensive terrace reaches far over Palma. Distant houses spill down verdant hillsides towards a bustling harbor presided over by the imposing 14th-century Gothic cathedral glistening in the sunshine.

Only a few minutes drive from the hotel is Son Muntaner golf course, designed by Kurt Rossknecht in 2000. Son Muntaner meanders lazily through an undulating Mediterranean landscape and features well-conditioned fairways and greens, with numerous water hazards and elevated tees. Surrounded by magnificent pines and silvery green olive trees that dot the fairways, the course boasts one special tree in particular. On the fairway of the par-five 15th is the fantastically gnarled and twisted thousand-year-old olive tree known as Sa Capitana, one of the oldest on the island.

Son Muntaner is one of four golf courses linked to the Cas- tillo Hotel Son Vida, which is part of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Mallorca. Designed by F.W. Hawtree in 1964, Son Vida is Mallorca’s most time-honored course, and the original home of golf in the Balearics. Add the hilly and challenging layout of Son Quint with marvelous views over the Bay of Palma from several of its tees and greens, and the Executive nine-hole course, and the result is 63 holes in total and one of the best golf complexes in Europe.


Portugal has always been one of Europe’s most popular golfing destinations, and although the southern Algarve may have the lion’s share of the courses, for the traveling golfer looking for something a little quieter and off-the- beaten-track, the Oeste region is an interesting option. Star billing must go to the Praia d’El Rey Golf & Beach Resort, less than one hour north of Lisbon, situated along a beauti- ful sandy beach in a rural landscape of rolling sand dunes and pine tree forests.

The centerpiece of the luxury resort is Cabell B.Robinson’s wild and wonderful Praia d’El Rey course-a marvelous combination of a parkland front nine and a links back nine that follows the coast with spectacular views over the Atlantic and the Berlenga Islands beyond. When he first viewed the site, Robinson said, “This is the kind of landscape we archi- tects try to create, but at Praia d’El Rey it’s all here, naturally. Now it’s my responsibility to protect it.”

After the tighter pine-lined fairways of the opening nine, the course opens up and heads towards the pummeling Atlantic, offering all the elements of a Scottish or Irish links, but with warmer weather. Bold deep bunkers, undulating greens, and natural sand areas contrast sharply with the lush green fair- ways. The signature stretch of holes is from 12 to 15, which run along the coast, and a mention must go to the 17th, a gigantic uphill par-five measuring 570 meters. The whole course offers variety, challenge and magnificent views. These features, along with the top-quality facilities, are the reason Praia d’El Rey was named Europe’s leading Golf and Leisure Resort 2010 by the World Travel Awards.

Away from the golf and resort there’s plenty of off-course attractions and activities, from numerous archaeological and historical sites to sparkling Atlantic beaches, enchanting coastal villages, excellent seafood and fine wines. Well worth a visit is the charming fortified town of Óbidos, with its pic- turesque cobblestone streets and whitewashed churches, all encircled by the walls of the 12th century castle.


Standing on the elevated tee of the 567-yard par-five first hole, eyes are drawn down a fairway that bucks and plunges like a raging river towards a large green protected on three sides by soaring dunes. This is the start to a classic round of golf at Doonbeg in County Clare, a links designed by course architect Greg Norman in 2002, but one that looks and plays like it’s been part of the landscape for a century. Holes play up, down, beside, around and seemingly into the towering dunes. Bunkers are dug by hand, some edged by tall layers of stacked sod, others by shaggy tufts of native grass.

Doonbeg’s caddies will often give the time-honored advice to “keep it on the fairway and out of the thick stuff.” Depend- ing on the ocean breezes, a caddie may suggest taking any- thing from a 4-iron to a sand wedge for Doonbeg’s signature hole: the spectacular 98-yard par-three 14th, arguably the best one-shotter in Irish golf. The par-four 18th is a fitting finale to a memorable course, with the ocean stretching the length of the 440-yard hole. Don’t bail out too far left or your second may prove extremely difficult, and the wonderful though deceptive putting surface is a real test for players of all abilities.

Beyond the green is Doonbeg’s magnificent granite Lodge, offering elegant accommodations with ocean, river and courtyard views from its one-to-four-bedroom suites,
individually furnished with antiques and each with its own private living space and kitchen area. The Links Cottages are even larger residences located alongside the course and offer a self-catering option for families and golfing groups. Ameni- ties at Doonbeg include 5-star dining, spa (with steam rooms, sauna and whirlpool), fitness area, Darby’s bar, golf shop and concierge service.


Normandy’s Pays d’Auge region is where some of France’s best cheeses, such as camembert, are made alongside highly-prized drinks such as the fiery apple brandy Calvados. This slice of France is also blessed with a selection of fine golf courses; and for the gourmet golfer an excellent base is the Hôtel du Golf Barrière, a luxurious golf hotel situated on the slopes of Mount Canisy, just five minutes from the coastal town of Deauville.

Many famous guests have enjoyed the old-world charms of the Hôtel du Golf Barrière since it opened its doors in 1929, including Errol Flynn, Harrison Ford and Yves St Laurent, who smile from their autographed photos inside the foyer. Just opposite is the cool Le Green Bar, where guests can sink into the red velvet armchairs and choose from a selection of thirty types of Calvados.

Only a long putt from the hotel is Golf Barrière de Deauville, rated among France’s top 20 prettiest layouts. The three loops of nine holes are in excellent condition throughout the year, with beautifully manicured fairways and greens. The original 18 holes (red and white tees), built by Tom Simpson in 1929, comprise a lovely parkland layout, with a nice mix of undulating fairways and varied holes with panoramic views over Deauville and Pays d’Auge country. The other nine holes (blue tees), designed in 1964 by Henry Cotton, have a more wooded character.

Another excellent 27 holes, also connected to the hotel, are located 15 km south of Deauville at Pont L’Évêque, famous for the Normandy cheese of the same name. Golf Barrière de Saint- Julien’s main 18-hole layout, called Le Vallon, is hilly in sections and winds through lush Normandy pastureland. The higher part of the course encourages some open-shouldered driving, and the lower section features several testing water hazards.

Look out for holes 9 and 18, two par-fours where you must play your second shots over water to reach heavily bunkered and undulating greens, with the marvelous chateau-style club- house as a backdrop. If you have time, stop by the restaurant for some fine French cuisine before taking on the nine-hole Le Bocage course.


Turnburry Golf resort
Turnberry, an icon of Scottish hospitality and the home of four Open championships, has been treasured for over a hundred years. The hotel has recently been reborn as part of Star- wood’s acclaimed Luxury Collection following a multi-million pound renovation. The five-star resort boasts fine Scottish cuisine, a wide range of outdoor activities, an award-winning spa, two championship golf courses called the Ailsa and the Kintyre, the nine hole Arran beginners course, and the acclaimed Colin Montgomerie Links Academy. Turnberry’s famous Ailsa course came to international prominence with the infamous ‘duel in the sun’ between Tom Watson (cham- pion) and Jack Nicklaus over four sweltering days during July 1977. Since then, Greg Norman (1986), Nick Price (1994) and most recently Stewart Cink (2009) have made up the quartet of golfers to lift the Claret Jug at Turnberry.

The 2009 Open championship was particularly memorable, with 59-year-old Tom Watson only a whisker away from arguably the greatest sporting achievement in history. When Watson walked up to the final hole at Turnberry needing par for victory, the world held its breath while it waited for a new hero. But, the ball slipped past the hole when Watson wavered over his 10-foot victory putt, and Stewart Cink took the cham- pion’s title after a four-hole playoff.

Polls regularly acknowledge the Ailsa as one of Britain’s top three courses, with regular rankings within the world’s top 20. The ninth (Bruce’s Castle) is a contender for Turnberry’s trade- mark hole. Adjacent to the famous lighthouse and the remains of Robert the Bruce’s castle (Scottish king from 1306 to 1329), this 452-yard par-four has no bunkers, yet is a daunting par- four, especially from the championship tee, which is perched on a rocky premonitory on the edge of the sea.

About the Authors

Andrew and Paul Marshall have been playing golf and writing for the last 25 years. Their book Golf Journeys can be purchased online by clicking here.


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