By Andrew Marshall
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 its sunny climate, vibrant nightlife and some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the Mediterranean.
But there’s much more to the ‘Golden Isle’ than the beach scene. How about the historic capital of Palma, the picturesque mountain village of Deià, ancient castles, fantastic caves, the spectacular Serra de Tramuntana mountain range and a rich local gastronomy. In addition, the good news for golfers is that for its size, Mallorca is well supplied with over twenty quality courses and several are within chipping distance of Palma.
The first port of call for our spring golf break, teeing it up at Son Muntaner, Alcanada and Son Gual, 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, David Niven and Steve McQueen. 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 harbour presided over by the imposing 14th-century Gothic cathedral glistening in the sunshine.
It’s 8.30am the following morning outside the caddy master’s office at Son Muntaner; only a few minutes drive from the hotel. Golf bags and carts are neatly lined up in rows and there’s a sense of anticipation in the air. A group of Swedish golfers enjoy pre-round coffees on the clubhouse terrace and a couple of pale Englishmen fine-tune their short stick skills on the practice putting green below. We make up a fourball with a German couple, who like ourselves are looking forward to the warmth of the sun and one of their first rounds of the year.
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 – it’s a solid and enjoyable opener to Mallorcan golf. Surrounded by magnificent pines and silvery green olive trees that dot the fairways, the course boasts one special tree in particular. After playing our tee shots at the par-5 15th, we stop to admire 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 Castillo 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. The hilly and challenging layout of Son Quint with marvellous views over the Bay of Palma from several of its tees and greens, and the Executive 9-hole course, adds up to 63-holes of excellent golf, and one of the best golf complexes in Europe.
A Taste of Mallorca
After a shower, a siesta and a cold beer on the hotel terrace, we head into Palma to meet one of Mallorca’s star chefs, Marc Fosh, who has recently opened his third restaurant on the island, called Misa Braseria + Bar, featuring dishes such as Catalan fish soup with monkfish and mussels and slow-cooked beef in hay and mountain herbs.
“Business is going well so far and the restaurant is attracting a varied clientele. Each of my three restaurants has its own character and style; Misa is casual and accessible, Tasca de Blanquerna offers Mallorcan cuisine with a twist and Simply Fosh is upmarket gastronomic,” says Marc. “We are very lucky here, the island’s benign climate, fertile soil and sea provides a great variety of produce to work with.”
From the land comes pork, in particular from the indigenous black pig, bred in the wild in forest groves and scrubland. For centuries the pig has been the great benefactor of Mallorcan gastronomy and supplied embutits (sausage type products) such as the island’s calling card sobrassada. The island also has delicious wild lamb that lends itself to being cooked whole and smaller game such as rabbit and partridge that provide the ingredients for traditional stews and soups.
There’s excellent virgin olive oil, succulent oranges, honey, almonds, desserts such as ensaïmada made from coiled sweet pastry, liquors like palo or hierbas and fine wines that have been awarded a Designation of Origin. The sea provides fish species such as dolphin fish, grouper, red mullet and scorpion fish that’s highly appreciated for its consistent firm white flesh and unique taste. Amongst the island’s other seafood and shellfish are pink prawns, octopus, cuttlefish and the red lobster, the main ingredient in some memorable dishes such as seafood stew or caldera.
The following day we drive across the island to the north coast for our second round at Club de Golf Alcanada. Set to the stunning backdrop of the Bay of Alcudia, this top-notch Robert Trent Jr-designed track will take your breath away, offering fabulous sea views from 16 of its 18 holes. The 458-metre, par-5 1st is an excellent strategic opening hole of the risk-reward variety and a taste of things to come. Several holes feature ‘open-up-your-shoulders’ shots from elevated tee blocks that see you driving high above sea level into the watery horizon.
While waiting to tee off at the par-3 4th, we get chatting to course Marshall and fellow Yorkshireman Tim Meadows. “You are playing Son Gual during your trip aren’t you? It’s so close to the airport that you can almost board your plane home after walking off the final green,”he says.
Alcanada is a real test for higher handicap golfers and we are both well over par walking off the final green. If you can keep your ball in play, it’s the challenging greens with concealed breaks that are the course’s main defence. But it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, the quality of the layout and the scenery make certain of that. Be sure to savour the views of the Alcanada Lighthouse Island from holes 11 and 13 in particular.
Doing the tapas crawl
It’s around 9 o’clock on a Tuesday night in Palma’s Plaça d’en Coll, and we are joining the locals on the Ruta Martiana or tapas crawl - an excellent and authentic way to get into the island’s eating and drinking swing. Strictly speaking tapas are appetisers to be enjoyed with a glass of beer or wine followed by a main meal, but for many people they can be enjoyed as the main focus by going from bar to bar.
Tapas are basically a generic name for small portions of anything edible and can vary from simple to gourmet. It could be a bowl of olives or deep-fried squid, tortilla española (potato omelette on bread), pimientos de padrón (green peppers grilled with olive oil and salt), or more sophisticated offerings such as angulas (baby eels on toast).
Some of the bars on the Ruta Martiana include the Tapas Club, Bar Boya, La Gran Taberna and Bar Cerveceria, but just keep an eye out for where the action is. At Jamón & Jamón (specialising in aged hams), an open window reveals a scene of lively chatter and customers waiting to be served at a wooden bar bulging with a variety of colourful tapas. Along with the tapas, small glasses called zuritos (that look like a couple of inches have been cut off the bottom of a pint glass) are used to serve the beer, allowing Mallorcans to visit several bars during an evening.
A worthy place to end the night is Bodega Bellver, hidden away up a side street around the corner from the theatre. Featuring rickety old wooden tables and shelves lined with dusty bottles, this intimate place is the exact opposite of Palma’s gleaming 21st- century tapas bars and offers a slice of Mallorcan life unchanged since the 1920s.
On our final evening we visit Sa Torre, a typical Mallorcan country farmhouse located in a wine growing area near the village of Santa Eugenia some 20-minutes drive north-west of Palma. Built in 1560, Sa Torre has been in the same family for centuries and is now run as a restaurant and rural retreat by brothers Pedro and Victoriano López-Pinto Ivars.
Sa Torre’s old wine cellar with its impressive 8-metre high ceilings is now a restaurant where aged rustic barrels form an impressive backdrop. “We specialise in Mediterranean food mixed with a Mallorcan influence and use locally sourced produce as much as possible,” says Pedro as he serves our appetiser. “Once a week, Victoriano and myself visit Palma’s Olivar market and base the coming week’s menu on what’s available and affordable.”
Sa Torre’s 5-course menu consists of: cava and appetiser, starter, fish course, meat course and dessert all for around 40 euros. It’s excellent value and the setting and service adds immensely to the unique dining experience. Several local wines are also available including Sa Torre’s own labels made from grapes in the surrounding vineyards.
The Final Round
On the last morning before flying out, we tee it up at our final course. Since opening in 2007, Son Gual has quickly gained a reputation as not only a Mallorca ‘must play’ but also one of Europe’s top golf destinations. What was once 156 hectares of flat non-descript agricultural land on the outskirts of Palma, has been transformed by three-time German Amateur Champion and course designer Thomas Himmel, into a polished layout that winds its way through a landscape of gently rolling hills, 1000 mature olive trees, fields of wild flowers, pockets of vineyards and water features all overlooked by an early 20th- century Mallorcan manor house.
Adding to the club’s growing reputation is the fact that Son Gual has hosted a European Seniors Tour event, the 2009 Mallorca PGA Seniors Open, when former Ryder Cup captain Mark James defeated Irishman Eamonn Darcy in a play-off to claim the title.
The 66 bunkers of Augusta-like sand are a major feature of Son Gual and some are so extensive, they make the ones on most others look like children’s sand pits. ‘If’ or more likely ‘when’ you go in one it’s easy to clean up your tracks -there’s more rakes in the bunkers than at your local garden centre.
Many other things will stick in the memory long after playing this fantastically manicured course – the resident greenkeeper and falconer with his eagle, one of the finest collection of par-3s to be found anywhere and the par-5 18th - a serious contender for the best finishing hole in Spain.
Had time allowed, we would have liked to play at Son Antem Golf. The Marriott Son Antem Golf Resort Spa offers golfers the chance to stay at one of Europe’s top hotels and at the same time play golf on two of Mallorca’s leading golf courses, as well as enjoy the other sporting facilities on offer at this purpose built sporting complex. The East Course opened in 1994 and is a championship course measuring 6,274 metres. It is laid out on what used to be hunting ground, and for that reason you will come across a wide variety of animals and birds during your round. A well designed golf course, the wide and long fairways allow the high-handicap player to recover from bad tee shots. There is plenty of rough, and a good supply of spare balls is recommended! The West course measures a challenging 6,293 metres from the back tees. It is a relatively flat yet challenging course. Opened in 2001, The West Course is considered the most difficult of the two courses, due to its elevated greens, water hazards and tight fairways. Laid in the pristine Mallorca countryside, it offers a natural setting and spectacular view of the Randa mountain, with native wild life in abundance. The West Course is widely regarded as one of the finest golf courses on the Island of Mallorca
Mallorca is a fantastic golf destination and no matter which course you choose, a golfing break like no other is guaranteed.
WHERE TO PLAY:
Club De Golf Alcanada: www.golf-alcanada.com
Son Muntaner: www.sonmuntanergolf.com
Son Vida: www.sonvidagolf.com
Son Quint: www.sonquintgolf.com
Golf Son Gual: www.son-gual.com
Son Antem: www.sonantemgolf.com
WHERE TO STAY:
WHERE TO EAT: