Go Golfing: La Manga, Spain
According to Fowler’s English Usage, the word “excellent” cannot be qualified, (you cannot, for example, define something as “very excellent”). Seasoned travellers, however, know that “excellence” is relative; you can have four-star hotels which are excellent as such and, similarly, five-star hotels which are just that little more excellent.
Hence on this trip our modestly priced Monarch carrier was excellent for its class, the Airbus 321 having plenty of legroom and serving an excellent beef ale stew. The transfer to the hotel also excellent, the big Mercedes eating up the miles of the dual carriageway from Alicante.
As for the Principe Felipe Hotel at La Manga Club, the room overlooking the 18th green of the North Course, its marble bathroom and bed the size of the deck of an aircraft carrier with four types of pillow available, just has to qualify.
It is more years ago than I care to remember that in an otherwise deserted La Manga clubhouse, I spent a surreally enjoyable drunken evening with Tony Jacklin and a mad Mexican agronomist who seemingly had just taken every blade of grass off the La Manga greens.
So I was only too pleased to accept an invitation from the resort to see how it is today, and to hear from its new golf director, Eduardo Ruiz, of its plans for the future. Thus, after a good night’s sleep and a superb breakfast in the Amapola restaurant with its panoramic views over the South Course and the Mar Menor beyond, I was ready for a tour of the resort.
The hotel shuttle bus first took me up to the incredible La Manga Spa which, perched high on the side of one of the hills that surround and shelter the resort, provides panoramic views of Robert Putnam’s North and South championship courses, 28 tennis courts, eight football pitches, David Leadbetter Golf Academy, hotels and clubhouse, 2,000 villas around the complex and to the Mar Menor and Mediterranean beyond.
Within the 20,000 square-feet spa are a 25-metre swimming pool, saunas, steam room and treatment rooms together with a gymnasium and high performance sports centre. Run in association with the local university, this facility is particularly valued by visiting sports teams, ranging from Real Madrid and Barcelona to national squads, not just of football but also rugby, cricket and hockey.
It is not, however, exclusively for the use of famous teams, individuals can sign up for analysis and treatment. A tour of the several residential neighbourhoods and satellite shopping centres and the resort’s beach development of La Cala was as extensive as it was impressive, but finally it was time for a beer with Eduardo and to hear his plans for the resort.
His initial plans are to make the Robert Putnam courses less American and more European by introducing light but defining rough to shape the fairways and lift the status of the South Course even higher than its present 36th place in the Continental Europe Top 100. He also plans to give more space to Dave Thomas’s West Course by felling some of the trees which line the tight fairways.
This is proving problematical as the local environmental authorities have so far allowed a sum total of seven trees to be felled! The big news, however, is that two new courses are proposed for completion by 2020 with the objective of making La Manga Europe’s premier resort.
It was now time for an afternoon’s golf on the West Course, located high in the surrounding hills. En route we literally and fortuitously bumped into Gordon Strachan, one of the many of the great and good who live on the resort, and invited him to join us, which he promised to do so the following day.
The West proved to be as challenging as Eduardo had promised, with fairways gouged out of a thick pine forest. The course is undoubtedly attractive and certainly well designed, but accuracy and patience are at a premium.
For me, these days long drives are but a distant memory, but even I was running out of fairway at times with a five-wood off the tee and by the 16th we were feeling somewhat beaten up by this lovely but punishing course when the gathering storm became quite frightening thunder and lightning and the heavens opened, providing sound reasons for a hasty retreat.
Back at the hotel, giving a good impression of a drowned rat, consolation arrived in the guise of a stiff brandy, a long soak in a hot bath and an evening at La Bodega, one of the resort’s half a dozen diverse restaurants to be found in the satellite centres.