By Bart Bikker, Dutch ambassador
Off the East coast of Spain in the Mediterranean are the Balearic Islands – Mallorca is the biggest of this group of islands that are a magnet for tourists looking for sun, coast, scenery and gastronomic delights. And for people who like to be active on their holiday break, there are plenty of sports activities to be done here. Sailing, scuba diving, hiking, cycling, tennis (this is Rafael Nadal’s island), and… golf. This island counts more golf courses than Greece!
Mallorca also boasts a surprisingly big city, Palma, with a rich history and among many other things a beautiful cathedral and palace to show for it. Nightlife, terraces, squares and shopping streets – it’s all there, like a small Barcelona.
A perfect vantage point for a golf holiday is the Arabella Golf Mallorca, less than 10 minutes away from the city centre. It is located in Son Vida, nicknamed Mallorca’s Beverly Hills, which draws the picture. Enjoying this luxury millionaire's environment may be the best affordable staying in the resort, which has all the amenities you need within arm’s reach. Most of all, of course, golf.
A shuttle service operates between four 18 hole courses, including a pitch & put course, and two hotels. Sheraton Mallorca Arabella golf hotel is a family-friendly hotel with an excellent restaurant and plenty of sporting facilities. We stayed at the other hotel in this resort, Castillo Hotel Son Vida. This 13th-century castle hotel has quite a few stories to tell. Built on the site of a medieval castle, the present building was made to look like a castle, complete with a tower. Inside, it is a luxury hotel with all the modern conveniences that come with its status. But it is also a museum: expect old paintings, muskets, armour…. Even a priceless tin soldier collection. Hospitality is written with a capital H in this resort. And the view from the restaurant and terrace over the city is priceless.
By Sarah Forrest, English ambassador and Dirk Kesseböhmer, German ambassador
This ambassador trip was taking 6 golf nuts to the Palma area on the island of Mallorca. Ambassadors Sarah, a 12 handicap golfer from England and Dirk, a 24 handicap golfer from Germany share their thoughts on the trip.
Sarah: We started at Golf Son Gual, which is just a 10 minutes drive from the airport which was handy as we played the afternoon of our arrival day, with just enough time allowed for a quick lunch before play. You can actually see Son Gual as you fly into Palma airport.
Fun fact: ‘Son’ actually means ‘belongs to’ and is mostly followed by a family name, so the property where Son Gual was built on was (or is) owned by the family Gual.
Dirk: So, it is me to give you some stats – the course plays 5.983 meters (6.543 yards) from the yellow tees and 5.475 meters (6.000 yards) from blue and for both, it is a Par 72. Hospitality was absolutely great and I liked the view from the terrace – it gives you a good understanding of the course.
Sarah: Playing off the blues for a friendly game with the guys off the same tees, it was slightly long for female golfers, but I enjoyed the challenge.
I loved the big irregular shaped bunkers. The approach shot on hole 4 had ~75% water around it, so not quite an island green but a thought-provoking one nonetheless. I liked seeing the vines growing on the side of the fairway on a few of the opening holes, a nice reminder you're in a Southern European country. Plenty of water in play requiring some strategic play. Hole 12 had a fairly narrow fairway to navigate between two bodies of water with the green being protected by water left and a bunker right.
Dirk: Water – no less than 12 holes with water in play and it was a real challenge to stay out of it. The bunkers were huge and for me, it was hard to get out of the sand, as they were hard like concrete. I loved the stunning views of the old windmills in combination with the hills in the far distance. So taking some pictures is not an option – it’s a must!
I loved the last hole – a Par-5 with water all along. You have to think about your aiming points very well, otherwise….
Sarah: Overall appearance of the golf course was one of beauty, but beauty is skin deep as there were a few issues with maintenance of the course coming out of a harsh winter.
Dirk: Exactly – but nevertheless, this course is a very good start or end for a golf-trip to Mallorca, as it is so close to the airport.
Sarah: The second day took us to Golf Son Vida. Located close to Palma, it plays as a Par 71 measuring 4,709 meters (5,149 yards) from red and 5,601 meters (6,125 yards) from the yellow tees.
The reds were not the shortest tees available on the course but are fairly short when compared with the other courses we played. There was no driving range, instead a large substantial net next to the practice putting green. It was great to see the practice putting green was indicative of the greens on the course, they played quite fast!
Dirk: I was very impressed by the water hazard on the 18th – this is what I first noticed as we arrived at the renovated clubhouse, with its huge terrace overlooking the last green. Those greens, with the benefit of hindsight, were fast, some of the fastest I’ve played in fact. Be mindful of your putting speed otherwise you will find your ball rolling from the green to the other side. A short intro from the starter as we started playing this slightly hilly course it soon became evident that golf carts are a good idea at Son Vida!
Sarah: Some great views from tiered tee boxes on hole 8, a par-3 with bunkers left and right, and also on hole 16 - although arguably the view was better from the forward tees as you could see the small pond directly in front of the green. Looking at the course map, there seemed to be a lot of OOB, but in practice, this was less evident during play.
Dirk: The impression of playing on quite narrow tracks, which repeatedly allowed views of houses hidden in the old trees, making it necessary to hit a clean shot to the fairway. If you find the time – take a look into the old well on the left side of the 11th fairway.
The tee boxes can differ quite significantly (elevated altitudes, solitary trees in the landing area, blind tees on much lower greens) and so each track has to be re-evaluated with regard to the game strategy – in other words ... it's really fun!
Sarah: Totally agree. In fact, the back nine took on a different, more open appearance than the front nine and for that, it's a great place to play for diversity and thought-provoking challenges.
Dirk: On the 18th you can feel some golfing history - here Severiano Ballesteros won the play-off of a European Tour tournament in 1990.
Dirk: Day three took us to Golf Son Quint, again close to Palma. This is the youngest course on Mallorca and it plays as a Par 71 from 4.987 meters (5.450 yards) from red and 5.750 meters (6.288 yards) from yellow.
Sarah: I loved the driving range here, maybe because it allowed the balls to roll into the middle but also because the range provided far-reaching views through the valley and beyond.
Approaching the first you’re greeted with a stone wall which blends and adds a warm welcome, but sadly the course had been affected by the harsh winter too - that said it was all there, the bones, the layout and the design were evident. I am told some sunshine will rectify the overall appearance and transform it back into a lush green course once again.
There were some great things about Son Quint, I loved the ball washers, in fact, these were on most of the Son courses. I also loved the sand which was gritty and played very well as the ball popped out with ease. The slight optical illusion on the 7th was fun to see, with its appearance of a narrow exit from the tee, but actually, it wasn’t. However, the forward tees rarely had a level stance and talking to management, this is being addressed.
Dirk: The practice green is located near the clubhouse and is sufficiently large and also shows the speed of the greens on the course quite well. So, as the greens were as speedy as the days before – keep an eye on your putter!
Parts of the course can be viewed from the first tee and this speaks for the rather open design concept – single and smaller groups of trees and bushes are everywhere as a visual barrier and separate the mostly parallel fairways from each other. When the trees are better established, I think, that this course will be a beauty and as Sarah already mentioned, this course has it all there.
Sarah: The 12th was a tough challenge, even from the forward tees, with very little bailout left, the carry was all over water. Measuring 151 meters/165 yards accuracy was key - that and holding your nerve as you stand on the tee looking at the expanse of water laid out in front of you.
Dirk: Yep – tough, that’s the right word and I hit my shot directly into the hazard. So this wasn‘t my favourite hole and I decided, that I liked the 13 much more. This is a 452-meter long par-5, which feels a little narrower than it actually is. In addition, there are perceived differences in height on the fairway, so you should really consider where to place the next shot for sensible play.
Sarah and Dirk (both giggling): On the last holes we were caught by a long-lasting rain, we were soaked within minutes and honestly in the end we had so much fun playing carefree golf in the rain and riding the cart through those puddles the golf almost became secondary, although we did make some great shots - maybe because we had to hold onto the club more!! It was marvellous.
Sarah: Our final day bought us to Golf Son Muntaner, also near Palma. The longest course on our trip, as it plays as a Par 72 from 5.098 meters (5.575 yards) from red and 5.985 meters (6.545 yards) from yellow. A course I'd been looking forward to playing with its PGA/European Tour connections.
Dirk: Me too Sarah – and my first impression was how friendly everyone was. It really seems that everyone here loves their job, really great to see and therefore easy to relax as a visitor.
The driving-range and the huge practice-green are spot-on – especially the green was a good place to test the speed of the greens to come. After the starter called me on to the first tee, I really was a little nervous, as a slice would head directly in to the net that separated the fairway from the driving-range!
Sarah: Playing forward tees, that net wasn’t really in play for me - thank goodness!. Fairly open in places the water raised its ugly head again for any wayward shots on those few opening holes. By hole four the game started to settle down again but being met with another internal OOB this fairly narrow fairway threw up its own challenges as my ball set careering towards the woods on the left. A quick recovery shot to the green and an easy par ensued. There was some evidence of the poor condition, namely the 9th with the landing spot for the drive being bare.
Dirk : After a visit at the halfway house, where we enjoyed a delicious sandwich, we headed off to the final 9 holes of our tour.
Sarah: The 10th was a special and unique design in so far as a line of trees traversed left to right protecting the golfer who didn't notice the huge level change in the fairway with a drop-down to the bottom tier of the fairway and the approach shot to the green.
Dirk: To the right of tee 15 there is a more than 1000-year-old olive (Na Capitana). This remarkable tree is the trademark of the course with its design being carried through to the tee markers on every box – a real eye-catcher and definitely worth a photo.
Sarah: Yes, hole 15 was a good hole, with it being open off the tee, it did narrow toward the middle of this par-5 fairway. Big hitters might be tempted to take on the right-hand side over little hillocks, but in truth, it's probably one of those holes you’d need to play multiple times until you find your best way forward. I bet that old Olive tree could tell a lot of stories though Dirk! It was great to see it is protected and enhanced in its natural landscape.
Looking back from the fairway towards the 17th tees you got to appreciate the level of design with the tiered tee boxes made of stone and framing this area with one quick backward glance.
Dirk: This course was my favourite on our trip – fair to play and I would highly recommend that one to every golfer being close to Palma.
Sarah: It was a cold time to visit the island and course condition was evident - that said, every one of the courses had everything needed for good play, therefore I'd definitely go back again and hopefully enjoy it in the sunshine next time!
Dirk : That’s my thought as well – so hopefully we can manage to do the trip again one day.
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