We flew into Portugal when we were going for a week’s golfing holiday in Spain. We ended up at a giant of a spa hotel and found nice beaches and beautiful summer villages. But above all we found great golf courses, making Spain’s backside a very good low cost option!
«500 euros for airfare, a week of 4 star luxury and all-inclusive in the sun», it was stated in the advertisement. The destination was El Portil south of Huelva, one of the seaside towns in a large delta far from the traditional Spanish golfing destinations.
From Faro airport in Portugal it does not take very long before we are in Spain. The landscape here, 120 kilometers (75 miles) further east than Faro, is characterized by a delta where four rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean. On the north side there are pine forests, groves with oranges and other citrus fruits as well as fields with different vegetables. South of the main road dominates one extensive wetland area after another. While at beyond the wetland, there are miles after miles of wide sandy beach.
We drive past Isla Canela, Isla Cristina and the famous golfing destinations Islantilla and El Rompido.
In El Portil we arrive at the spa hotel Playa Cartaya, which turns out to be a giant on five floors, with a few restaurants, a gym and three swimming pools.
Golf hotel nearest neighbor
Upon check in at Playa Cartaya, we discovered that the Nuevo Portil golf hotel is the closest neighbor, surrounded by the first golf course we were going to play on our holiday.
It turned out to be a typical land park course, which was in top condition when we played it. The broad fairways are surrounded by pine trees, with fairly fast greens without overly difficult approach shots. There is some water in play, and it has a quite varied layout. Which is also suitable for players with higher handicaps.
A couple of the holes have villas located along them. But not as close as we have seen on some other Spanish courses. This is a course we would like to play but more than one round!
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On the first tee we met a bunch of Scandinavians. Many of them come here every year for at least one week. A Swedish couple were on a long term stay for a fifth consecutive year, in a rented house with a swimming pool. While most of the rest occupied the 69 rooms at the 4-star golf hotel. Which has an A la carte restaurant and a swimming pool in the garden. The high season is February-April and October-November, mostly with Scandinavians and British guests
“A perfect destination! The prices here have been at half of what we pay at home, but this year they have gone up a bit,” said one of the Swedes on long-term stays.
Still, it is reasonable to be on a golfing holiday here. Stay in a double room, breakfast, green fee and trolley costs from 80 euros per person.
The golf course is located on the outskirts of Il Portil, a sleepy village without all the hassle that comes with the classic sun seeking tourists. An author we met, alternating between proofreading at the pool and long daily walks in the village, told us he eventually found something that could resemble a mall with some small shops. That were closed.
“They are only open on weekends this time of year, and really open only when Spanish summer comes,” he told us in May.
20 kilometres of sandy beach
In addition to the golf course and the coastal road, there is an almost 20 kilometres long sandy beach along the riverwalk. On the other side of the river begins a new sandy beach, which extends all the way to the border with Portugal. If you want to get from one beach to the other, you can take the ferry. But it starts it’s schedule in June.
About 15 kilometers away, at the tip of a peninsula in the delta, you’ll find a smaller town: Punta Umbria. It is a center for windsurfing and is more tourist-oriented. Here you will find restaurants and bars on the beach, pedestrian streets with typical tourist shops mixed with outdoor cafes and a long-range fishing port, which clearly tells you what they recommend you should put on the dinner table.
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Also, the prices are nice. Two small beers and two really big glasses of sangria came to almost 5 euros. And that we bought this year’s new summer shirt for just around 9 euros, became a nice bonus.
More courses to choose from on Spain’s backside
10 kilometres further west, and inside a national park, we find the great golf resort of El Rompido. With a 5-star spa and two golf courses with a completely different character.
The first course was built in 2003 on a flat area and is a two-faced course. The first nine is quite easy to play with open holes and wide fairways. Then it gets tighter between groves of trees and water, which makes greater demands on tee shots as well as on approaches to the greens. This is the course most guest players prefer.
The arrival to the 18th tee is like a signature for the whole of Huelva area: Over a long, long wooden bridge in the wetland (pictured at the top of the article).
The second course is from 2007 and is in a quite hilly terrain. Most of the time there are long holes with wide fairways in an open field where the wind is a factor. It is considered the hardest of the two. And maybe the most fun course for the hard-hitting.
Here too you will find mainly British and Scandinavian guests. After the turmoil in North Africa and Turkey, there has been a significantly greater pressure of visitors. Some days have been so busy that the tour operators have been forced to send guests to some of the other seven courses in the area.
For October and November this year, the courses are almost fully booked already. 90 percent of the players stay at the hotel, then play for 32 euros per round. The usual greenfee is 38 euros. Which is surprisingly cheap, taking into account that the quality is at least as high as on the courses along the Mediterranean coast. Seven nights at the hotel, with half board and five green fees, costs from 504 to 573 pounds sterling this fall.
Collaboration between the golf courses
There is some cooperation between the golf courses in Huelva and a discount on green fees if you stay in one of the golf hotels. The El Rompido course sends many guests to Monacilla just outside Huelva. It is located on the edge of a residential area, but is completely played in a nature reserve.
Jose Maria Olazabal has designed the Monacilla course and has put together some pretty spectacular holes. The signature already comes as hole 2, with tee-off over and between two large ponds. Sometimes it’s right into the wind, but with a a generous landing area for those that hit the ball far.
The next hole is the opposite, with a narrow fairway between the trees all the way to the green. A little later, the ponds will be in play again on a challenging par-5. The rest of the course is relatively open with wide fairways, and quite manageable for a bogey player. In addition to the holes around ponds, it’s the nice roll and speed on the greens that most people remember afterwards. Green fees are between 50 and 55 euros.