It's a well-known fact that at the very top level of the game the difference between the winners and those that never quite make it over the finish line to lift the trophy is between the ears.
By Carly Frost
You only have to look at the world’s elite female professional golfers to realise that with an ever-increasing number hailing from the Far East nations known for their practice of meditation, focus and mental strength. So why is it that we amateur golfers focus so little on improving the mental element of our games?
A trip to the Costa Brava could hold the solution. This Mediterranean region not only boasts some of Spain’s best courses but is an area rich in off-course activity. From the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona to the Pyrenees-flanked French border you can marvel at a medieval castle, wine and dine like a queen, visit a vineyard, sample freshly caught fish by the sea or just relax and unwind in one of the many spa resorts.
Let’s start with the golf. Over 300 days of sunshine makes the Costa Brava a year-round destination and one of the courses you simply can’t miss here is Club Golf D’Aro Mas Nou. Situated some 300 metres above sea level in the Les Gavarres natural park, the setting is breathtaking.
Visiting ladies have the opportunity to book onto a yoga class and so I found myself in the unusual position of holding the down-dog pose on a secluded fairway on a beautiful mountain morning. A typical yoga for golf lesson begins with some gentle stretching, moving into some more difficult balance positions as you progress at your own pace before finishing by meditation in the sunshine to relax and clear the mind ahead of the day’s play. I found it to be a brilliant way to stretch and warm-up stiff golfing muscles pre-round.
When Club Golf D’Aro Mas Nou opened in 1992 it was hailed as the best European golf course design. It’s currently ranked highly in the top 100 golf courses in the world and it is easy to see why. The course has literally been carved through the dense mountain forest, and is a true masterpiece. Its elevated position comes with the price of affording sweeping views and treacherous shots. Do not expect to play anywhere near your handicap on your first visit here. A good score requires incredible accuracy off the tee. There are too many special holes to list the merits of each in great detail, however worth a mention are the spectacular views from holes 4 and 5 on the front nine where you’ll have to plot your way around dog-legs to avoid trees, bunkers and sending your ball soaring into no-man’s land off the edge of a perilous cliff! The 4th hole also has a giant rocky outcrop protruding imposingly out of the fairway bunker, acting as a warning marker not to miss to the right.
What I particularly love about this mountainous course is that it rewards the sensible player that doesn’t necessarily hit the longest ball but has great course management. Beware of electric fences around the edge of every hole, they keep the indigenous forest animals out but also prevent you from retrieving a wayward shot, so bring plenty of balls.
If you have never played a golf course at high altitude before then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Not only does the ball fly further in the thinner mountain air (I discovered at least a two-club difference) but the refreshing temperature stays considerably cooler than the coast all year round.
Club Golf d’Aro Mas Nou is not a course that will be enjoyed by beginners, but there are many alternatives nearby. A much gentler way to ease yourself into holiday golf mode is to start with a round at either Costa Brava or Torremirona golf course. The latter is a nice easy-walking resort course, kept in lovely condition with greens that are smooth but not too scary and rough that although punishing, doesn’t swallow your ball out of sight. It has an excellent golf academy and practice ground, comprehensive clubhouse and pro shop and a very nice hotel with spa, making it an all-encompassing base.
Costa Brava golf course, nestled at the foot of the Ardenya massif, is one of the more established courses in the region and boasts 27 holes. The red nine, used as the front nine for one course and the back nine for another. It’s a lot more technically demanding and tight than the other two nines. Trees are the main trouble here. In fact you’ll find many of the tall umbrella-shaped pines right in the middle of the fairway! It also boasts wonderful lush green fairways, the type that tee your ball up filling you with confidence to sweep fairway woods away, perfectly manicured fringe grass and fast, slopey greens that will test your green-reading skills.
If you want to stay somewhere extra special then the Park Hotel San Jorge certainly has the ‘wow’ factor. A spectacular coastal setting, its own private sandy beaches, a first-class spa with one of the best indoor jacuzzi pools I have ever used and fine dining.
For a more central base in the Costa Brava to venture to a variety of courses and sightsee all over the region, then the Alga hotel, situated near the pretty Port Po beach is ideal. It has its own lovely lush green garden where you can enjoy a stroll or take a swim in the outdoor pool. This family-friendly hotel also has a children’s playground, paddle tennis court, table tennis and pool table. Breakfast and dinner are both served to an extremely high quality but at prices that won’t leave you feeling short-changed. In fact, the same can be said for pretty much every restaurant on the Costa Brava. High quality set menus at affordable prices are commonplace and what’s even more refreshing is that wine is generally no more than 20% more expensive than if you bought it in the supermarket.
Not far from the French border is one of the Costa Brava’s hidden gems. The Hotel Peralada Wine Spa & Golf is my favourite resort in the region and well worth the slightly longer drive from Girona Airport. Everything about this 5-star venue oozes quality from the deluxe hotel, where even a standard room has an enormous comfortable bed, to the luxury spa. The resort is renowned for producing a very impressive range of its own wines and olive oils and you’ll see vines dotted all around the course. The relatively new hotel with its rustic modern style and decor is simply beautiful inside and the meals served in the L’Olivera restaurant are to a very high standard. You can book a wine tasting experience here, or for something a little different I’d recommend the olive oil tasting session. It’s surprising how different and delicious some olive oils taste when accompanied by various salts and breads, and of course a glass or two of wine to wash them down.
A lavish new beauty and wellness centre is nearing completion and among the treatments listed is wine therapy, where wine is used in a wide range of facial and body treatments. I’m told the polyphenols found in the grapes provide powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and much more.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Peralada is the course itself. From virtually every hole you have sweeping views of the picturesque countryside and dramatic snowcapped Pyrenees mountains in the distance. You can walk the course without difficulty and every standard of player will enjoy it. There are some pretty par-3s, several played over lakes, interesting tree-lined par 4s that dog-leg and require accurate tee shot placement, and long, sweeping par 5s, where it is possible that two good shots will reach the green, setting up a birdie chance. The greens are firm and fast but putts roll out perfectly and the fairway grass is lovely to hit from.
From great golf to gastronomy, sight-seeing to spa therapy the Costa Brava truly has everything a visiting female golfer could wish for, making it a must-visit destination for your holiday wish list.
How to Get There
There are regular flights from UK airports to the Costa Brava, the closest airport being Girona, but with the option of Barcelona.
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