THE flight path on the approach to Palma airport passes directly overhead the magnificent golf course of Son Gual in Majorca.
The name, indeed, is picked out with white-painted stones and is clearly visible from the air.
And leaving the arrivals terminal, it only takes some 10 to 15 minutes to access the course, which is an extremely civilised journey time at the start of any golfing break.
Standing on the first tee, an expansive view takes in most of Es Pla – familiarly known as Windmill Valley – where large agricultural farms resulted in it once being known as the “Breadbasket of Majorca”.
Designed and supervised in its building by German course designer Thomas Himmel, the maturity of this new facility belies its three years’ existence.
The 156 hectares which compose the layout are intensely well thought out and the overwhelming impression is one of extraordinary calm and spaciousness in a luxury of landscaping which would be hard to match – not to mention the knowledge that a true challenge of one’s golfing ability awaits.
An undulating layout has been crafted out of an essentially flat piece of rich, fluvial land, and while there is nothing new in that, the secret lies in just exactly how the landscaping has been achieved.
Over 1000, imported, mature olive trees are dotted about, together with perfectly ordered lines of espaliered vines which create a pleasing symmetry, accentuating the overall impression that here, at Son Gual everyone involved really cares about the product.
Not only was the introduction of these trees and vines effective in the overall design, but the olives provide the source for locally-produced olive oil and the grapes – excellent wines. The course is presented in magnificent condition, standing out like a manicured oasis, bordered by the land beyond.
The front nine holes occupy the perimeters of the property and encompass the back nine. Lakes abound – providing not only homes to a variety of wild birds but natural hazards for play and an integral part of the irrigation system. These – together with 66 sculpted bunkers – and the challenge ahead is complete.
Adding to the underlying impression of space, manicured tees average some 900 square metres and make an essential contribution towards what should be the uppermost thought in mind when playing here. Whatever their standard of play, the eventual enjoyment of any golfer – ranging from competent to average – will be based on a study of course management.
Shot decision-making will win out over an attacking approach as the ample and testing greens are approached by cunningly attractive run-off areas, demanding confidence and competence in the short game.
While an ancient palace building stands on raised ground, dominating the course and typifying the elegance and calm aspect of all that is Son Gual, another, more recent architecturally pleasing edifice is also evident – the magnificent clubhouse.
Both Reception and restaurant areas open out onto a large inviting terrace, overlooking the first and 10th tees, the 9th and 18th greens beyond the remainder of the course to Palma in the distance.
It offers excellent gastronomy against an elegant backdrop for fine wining and dining. There is also the opportunity to sample the estate-produced wine and olive oil.
The golf club is private, family-owned and run and, believe me, it shows. Guests are warmly welcomed and from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave you will be find it hard to not be impressed with the evident attention to detail.
While Son Gual is the focus for this review, it must be mentioned that golfers will find the island a golfing paradise. Twenty four courses are within a hour’s drive of the airport – all offer an enviable quality of product, with charismatic names amongst the designers – Hawtree, Gancedo, Gleneagles, Olazabel, Trent Jones Jr. and Nicklaus – to name but a few.
Son Sant Joan airport is only eight kilometres from Palma which lies at the south west corner of the island on the Bay of Palma. It is well served by both international scheduled and charter airlines. A visit to the city should be a welcome eye-opener for those whose pre-conception may be only of neon-lit all night bars and all-day English breakfasts.
This is the historical, cultural and commercial centre of the island and it only takes a moment or two to visit a Tourist Board office to find details of those concerts, exhibitions and festivals taking place at any one time during the course of the year.
Historically, the city dates back to Roman times but despite these early origins, most of the city that we see today is relatively modern. There is, essentially, no beach area but the coastline here is dotted with rocky inlets and one such idyllic location is where you will find Sol Melia S.A. Hotels’ excellent Melia de Mar. The Hotel and Spa benefit from a recent, superb refurbishment and nestles alongside the Mediterranean, not far from the centre of Palma. It has a small, private beach from which to swim – or pool, if that is your preference.
The hotel dining room opens out onto a shady terrace – perfect for a ‘sun downer’ towards the latter part of the day.
The main harbour – the largest in Europe – is home to a staggering array of magnificent yachts and motor cruisers, which serve to remind one of the lasting cachet the Island enjoys, on a par with St Tropez and Costa Esmeralda, Sardinia.