When the Iberia Airbus pops you down on this island in mid Atlantic, and a warm tropical evening envelopes you, it’s difficult to believe you are on the same latitude as the Sahara desert some 300 miles to the east.
The climate in this island, for a golfing break, has to be one of the best in the world. Clear skies and sunshine guaranteed with the breeze off the ocean keeping the temperatures blissful rather than hurtful!
Many will know all about the established courses here – indeed this year José Maria Olazábal returned to the scene of his 1997 Tour triumph at the “linksy” Maspalomas to help the club celebrate its 40th anniversary – but three new arrivals on the golfing landscape rate serious consideration for those looking to fill the holiday diary.
Close to town, indeed almost St Andrews-like in its proximity, the Lopesan group has unfurled their new Ron Kirby-designed Meloneras course. If there was ever a course built to fulfil the spec of a really good golfing “holiday test” this could be it.
The front nine swoops and plunges around inland (sadly sandwiched between two main roads, but not too invasively) and has water coming into play on four holes. The back nine will be what this new venture will become famous for. It might as well be heard here first: this is a poor man’s Pebble Beach. From the 12th through to the 15th, the holes run along the cliff tops with fabulous views of the Atlantic, the beaches and the yacht basin.
It’s all a bit off-putting, so stay focused if you want to score well. Our favourite was the 12th as there was absolutely no background to line up. The flagstick was the best bet, so when you tee it up, do the same and return the same 2 that our opposition made! The design that Kirby has crafted here might not win Meloneras a place in any world ranking, but it sure will bring many players back to take on his challenge again, especially safe in the knowledge that the restaurant food and pro shop are excellent.
Salobre’s South course opened in 2004 and has been well documented, but it now has a twin sister just to the north. Albeit, not an identical twin! We were lucky enough to be one of the first to test out its nuances and foibles. We use these words with care, as there are some pretty exacting holes among the 18. Starting with the first no less.
A very tight landing area greets you on the tee with rocks all down the left and a steep valley into the abyss to the right. Be accurate and take a 4- or 5-iron. Strangely, the second shot is much more appealing, but if you’re short with the tee shot it will need a longish iron or even a fairway wood to a green above your eye level.
Most of the holes require a real ability to hit the spot – both off the tee and for approach shots. Indeed, many players will not take a driver out of the bag until the last few holes. That said, it is hugely rewarding to play strategically and get your just rewards. In fact, if you own one of those “fab” Bushnell spy guns for distance info, take it with you! It will be your 15th club.
To hit your second on the 3rd hole accurately – so as to land on a green as deep as a double-bed sheet – will test your nerve and your purity of strike. We started to loosen up a bit on the back nine when several holes allowed us to bring out the big gun.
One such hole is the 13th. It’s a freaky example of short being long; only 248 yards, but a par 4. It rises above you across a barranca like a Sierra Nevadan ski slope. Our local friend playing off 4 drove the green. The last five holes are all tough tests of a game that might be battered by the time you reach the 14th tee.
Rest assured you should keep your cool and wait for these holes as they are as good a challenge as you will find anywhere in Spain. The closing hole in particular is a superb par 5 – situated in a quarry-like valley with the Salobre Sheraton Hotel towering over it. It will reward a long drive, so long as it is placed correctly down the right side of the fairway, leaving you with a medium iron to a narrow green.
Anything less will need a lay-up and a pitch shot, which was our route in and resulted in a nice closing birdie. All in all, this is a fun track that will require patience and a plentiful supply of balls.