Scroll down the list of courses that bear the mark of the late Dave Thomas and you will find Son Parc, Menorca, a little gem on the island’s pine-clad north coast. Thomas lent his considerable hand to more obvious destinations in Spain like San Roque and La Manga West, but you suspect he enjoyed his commission here every bit as much.
Sadly, Thomas passed away in Spain in August, the day before I arrived on the island, news of which had yet to migrate from the mainland when I handed the keys of the buggy to my 14-year-old son and set forth among the Pine woods that frame this magnificent coastline. Son Parc is the only course on the island and began life in 1977 as a nine-hole novelty, the maximum allowed by planners in what remains a fiercely protected conservation area.
Its installation was part of the great golf expansion in Spain linked to the development of apartment complexes or urbanisations. Son Parc is in fact a complex of small, white-washed schemes within a lob wedge of the magnificent San Sauro Beach. During my ten days in this verdant outpost I trawled the island charting the better known ‘Bounty’ coves on the south coast, but concluded that none surpassed this gorgeous expanse of sand and dunes in the administrative region of Fornells. Memories of that bogey at 18 are easily washed away in the shallow, turquoise bay made for an early evening dip.
Planning laws subsequently allowed for the 18 holes originally sought. Land was at a premium and regulations not generous enough to permit the new lay-out to reach the monster proportions of modern design, but in the view of this golfing foot soldier that is no bad thing. And with a teenage son slowly coming to appreciate the delights of this great game it proved the ideal step up from the par-3 thrash at Milton Keynes.
Thomas chose to shoe-horn the first three holes into a limited parcel but once you climb on to the 4th tee you begin to appreciate why. The hole opens into an avenue of gorgeous, tree-lined treachery, not long but narrow. From there the 5th, accessed across a road, feeds into a northern quadrant of four terrific holes culminating at the 8th, one of six par threes on the course and by far the most dramatic, requiring a tee shot over a lake.
This course is made for beginners and intermediates, or for more experienced golfers simply delighted at the opportunity to swing a club while on holiday. Unlike its much grander neighbour, Majorca, Menorca is not a ‘golfing destination’ as we understand the Spanish experience to be, which is part of its charm since it yields an entirely different atmosphere, much less formal. At barely 5,500 yards from the back tees it resembles in length and character the municipal courses of my youth. The difference here is the deluxe elements provided by the Thomas design team.
The course opens up beautifully from the ninth, and we begin to see the skill in Thomas’s hand with the dog legs at 9, 10, 13 and 14, short par-4s that ask robust questions. The sequence beginning at 11 is Thomas’s approximation to Amen Corner without Augusta’s length. The 11th feeds into a landing area behind a landscaped rockery featuring among other flora, tall grasses, resulting in a blind entry to the green.
The par-3 12th clings to a steep wood that runs to the left. The 13th tee is set back high above the 12th green and invites the more courageous to take out the dog leg left. Big hitters getting it wrong will easily run out of landing area bordered by long grass at the top of the elbow. Not even Phil Mickelson with a 6-iron would escape from that.
The round finishes with a flourish at 17 and 18, the penultimate hole being the longest at more than 500 yards, with a blind tee shot to boot, and the last a tricky par-three protected by a huge tree before the green. It measures 147 yards but the presence of the tree and high temperatures tempt you into reaching for a more lofted club. I was a club short with my 8-iron. Jonny crunched a six iron front left. Smug would be right.
For those who have not been, Menorca is a delight barely 40 miles across from the capital Mahon in the east to the lovely old town of Cuitadella in the west. From any point on the island you can strike out for Son Parc, which is within an hour even of the most distant parts. It sits in the dramatic hilly hinterland behind the island’s highest peak, Mt Torro, which charms with effortless splendour at 358 metres above sea level.
The course is under new ownership and there are further plans to develop the site with a hotel and swimming pool under consideration. As it is there is a restaurant/bar, practice range and chipping and putting facilities. At its pre-2008 peak Son Parc attracted 25,000 golfing guests a year. Those numbers halved as the post-crash austerity took a chunk out of the European travel market, which is reason enough to take advantage now while tee times are still readily available. In the low season you can enjoy 18 holes for less than £30, with reductions for under 18s and under 15s.
If you have an ambitious nipper who is under 18 and fancies a weekend of sharp tournament competition you might wish to enter them in the Menorca Junior Open, a competition for amateurs at all levels with prizes for handicap golfers as well as the best scratch players, from October 18-20.
Regrettably that counts me out. Maybe I can park young Jonny in the tournament and spend the weekend portside 25 minutes away in Mahon. Mine’s a double, and I’m not talking bogey.