Awesome Andalucia of Spain

aSpain – Homeland of the NCAA Women’s Golf Champion leaders

As Azahara Munoz and Carlotta Ciganda, led the ASU team to its NCAA championship and Maria Hernandez of Purdue became the individual NCAA champion, we toured their country’s region of Andalucia, Spain playing the very courses they played as juniors to become the successful collegiate golfers they are. Everywhere we went, people recognized their names just as well as their famous countrymen, Ballesteros and Garcia. You may never have thought of Spain as a golfing destination , but we discovered that it is a beautiful place to play.

We flew from New York City to Malaga Spain, via Madrid. It is a small airport, fairly easy to maneuver and the rental car company had us quickly on the road to our timeshare where we met a couple from England at the pool, had a nice dinner with them and called it an early night.

Rising too early for anything to be open locally, we set off for Gibraltar.  Crossing the border in the dark without questions or difficulty, we found our way up the steep and curvy road in search of the Barbary apes and secure feeling the commercials of our youth said we could only get atop this mighty rock. The absence of signs made us wonder if we were really supposed to be there or not and if it were a 2 way road, when it was clearly only wide enough for one vehicle. There were no other human beings or apes to be seen, but the lights off the coast, from scattered ships and Africa beyond, were amazing as they dazzled the water below us. The higher we drove, the more dangerous it felt as dawn approached. The sun had risen as we reached the top. We snapped pictures by the cannon, admiring the multiple coasts and countries’ view, when we saw the sign posting the hours – 3 more hours before opening! So we decided to descend before we got in trouble. We didn’t really need to see the apes that badly. And just when we made that concession, one jumped on the guard rail in front of us, posing for a photo and then behind us we saw many. It was the epitome of adventurous success, having The Rock all to ourselves with only the apes.

The old town of Mijas was the next destination up the coast. Paved with cobblestone streets on a mountainside, it has a magnificent view of the sea and terrific shops to explore. We were drawn by a sign on the road above, for the golf course Alhaurin, and were happy to play it as it was different than any other.  A natural mountain setting with a distant old castle, reminds you of Don Quixote with only a few new townhomes, pleasantly placed in groupings distant enough from immediate fairways. Pines mix with figs and olive trees. Flowers were in abundance and ranged from the sweet smelling honeysuckles to Queen Annes’ lace the size of dinner plates. Metric conversion is tricky when you are trying to focus on the rest of golfing details. Tee boxes note the difference in yards, but in the fairway, a GPS unit is desirable.  Hole 4 is a blind shot, directly over a different green, aiming into a mountain.  Number 6 has a steep view from the tee box with a blind dogleg right shot.  The up and down course makes you feel like a billy goat by the end of the round – a grateful billy goat.

Sunday we set off to Sevilla, passing miles and miles of olive orchards. There we learned about local foods and beverage pairings. We tried a new cerveza, Cruz Campo. We tasted Serrano Ham, which hangs as a whole pig leg from tavern rafters and is artfully carved by the skinny slice with a knife. This must be accompanied by a glass of red wine from Rioja. The seafood tapas are better paired with white wine. The evening concluded with the smoothest brandy on a secret hotel terrace looking at the bells of the Cathedral of Sevilla. This was a magical day of site seeing with the son and girlfriend of a former lake neighbor we had adopted as a second dad our first summer in NY. While we had never met son Jim in person, we came to know him through phone calls and emails over the past few years. Our dear old friend, Brownie passed away in March and spending the day with Jim was like being with his dad 20 years earlier. Maria spoke only Spanish with us, sharing many secret recipes and making the most authentic Sevillian experience imaginable.

The road from El Rocio to Matalascenas is filled with pine trees shaped like lollipops. El Rocio’s gold laden cathedral reflects the devotion of its people with horses playing at the nearby lake.

Many Germans and other Europeans vacation at Matalascenas beach. Time can be lazily spent collecting sea shells, watching the wind surfers and wind chair riders, and of course, stopping for Sangria at one of the many restaurants on the beach. Yes you will have a view of the fishing boats as well as some naked tops sunning or frolicking even though the travel books say you won’t.

A visit to Valderrama is first class from the moment you pass through the gate until you load the clubs back in your car. The course is lined with a lush forest of trees that was unexpected after touring much of southern Spain. The signature hole is number 4. Robert Trent Jones calls this one of his favorite par 5’s  in the world. The  11th green offers an ocean view to the east and the rock of Gibraltar to the west. Valderrama is home to the Volvo Classic as well as the 1997 Ryder Cup. It’s a peaceful course with the only sound being the wind through the trees. Todo es tranquilo.

Returning to Matalascenas , via Tarifa, we discovered a very turquoise sea. We zoomed through Cadiz, Europe’s oldest inhabited city, way too fast, marveling at the architecture and so many students on mopeds. We will definitely return to spend more time there as well as in Jerez where we arrived too late for the sherry tours and in the middle of the bull fight, but had a great dinner with Flamenco costumes surrounding us. As we left the city, we discovered why so many gals had their authentic dresses as the horse fair was in full swing. If we had do-overs, we would have spent the night, bought the attire and joined in.

Nuevo Portil , en route to the Portugal border, is a course with long blue winged birds, a crazy cart path with crazy buggies to match. The first green is surrounded by a wet cattail marsh. It’s a gated course and between holes, we somehow managed to get locked out. Other golfers came to our rescue. Houses and apartments line the fairway purchased by mostly Canadians, Swiss and other Europeans. Hole 16 from the tips offers no visible fairway, but the fragrance of honey suckle calms the nerves.

We crossed over to Portugal, where huge storks nest on the light posts. We stopped at various sea ports to shop for linens and eat the seafood. Losing our way on the dark ride home, we spotted an old eighth century castle in Las Nieblas, Spain. We returned the next day for a tour and were thoroughly amazed by the low ceilinged, gruesome torture chambers.

We traveled to Torre Molinos the last day to be close to the Malaga airport where 3 hours is recommended for a sure departure. It turned into another delightful opportunity to soak up the Spanish sun on a different beach just a short walk down a zillion steps from the city. The central part is a shopping mecca, especially if you love high fashion purses at low prices. In between the shops are restaurants wher, in the evening you can sit and watch the locals promenade with family, friends and dogs. We had a room across from a local tavern that called to us for a night cap. There was nothing touristy about it. We had oysters on the half shell and our last Spanish wine before our journey home. We could have stayed a month or more. We believe the native golf gals will always be happy to return home, believe that we will revisit and believe that Don Quixote must be real after all!

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