The Costa Brava is the jewel in the crown of the Eastern Spanish coastline, nestling at the foothills of the Pyrenees and escaping the intense summer heat that burns the more southern parts of Spain. Catalonia (Catalunya), of which the Costa Brava is part, feels at times like a completely different country. The local food is very different - heartier than more southern Spanish fare - and the local Catalonian language has more of a French feel.
A visit to this area of Spain is a must for any golfer as there are a number of excellent courses that all offer thoughtful design in great surroundings. The various designers have created excellent challenges that are usually in superb condition due to the cooler northern climate. The best of these has to be the Stadium (formerly called Green) course at PGA de Catalunya, ranked in Europe's Top 100 ever since it opened at the end of 1998.
The Stadium course is the culmination of more than a decade of planning and design by the European Tour. They wanted to build their own Players Championship course to rival the PGA Tour's Sawgrass course. It has to be said that it was a decade well spent. The PGA is so good that within months of opening, it hosted the 1999 Gene Sarazen World Open and the Spanish Open in 2000. The Spanish Open returned to the Stadium course in 2009 (won by Thomas Levet) and 2014 when veteran Miguel Angel Jiménez extended his own record as the oldest winner in European Tour history winning a three-man play-off.
PGA Catalunya Resort is located 45 minutes north of the wonderful city of Barcelona and only a few kilometres from the regional airport at Girona, although this is never apparent as the course nestles in the Girona mountains just outside the quiet town of Caldes de Malvella. Utilising their combined 25-plus years of European Tour experience, the designers, Angel Gallardo and Neil Coles, have created a wonderful course that is a test for all standards due to the fact that every hole can be played from five different tees. Which is lucky as the course measures more than 6,500 metres from the championship tees.
Once on the first tee, the true majesty of the PGA de Catalunya is immediately apparent with an elevated drive to a dogleg left par four. Trouble waits in front of the tee and only a good, solid shot will provide the ability to reach the green with anything less than a long iron or fairway wood. For the handicap golfer, leaving this green with a bogey must be viewed as an acceptable result. From here on in, the course just gets better and better as it winds its way through the hills. Beautiful green fir trees, lush vegetation, scrub and an abundance of purple heather, frame each hole. The greens are well bunkered, undulating and always in excellent condition. Additionally, there are a number of large lakes on the course, which blend perfectly with the landscape and on some holes, the water is used creatively to form semi-island greens.
There are many "must-see" places in the world and the Stadium course at PGA de Catalunya should be on any serious golfer's "must-play" list. It's an absolute cracker.
PGA Catalunya combines top level service with world class facilities. The Hotel resort is great with friendly and helpful staff. The practice facility is one of the best I have come across!
The course itself is very good. The conditionning is on par with what you would expect from tour level courses. The greens are fast and true. The layout did not fit my eye perfectly, but that doesn't mean it is not good. It is a typical ''target golf'' layout, with narrow tree-lined fairways. The green complexes and bunkering place a premium on the ''air game'', with very few holes allowing for run-up approaches. That is not inherently bad, but I believe it limits strategy and enjoyment. The set of par 3's is the highlight of the course, as well as the good elevations changes on many tee shots.
It is a great place for a golf holiday!