Mallorca or Majorca as it’s known in the UK, is one of the most popular holiday destinations for tourists from Germany, Ireland and the UK and now with the recent opening of Son Gual, there’s a genuine reason for serious golfers to visit Spain’s largest Balearic Island.
With around 20 Mallorcan courses to choose from, there’s no shortage of layouts on the island, but there was no real tempting “must-play” course until three-time German Amateur Champion, Thomas Himmel, moulded the dramatic Son Gual into the landscape, thereby raising the bar to a significantly higher level. In doing so, Himmel has created a likely future venue for the Mallorcan Classic, a regular European Tour event, which is usually hosted at Pula Golf Club.
Son Gual is the realisation of Adam Pamer’s dream. After purchasing a holiday home on Majorca, Pamer, a golf mad double-glazing magnate, grew frustrated by the poor condition of the island’s courses and decided he’d remedy the problem by building his own. The earth definitely moved for Pamer – 1.4 million cubic metres to be precise – and soon afterwards a bland 175-acre slice of former agricultural land was transformed into an imaginative, sweeping golf course. Throw in a few acres of vibrant wild flowers, 800 mature olive trees, expansive bunkering, acres of water – including a waterfall – impeccable tee to green conditioning and two of the most dramatic closing holes in golf and voilà a cocktail of undiluted enjoyment.
The entire Son Gual project is reputed to have cost a cool €30m but given the challenges faced, especially those surrounding irrigation water supply, the budget has been spent wisely. Apart from the colourful wild flowers, on-course vineyards and those other points mentioned above, the overriding memories from Son Gual would certainly include, the size and quality of the tees, which are double the average tee size (averaging 900 square metres) and bigger than Son Gual’s greens. The greens themselves are pretty big, but the putting surfaces appear much larger as they incorporate massive elongated fringes and run-off areas. Naturally, such attention to detail only adds to what is surely a hefty annual course maintenance budget.
Measuring a substantial 7,250 yards from the back (black) markers, Son Gual is a challenging test, especially when the fickle Mediterranean breezes stiffen. The whole design is captivating and, with bent grass from tee to green, the whole experience is polished to absolute perfection. Numerous holes, including 7, 14 and 15 will stick in the memory but none more so than the closing hole which is a serious contender for Europe’s best par five and Spain’s most dramatic 18th.
Golf Son Gual hosted the Son Gual Mallorca Senior Open from May 8-10, 2009, underlining the club’s growing reputation as one of Europe’s finest golfing venues. Englishman Mark James defeated former Irish Ryder Cup teammate Eamonn Darcy in a play-off to claim the title.
First time I played Son Guál, all I saw was a course that was so much better in every aspect than virtually every other course on the island, except perhaps Alcanada, which occupies a much prettier site.
Having played the course five times, I still think it is the best on the island, but it is the strategic aspect of the design that makes me come back again and again.
Let us take an example: the hole most people talk about is the 18th, mostly because they fail to score well on it...and it is there in front of you when relaxing on the clubhouse terrace afterwards! At over 500 yards with water just in front of the green, the reflex is to try to get as far as possible in two so as to be able to hit a wedge into the green. Simple? Afterwards, you will appreciate that an easier way to make par is to place your second shot further back and as far left as you dare to have a lot of green to work with on your approach. Moreover, the penalty for a less than perfect contact is a longer putt or a straightforward chip or pitch rather than a penalty shot plus a reload or a nerve-wrecking recovery from rough into a green that slopes away from you towards the water.
On the (very slight) minus side: too few ground game options hitting into greens.
My fourth round at Son Gual and as enjoyable and as immaculate as ever. We have a very technical course and one that is probably suited to the better player rather than the high handicap golfers – in saying that, choose the tee that reflects your standard and you will have an enjoyable game without getting beaten up by playing too far back. I played this time with two who had not seen the course before and it was interesting to get their first time opinions – some of which were, is there too much sand and monster size bunkers just for the sake of it? This is a very valid point and certainly the ‘desert’ between the 2nd and 3rd holes would be the obvious example of this. Maybe a little picky but definitely a talking point. The run of holes from the 4th to the 6th bring water into play in a big way; in play approaching the 4th and in play for both tee shots at the 5th and the 6th. The par-3 9th is a great hole; a mid to long iron to a very slim green with water on the left and sand to the right. Overall the back nine is stronger I think, with the par-5 12th a great hole with the main problem being water left and right that is a concern whether going for the green in two or laying up. The 15th is great looking short hole but another comment from my playing partners was, ‘Is an 80 yard bunker really necessary?’ – probably not but it’s there more for the look than as a hazard. The course ends on such a high with the closing hole being the best on the course for most. A par-5 crossing water at least twice to a beauty of a green just below the welcoming terrace. I gave the course a 5-ball ranking just after it opened and that remains in place – one thing I would like to ask is, could the trees and bushes around the course be enhanced to give the holes a more intimate feel? The course has been always been very open and you see many other holes at all times – tighten this up and just maybe the course could move higher into Europe’s elite modern courses.
The course is fantastically manicured with an amazing attention to detail. There are numerous features like sculpted waterfalls next to tees which add to the experience. The course was in great condition – when we played it on a Sunday in May there was hardly anyone on the golf course which makes you worry about the cashflow but only adds to the experience. We played off the second back tees (6900 yards) and it was probably a little too tough for my 13 handicap. Shots off the fairways led to real difficulties getting back in play sometimes and the par 3 9th at 220 yards over water was a hole I was delighted to get a 4 on! The 18th is the signature hole with its amazing par 5 finish with water coming into play on at least 3 occasions.
Would be great to see a Mallorcan Open here on the tour – the players would love the set-up and it would be a real challenge for them. Martin Kaymer was practising there when we were there and said he thought this was the best course on the island and of that there can be no doubt. The only thing I would say is the the greens were rolling at 10 on the stimpmeter but could have done with being a little faster to really get the full experience as they looked faster than they played. It would be an even better place to play golf were you not under the flight-path to the very busy Palma airport but frankly that is only a mild distraction. Great place, great people, great golf.