Elea Golf Club is at the heart of a new, luxury residential development that is set in an idyllic spot, only two kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea and the vibrant town of Paphos. Golf in Cyprus was elevated to a new level with the opening of Aphrodite Hills in 2002 but the arrival of the new Sir Nick Faldo-designed course at Elea in October 2010 has stratospherically raised the Cypriot bar.
The par four 4th is perhaps the most outrageously bunkered in Europe and this hole, named “Orchard”, tames the famous “anaconda” bunker at Chart Hills. Two irregularly shaped bunkers, which masquerade as gigantic sandy pieces from a jigsaw puzzle, need to be avoided from the tee. If you can find sanctuary on the fairway, you’ll have an approach shot to a bridged green that slopes up at the front and then cants away towards the back. The green is protected to the left by a smaller (but still vast) jigsaw-shaped bunker with a Muirfield-styled grassy mound in the centre. To the right of the green, there’s a more conventionally shaped trap. We think there’s more sand on this hole than an average desert.
A few holes in - it was the 4th or 5th - and I thought I was still at the beach. Perhaps after picking me up at the coast the taxi driver just drove around in circles for 15 mins and then dropped me off near my hotel.
I didn’t find the prominent bunkering at Elea to be window dressing though, and the course’s strategy actively makes use of all this sand - particularly cross bunkering and deceptive bunkering short of greens or cutting into fairways. They are more often than not in play. There’s usually enough width off the tee, but you need to think about where you’d like to put your ball or your next shot will be a tough one.
And it’s not all sand. There’s only 1 bunker on the engaging opening hole - a downhill dogleg where the green is blocked out if you’re on the wrong side - and there must have been 4-5 holes without a single grain of sand (excepting what I carried on my spikes from previous holes). Here the contours are used as the first line of defence, and as a bonus you do also have the option to use the ground for your approaches on some of these. I would prefer the greens to be firmer to match this though.
There was a good variety to the holes, and I particularly liked several of the short/med length par 4’s. My favourites were the dogleg 6th - a very tempting Par 4 of about 330 yards with cross bunkers (where I showed a lack of respect and came unstuck), the attractive 15th - where the fairway bunkers protect the best line and a narrow green opening is guarded by 4 imposing bunkers, and the heroic 17th which contained a 2nd shot carry over wasteland to a green hidden at the bottom of the hill.
I thought the use of the land in general was very effective - it’s quite a hilly property, but it didn’t feel like going up and down like a Yo-Yo, and many of the holes had quite subtle elevation changes or were played along the fairly flat. It was pretty hot going so I broke with my own tradition and took a buggy. As with many courses like this, you will also have the odd 40-50 yard distance to the next tee, so don’t be ashamed of doing the same. It’s an exposed property, but no wind on the day I played.
Elea is still not really my cup of tea, but I enjoyed plotting my way around trying to keep the sand out of my shoes. I felt the holes here had at least as much playing interest as the more recently visited and higher ranked Son Gual in Mallorca. I didn’t use the practice areas, but other facilities were more than sufficient (I’m a sucker for a shower after a round with complimentary towels) and the course conditioning good. A refreshing beer on the terrace afterwards provided nice panoramic views out over the course. It’s probably a 4.5 ball, but gets a benefit-of-the-doubt 5 ball because I think it deserves merit for its use of bunkering and contains sufficient variety in its 18 holes. And just maybe because it surprised me a little and taught me not to judge a book by its cover. This all serves to eleavate it above at least some of the crowd in this Golfing niche, and I’m sure it’s a must play if you are visiting Cyprus.