Hidden away in the northeast corner of Catalunya, the Golf de Pals course is a timeless classic routed through a dense forest of umbrella pine trees, adjacent to the Playa de Pals beach.
The Spanish Open was held here way back in 1972 (this was the first tournament ever played on the PGA European Tour) when Antonio Garrido won, but the course has in more recent times been used by the European PGA as one of their final qualifying schools.
Designed by Fred W. Hawtree in 1966, the 18-hole layout is situated on a flat piece of property with excellent, free draining sandy soil that ensures the narrow, tree-lined fairways are never water logged, even after the occasional heavy Mediterranean downpour.
Apart from the trees, the main defenders of the Golf de Pals course are the strategically placed fairway and greenside bunkers, most evident at the half a dozen doglegged holes on the course.
There are five par fives on the card which help to push the par for the 6,263-metre course to 73. The first three holes are all par fours less than 350 metres in length and they are intended to give a relatively gentle introduction to the round. The last three holes, however, are very demanding – two long par fives either side of the 369-metre, par four 17th that doglegs right.
Having a second house on the Torremirona golf resort, I am often playing De Pals golf course when I need a variation and often when having golf friends visiting us. De Pals is one of the oldest courses in the northern part of Catalunya. It is not the greatest course in the world, but uniquely build into an old umbrella pine tree forest. It is a very quiet place to walk. Even with many players on the course you kind of feel that your group are the only ones on the course
It is not a difficult course. You don’t need a lot of course management thinking or shot making skills. If you can keep the ball in fairway – no matter whether you are a short or long hitter – your score basically depends on your approach shot.
What makes me play Pals is basically 3 things.
1. It is really a nice walk on a course where I feel connected with the nature.
2. It is not overly difficult.
3. Sitting on the terrace before the round with a cup of coffee, between 9 and 10 for a refreshment and after the round having a beer is fantastic.
Here you sit between tall trees and can follow players teeing off from the 1st and 10th tee, and players putting on the 9th hole. That’s a good day – not spoiled.
Besides of that; see a more detailed evaluation of the course below
I like courses where “what you see is what you get”. That is, when you are standing on the tee, you know exactly what is in front of you. You can see the ideal landing area – for you, and you can foresee how the ball will bounce and roll. No hidden bunkers, water, streams or the like.
On Pals you will find very few, if any, holes where you cannot see what you get.
I also value holes with 2 different routes to the green. Either from the tee or, for the second shot, that is where to place the ball to get the optimal position for the approach shot to the green.
For most of the holes there are basically only one option.
And I value holes offering risk – reward decisions. That is, if I chose to cut the corner, go over the lake, make a draw or fade to curb the bunker, then I either win a shot or can add one or two extra to the card.
You will find very few risk-reward holes.
Next. I like contoured greens, but not too contoured, just enough to test the reading skill and just enough to make the position of the hole important for where to land the approach shot.
That is true for most of the greens.
I like to walk when I play golf and – in that context – the possibility of flow. What promotes flow? You can find your ball if in the rough, you are not in doubt of the route to the next tee and you don’t have a long walk from green to next tee.
A great Pals golf course fulfill all of these criteria.
The nature is important. Whether the course is forest, links, park land or anything in between is not that important. It should be a walk in a landscape of its own, a course sheltered from modern civilization – e.g. noise from cars, airplanes and buildings that do not architecturally fit into the landscape.
Playing this course is like being isolated from modern civilization.
The final thing. To me it is also important that the course pursue a high level of maintenance of all parts of the golf complex, with fair and homogeneous greens. Attention to details is important for the overall impression.
This is the weakness of course. Greens are not always the best when it comes to a fair roll and attention to details is not the strongest part of the green keeping work.
Pals is one of the oldest clubson the Costa Brava, in Catalonia. It is a classic parkland, although it is located a few meters from the sea. However, never during the round its proximity is evident.
As for the course, it stands out for its (excessively) narrow fairways surrounded by trees, something that is not to my liking, and for its interesting and hard greens (something that I did appreciate). In fact, the shade of the trees, which is to be appreciated in the hot Spanish summer, means that in winter, especially if it is wet, the fairways may be quite muddy due to the lack of sun.
It is an entertaining course, although, in most holes, the strategy from the tee is limited to finding the fairway, since the slightest mistake takes you to the wood, from where the recovery is more than complicated.
The round begins with 3 similar holes, and it is not until the 4th and 5th holes when it begins to arouse greater interest. From there we find some noteworthy holes, such as the 9th, an attractive par 3, or the 12th, a long par 4 that turns right around the forest to an elevated geen.
The round is entertaining and enjoyable, especially if you get your ball to travel straight.
I did notice some comments about the condition of the Pals course in recent years, so I was prepared to expect less than perfect presentation. No worries at all, a new green-keeping team have the course looking great.
As the course moves into its second fifty years (1966) it is clear that this would be described as an old style course (Hawtree design) especially for Spain - for those who know the Woburn courses in England, this has a little look of the Duchess there.
The big feature of Pals are the pine trees that are all around with many holes totally surrounded by them, this has two positives; 1. It is a beautiful looking course and 2. there is plenty of shade to be found on most holes.
The opening hole is a short par-4 that will give a great chance to score early on and then the 2nd and 3rd are similar looking to the opener but both a touch longer. The 4th hole is the best so far, elevated tee, a mountain view, a slight controlled fade required and perfect bunkering short of the green. The 6th is the first par-3 and should be straight forward with a large green - just got to be aware of the wind above tree height.
The 7th hole has a wider fairway than the first third of the course but everything on this 400 yard hole is about the approach - as it has to pass over three giant pine trees around 90 yards out. Water comes into play on the par-5 8th; a large lake on the left for the last 130 yards, other than that this is a straight forward hole, with a massive green. More water to play over this time at the 160 yard 9th ends the front nine.
The 10th is a par-4 that looks similar to the very early holes but this has a slight turn to the left and the raised green is clever. The shortest hole at under 150 yards is at the 11th.
The 12th is a tough par-4 and is the SI-1 - around 440 yards, turning right at landing point, then to a superb green, another that is raised. The 14th hole is welcome; here Is a par-5, where you can really go for a couple of big shots - a wide (in comparison!) fairway the reason. The 16th tee has a little look of the 18th on Wentworth's West course; a wide fairway that turns right and bunker trouble on the left, the hole also a par-5 is not that difficult in my opinion. The final hole can be described a technical par-5 where position from the tee and then on layup are demanding - get them right and the approach will be that much easier.
Golf at Pals is very enjoyable and not your usual Spanish style (if there is one) as here it is very lush, very green and although just a few hundred yards from the sea, you really wouldn't think so as this is pure parkland. A Costa Brava tour would always include Pals for me. Loved the clubhouse and the terrace for post round beverages - and there is a great pic inside of a very young Danny Willett with his trophy celebrating his last win as an amateur back in 2008 here at Pals.