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.
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.