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.
If you ask any democrat politician to describe Donald Trump, you’re unlikely to get a positive assessment. I’m a bit like that with courses like this. And in Holland where I live, they might even describe a democrat voter as “Links”, which is where I’d rather be.
Son Gual was a vivid green and very soft, which made the playing conditions pretty boring. I seemed to be getting back spin with my driver and options to use the ground were not even a false promise in the manifesto. The tees were extravagantly sized and the water hazards were occasionally adorned with fountains. Not to my taste but I guess they are par for the course and in line with public sentiment. The routing felt a little monotonous (up then down, up then down, whilst going around in 2 circles).
And there were positives. Firstly, the holes themselves were well designed and challenging. They were probably the best designed and most challenging holes in the world of golf. Fact. It’s true. Okay, not quite, but it’s got substance after all - if Son Gual was a US politician perhaps it would have built a wall by now. And secondly, the conditioning was top class. Not a hair or blade of grass out of place. You could argue that these are significant positives. Thirdly, both the facilities and staff were very good.
Favourite holes included the par 4 uphill doglegs of holes 7 & 14, which had similar tee shots, but different challenges to hit the elevated greens. Then there was the pretty par 3 15th, with a green perched into the hillside with trouble all along the left side, and a bailout short right. I ended up in the bunker and really wanted to hit another ball just to have the pleasure of finding this green. Hole 18 was also a highlight, and it’s one you need to play well if you’re needing a birdie to avoid being a loser, with water in play twice and a shallow target in front of the clubhouse.
This course carries a high ranking in opinion polls which surprises me a little. Not quite fake news or a rigged election but democracy can throw up some surprises. If I compare it to superficially similar courses I’ve played that don’t make the Euro Top 100 (e.g. Faldo’s Elea in Cyprus and Palmer’s Victoria Course in Portugal), it’s perhaps better, but not by a great margin. I enjoyed my round here, in part due to the raw quality of the holes. I also enjoyed being paired up with a compete stranger (from the US, hence the silly metaphor) and sharing 18 holes in kindred spirited conversation - perhaps allowing for nicer memory or a softer or more distracted critique of the course. As it is, Son Gual seems a strong 4 ball course - which would get my vote as a 5 ball if policy would opt for severe sanctions against such soft playing conditions.
Very well written.
I have played Son Guál close to ten times in the last three years and had soft conditions like this twice, although not perfectly manicured at the same time like you describe it. Once it was due to a recent (very) major local downpour and the other time it looked like the tail end of a major maintenance operation, not what you would expect from a place like this. The other times the course have played firm-ish, but not fast, so not aware that they intentionally manage for softness.
In general, I have found that Mallorca offers mainly parkland target golf. Puntiró is an exception as it often offers firm and fast conditions in winter, when the Bermuda goes brown. Then their fairways roll faster than greens elsewhere ;-)
Thanks for the info - did consider Puntiro as an option and will be sure to try that one next time
I have played golf at some great courses in the UK and abroad and this is my first review. The set up at Son Gual is first class. Greens and fairways immaculate. Hospitality first clas too. A must play if you are in Mallorca.
I have played Son Gual GC 8 times over the past 3 years. Together with Alcanada GC, it simply stands out. Incredible design, tough choices from tee, a true gem and I always get blown away by the stunning features along the way, when I try to negociate my path, golfshot selections and my ambition to make as many pars as possible. Yes, there will be birdie opportunities during your round, but its very easy to maintain pressure on the course - even though I always feel like a million dollars before the teeshot on hole 1.......... if you are a true golfer and you are staying several days in Mallorca, I consider it to be a huge mistake, if you dont play this course......... atleast once. The range is motivating, hang time is great, even with your Driver........ The terrace is charming and has a super overview on the 1st tee (sit there for half an hour, watch others tee it off, and you are sure to witness some funny shots) and the spectacular 18th green (difficult PAR5). The Clubhouse is just perfect. I always feel at home at Son Gual GC, regardless of my 36 or 22 stableford points
So I didn't want to like it...too artificial, too much earth moved...trying to be super hard when it shouldn't etc..arrived early morning, no-one there, cleaner was friendly enough..couldn't hit on range. Then then staff arrived and were just a bit grumpy. So as you can see chances are I was thinking I'd hate it
I really liked it. So few holes where you just bash a driver, need to think angles and then tough second shots. Greens pretty interesting, lots of variety.
Best course on the island, although alcanada is nice too.
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.