Located on the Es Turó estate, the property of Mr. Antonio Lladó, the first golf club president, the Vall d'Or course was inaugurated in 1986 as a 9-holer. These fairways now form the back nine of the present 18-hole layout, following a course upgrade that was carried out in 1993.
Set out close to the sea in the municipality of Felanitx, around a 40-minute drive from the resorts of Cala Bona and Cala Millor, today’s course now extends to a modest 5,538 meters from the back tees, playing to a par of 71.
The older, tree-lined front nine features a brilliant par five at the 3rd hole. Starting from an elevated tee that offers spectacular views over the bay of Porto Colom, the hole veers downhill to the left, towards a green benched into a hillside on top of a rock boulder base.
The back nine holes are more open, allowing golfers the chance to wield the driver that probably stayed in the golf bag during the tighter front nine. The par three 18th is a tough finishing hole, despite its lack of yards, as its raised green – sitting in front of the stylish Vall d'Or clubhouse – will accept nothing other than the most precise of tee shots.
Vall d’Or is a little bit removed from the two main golf areas (in the northeast and southwest) of Mallorca so it’s a good 1-hr drive to get here from Palma city centre. Is it worth the effort to go slightly off piste on the island in search of good golf at a course with an average ball-mark rating of three balls?
I’d say yes, if only to play the quirky front nine that were originally laid out by American architect Brad Benz – in fact, if I was to play another 18 holes here I’d choose to play holes 1-9 twice as the back nine is largely forgettable. I’ve read they were designed by somebody called “Billy Bendly” (though that could be Bentley), who I’ve never heard of.
The course must also be one of the very few that start AND finish with a par three hole! The original holes were laid out on a hilly, forested part of the property (where they should probably never have been built) but the contours allow for some fantastic roller coaster fairways to link tee and green on many of the holes – I thought the same about the course at Andratx too, funnily enough.
What’s more, the holes are generally tight so it takes lots of concentration to keep your ball in play. I love to tee it up at the big championship-standard courses but I maybe like it even more being able to play unheralded, largely anonymous, tracks like Vall d’Or. If you can’t have fun on a course like this, then you really aren’t in tune with your golfing soul.
The only dull hole is the left doglegging short par four 8th (which brings the front nine back gently back down to base level), where the green is hideously sandwiched between two irrigation ponds. Apart from that hole, I thought the outward half was an absolute blast. A big shoutout is due also for greenkeeper Bartolomé Matemales, who has just retired after 30 years of service. The course was in immaculate condition and I hope the new man from Seville can maintain the same level of presentation in the years to come.
I went to play Vall d’Or for the first time in November 2016. There are two reasons why I hesitate to recommend it.
First, the crazy design of the front nine, at least the first three holes. The first is a long par 3 to a semi-blind small green with little depth, surrounded by ankle-deep rough consisting of very coarse grass. The second, a par-4, has a very limited flat area to aim your tee-shot at. The approach will therefore often be played from an uphill stance up a slope that looks like a part of a decent World Cup downhill race. The third is a short par five, downhill dogleg left, but the green is tucked into a corner with no recovery if you miss. I played 4-iron, 7-iron, wedge, not the most exciting proposition. So, my problem with the design is that the round starts with three holes full of penal design elements. These elements can have their place, but perhaps better further into the round.
The back nine is, as previous reviewers have remarked, a completely different proposition. The tenth is a benign par 4, which would be an ideal opener, and then the course gradually becomes more difficult. My own home club started out with a trickier and more difficult front nine, but took the sensible decision to switch the two loops around so the wider, more forgiving section is now played first. I wonder if my verdict had been different if Vall d’Or had done the same?
Second, the conditioning on my visit in early November 2016 was not great. When some of your short iron approaches stay plugged into the green surface I guess the greens are as far from firm and fast as is possible.... In fairness, Vall d’Or was not the only wet course on the island during early November (Son Gual, Maioris, Son Vida, Son Quint), but there were also clubs which managed to create perfectly acceptable playing conditions (Pula, Son Servera) or even firm-and-fast ones (Puntiró).
I have played 15 out of the island’s 23 courses over the last two years, many of them on several occasions. I believe Vall d’Or has the best placed club-house terrace; the sea views are nothing short of magnificient. Otherwise, it struggles to make my own island top 10.