Son Gual will test your golf and calm your mind in a Mallorca paradise
Billy Foley tests his game and calms his mind at Mallorcan golfing paradise Son Gual
THE dream of the Irish golfer is to play the game in the sun. It happens sometimes at home, and when it does it's magnificent – but sadly it doesn’t happen often enough.
That's why the Irish are some of Europe’s most enthusiastic golf travellers: Portugal and Spain are our favourite destinations because of the easy access through Faro to the golf courses of the Algarve and the many airports of southern Spain.
Each is set up for the golfer, with clubs to hire, dedicated transport and hotel packages. But there’s another world class option in Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
I was invited to Son Gual, to celebrate the golf resort’s 10th anniversary. It’s got a fabulous backstory: Son Gual was the dream of a German man who loved golf and loved Mallorca, but wasn’t satisfied with the courses on the island – so decided to build his own.
I have the same dream about Giant’s Park in Belfast, but I’m still waiting to win the Euromillions before I ask Pat Ruddy to make his last great design a links course on the edge of Belfast Lough.
Anyway, back to Mallorca where a dream did happen. Son Gual, in the outskirts of Palma City, is set on 160 hectares of gentle rolling land. Thomas Himmel was engaged as the designer and he created a beauty: a course in the Continental Europe top 100 and in the Spanish top 10.
Top 100 Golf Courses rates it as 7th in Spain and 42nd in Europe.
Its key feature is bunkering: every tee bar one offers a cornucopia of sand to distract you, which is probably why former Masters winner Ian Woosan described Son Gual as "a bit like Augusta".
From the elevated first tee there are two massive bunkers down the left and one on the right, with the option to take driver and try to find the narrow gap or lay back in front of the right hand bunker with a fairway wood.
Son Gual is a strategic course and the bunkering constantly creates these kind of decisions.
On the second, it’s try and carry the bunker on the right leaving a gap wedge or lay back for a mid to long iron.
Sometimes the difference between 'short' and 'over the bunker' can be huge, with one of these beautiful white monsters measuring 110 yards in length (it must be a hell of time consuming course to maintain).
In some ways, Son Gual would remind you of the Montgomerie Course at our own Carton House in Co Kildare. It’s the kind of golf that forces you to chose a way to play and focus on a landing spot. There’s no bashing into big empty spaces at Son Gual, and this will make you more accurate, not less.
It’s a classic par 72 with four par fives and four par threes. Water comes into play on eleven holes with a spectacular home hole determined to give your ball a soaking.
There’s an easy carry over a stream from the tee, but water all down the left hand side of the landing area before it crosses the fairway, widens and travels up the right hand side, forming a pond which cuts into the green.
The correct way to play is a fairway wood off the tee, a mid to long iron over the water setting up the approach and then another mid-iron to the left hand side of the green.
It’s a cracking holes, but I’m sure it’s wrecked many a card in its time.
My favourite hole though is 14. It’s semi-blind, but not long at 380 yards from the medal tees.
You hit uphill with two huge bunkers waiting to catch your ball. It’s a brilliant double-fairway hole. You can hit a safe drive left of the bunkers to fairway one, leaving a mid-iron across the three bunkers guarding the green with just the top of the flag visible. Or you can take on the 250 yard carry over the bunkers to the raised second fairway, leaving a straightforward gap wedge to the unprotected flag.
Like all modern courses, Son Gual has teeing options to match any ability. There are six in all, with the championship tee topping out at 7,240 yards down to the ladies' front tees at less than 5,500 yards.
Befitting its standing in European golf, Son Gual is magnificently presented, with 25 green staff working on the course – no doubt most of them world experts in bunker maintenance.
And the place matches up with the world view of its golf-mad creator. While members pay €7,000 a year there’s nothing stuffy about Son Gual. The clubhouse is elegant but simple and sits on a high point overlooking the first, ninth, 10th and 18th holes.
There is no joy greater in golf than sipping a beer (or whatever your favourite tipple is) on the terrace of the clubhouse overlooking a beautiful course after a round in the sun.
Son Gual has all the other amenities you would expect from a world class venue. A fantastic driving range where you hit off grass, a chipping and pitching area and a clubmaker’s truck where you can get last minute repairs.
And there are plans to make Son Gual even better: The owners have applied for permission to build another nine holes and an on-site hotel.
Meanwhile, we stayed at the Lindner Golf and Wellness Resort in the upmarket Portal Nous area to the east of Palma city, about 20 minutes from the course.
Lindner is a German group which bought this remarkable hotel from a previous owner who was fascinated by Africa and they correctly made a decision to maintain the theme.
It’s built in the colonial style with every room featuring African items and furniture. Its uniqueness is its greatest asset, making a welcome change from the familiar style of the world’s hotels.
There was also a lovely calmness about the place. Perhaps that's the German influence, or the peaceful gardens and pool area, but it was perfect.
And so was Son Gual.
::The Lindner Golf Trophy, from March 28 to 31 2019, includes a two-day tournament, playing at both Son Gual and Poniente. A three-night B&B break at Lindner Golf & Wellness Resort Portals Nous, including entry to the tournament; a welcome evening, including food and beverages; a welcome-back buffet at Son Gual, including beverages; a gala dinner at the hotel, including beverages; and transfers to and from the golf courses, costs E822 per person, based on two sharing a classic room.
:: More information on Son Gual, which is just 20 minutes from Palma airport, at Son-gual.com
:: We stayed at the Lindner Golf and Wellness Restort, Portal Nous. Lindner.de/en/majorca-portals-nous-golf-wellness-resort
:: We ate at El Chiringuito Beach House at Playa de Palma, the place for authentic paella. More information at Elchiringuitobeachouse.com. We also dined at the the fantastic Lume & Co, a Mallorcan and Scandinavian restaurant located in the 15th century castle of Son Berga. Lumerestaurante.com
:: The easiest way to travel is without golf clubs. Clubs to Hire has a shop in Palma airport and will rent top quality sets from €35 per week. Clubstohire.com
:: There are numerous connections to Palma airport from Ireland, with both Jet2 and Easyjet flying direct from Belfast