Golf, the gentleman’s game, is best played in that spirit and in a setting that reflects the gentlemanly origins of the sport.
The rapid growth and globalisation of golf has produced many good things, but also allowed the original charm that surrounds the sport to be watered down in places. For some, it has become a conduit for property construction, for others a glorified tourist attraction, yet among today’s veritable proliferation of clubs and courses there is still a wide choice of settings in which to enjoy golf the way it was meant to be.
This infers not only championship-class courses that are beautifully kept and set in awe-inspiring locations, but also a clubhouse and accompanying services that exude an air of quality, charm and dare we say it, exclusivity. After all, this is a sport born of an era of grace and gentlemanly behaviour, so to properly indulge in the game of golf one needs to at least pay homage to the spirit that produced it.
Where else to start such a line-up but at the home of golf: Scotland. Famous names rebound in this country where golf inevitably is tangled with tradition and history. St Andrew’s always catches the imagination, but we’ve decided to focus on Gleneagles, a simply stunning resort of golf in the spiritual home of the game.
Gleneagles features three championship courses: the King’s Course, Queen’s Course and the PGA Centenary Course. Each and every one of them belongs to the best in the country, offering the game in its native setting of crisp greens bordered by trees, heather and views of the surrounding hills.
A temple of golf for the dedicated follower, this is also a place you can bring your family to and not feel guilty about. If the course is golfing royalty the accompanying hotel displays all the style and breeding of aristocracy. Housed in a magnificent manor home the Gleneagles embodies all the charm and civility that made Britain great. Modern additions include a stylish spa, but this is above all a place that feels like golf.
Indian Wells, Southern California
If Scotland gave the world golf, America made it big. The game, as we know it today, has been largely exported back to Europe and then across the globe by the American golfer. Their numbers swelled as post-war prosperity opened the sport up to larger numbers of people, a process that started in the US but is now being repeated elsewhere in the world.
Among the many fine championship courses in the US, Indian Wells has a particular resonance. Set in Southern California, it is the home of an exclusive sports resort that focuses on golf and tennis but also includes a selection of luxury hotels and spa. Freshly kept lawns surrounded by pine trees and semi-succulent xerophytic flora, meanwhile, form a stunning alternative to the temperate greenness of Scotland.
Penha Longa, Sintra
Portugal has long been one of the leading golf countries on the European continent. In this, the Algarve features prominently, but one of the finest courses is actually located in Sintra, a beautiful historic town just northwest of Lisbon and a short drive from Estoril.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones jr, the Penha Longa course sprawls across the base of a mountain range that runs parallel to the coast and faces the stylish coastal resort towns of Estoril and Cascais. Just on the other side of the mountain is Sintra, the summer residence of the former Portuguese royal house and these days a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Set within a protected nature reserve, the course offers total seclusion from the outside world and with it come scenes of immense beauty. The luxury Penha Longa resort hotel is in itself a historic estate that has been lovingly restored and modernised, featuring a spa, private residential areas and also a restored monastery that was home to a Jesuit monk who became the first Japanese person to set foot in Europe.
Penha Longa’s natural and historical credentials endorse it, but above all this is a wonderful course in a magnificent setting that also offers highly refined surroundings.
Troon North Golf Club, Arizona
Golf in the desert; for a long time it was only the Americans who could conceive of such a thing. Conceive and turn to reality, that is, for the Troon North Golf Club in Northern Arizona is a verdant oasis that rises out of the arid land like a mirage shimmering in the Sahara heat. Meticulously kept, its course is a favourite not just for its design and beautifully contrasting setting but also because the clean Arizona air offers some of the finest golden light in which to play.
Playing here on the right day is like seeing the world through honeycoloured glasses, as the gilded rays of the sun turn the surrounding rock into a thousand subtle tones and the cacti and scrub proffer a dreamlike backdrop. Though not boasting the historic lineage of a leading course, this is a place that represents American vitality in all its noble ambition and achievement – with a clubhouse that is an architectural marvel and fitting tribute to the Adobe styles of the region.
The Els Club, Dubai
These days golf in the desert is also strongly associated with Dubai, which has become quite a centre for golf in its own right. Though the branded concept seems very 21st century, The Els Club is a state-ofthe- art golf club designed and finished to the UAE’s exacting standards. With crisp-green lawns that undulate like a verdant carpet through the soft white sand of desert dunes, the course has the feel of skirting a beach – you can almost hear the waves break.
Designed by a pro for serious golfers, The Els Club is all about an optimal golf experience, and with the service standards of Dubai you will want for nothing at all.
Club de Golf Valderrama, Sotogrande
Founded by the exacting Jaime Patiño, Valderrama has established itself as one of the elite clubs of Europe, with a course that is practically trimmed with scissors and ranged across green valleys bordered by Mediterranean olive trees, umbrella pine and cork oak. A championship course that has hosted the Ryder Cup and Volvo Masters, amongst others, it is a favourite on the European continent both for its play and the genteel surroundings.
These begin with the stylish clubhouse, restaurants and hospitality areas, but also include the nearby resort of Sotogrande, where Spain’s well-connected set come to play golf, enjoy spa treatment, a game of polo or a day at the beach or beach club, with the lively little marina forming the base for daytime water sports as well as night time socialising.
El Saler, Valencia
Perched on Mediterranean shores just south of Valencia, El Saler is recognised as one of the finest golf clubs in Spain, and therefore belongs to the European elite. The course is set on the grounds of a Parador – a chain of luxurious hotels in grand historic settings – itself located within the Albufera Nature Park.
This means that players will find themselves teeing off among dunes, with the crashing of waves on white sandy beaches within earshot. The course, designed by Javier Arana, makes the most of this lovely setting with fine fairways and finely manicured greens. The latter prove a particular challenge, yet the stylish clubhouse and luxury facilities of the Parador are just made for post-match soothing and pampering.