In sun-kissed Murcia, Chris Stratford discovers a golfing resort that is a cut above the rest.
CLIMB to an elevated plateau alongside the elite in your field and you are faced with a choice: whether to stop and admire the view or strike out towards the summit on your own.
La Manga Club, created 40 years ago, has long since established itself as a European golfing mecca, picking up a glut of awards including Spain’s best golf resort and the country’s leading luxury resort spa as well as twice being a finalist in World Travel Awards’ category of world’s leading sports resort.
Its five-star Hotel Principe Felipe was feted as Spain’s best hotel in the inaugural World Golf Awards presented last month when its South Course was one of the nominees in the category of Spain’s best golf course.
As laurels go, these would have provided a pretty comfortable bed on which to lie should La Manga Club have chosen to linger and savour that aforementioned view.
However, this autumn La Manga Club – situated in the Murcia region of south- east Spain – proved its lofty ambitions by further enhancing the golfing experience at a venue which already offered three 18-hole championship golf courses and a par-47 pitch-and-putt layout.
As part of a e1m redevelopment of its extensive teaching and practice centre, September saw the opening of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, the 28th such facility ranging across 13 countries which carry the name of one of the world’s most successful golf coaches, the first in mainland Spain.
Leadbetter is the man responsible for helping to remodel the young Nick Faldo’s swing when he was not content just to be “one of” Europe’s best. Faldo – now Sir Nick – went on to become world No 1 and win six major titles, and Leadbetter also tutored Greg Norman and Nick Price to success in the Open and US PGA championships.
Six coaches schooled in Florida-based Leadbetter’s teaching methods – which have been applied to great effect at all levels over more than three decades to such as Faldo, Norman and Price down to the humblest hacker – are on hand at La Manga Club to help the visiting golfer either before or after trips around its South, North and West courses.
Lessons are held in either tuition rooms, both equipped with the latest technology, including Trackman, SAM PuttLab and K-VEST, or out on the range, which has been extended to 300m with a number of trees and artificial bunkers added to provide better definition to the range targets and its surroundings.
On my unannounced visit to the academy, a pupil was flailing shots weakly off to the right. A quick hands-on demonstration from his coach to convey what the pupil should be feeling on his backswing and throughswing was followed by three sweetly-struck shots arcing their way powerfully down the range to their target.
This was a truly impressive snapshot of what La Manga Club’s golfing visitors now have available to embellish their time at the resort in the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, which is complemented by four short game areas for bunkers and chipping, and three large putting greens.
Golf is not the only activity that draws visitors from all over the world to its doors; the resort also has a 28-court multi-surface tennis centre and academy, two cricket grounds, a bowls green, rugby, Gaelic football and netball facilities, and a professional football centre with no fewer than eight pitches.
The latter has been a temporary home to many international sides, among them England in the build-up to the 1998 World Cup finals, and club sides including Spain’s stellar duo, Real Madrid and Barcelona, who are frequent visitors. Out on La Manga Club’s golf courses it is possible you will find yourself sweating over a short but challenging putt on their testing greens, the likes of which have previously been faced by footballing luminaries, many of whom cannot resist swapping football boots for golfing spikes while guests at the resort.
At Spa La Manga Club, its 2,000 square metre fitness centre and spa, complete with indoor swimming pool, you can literally sweat on the treadmills in the stars’ footsteps where framed and autographed shirts of its celebrity visitors line the walls, including Manchester United and Real Madrid shirts signed by former England captain David Beckham.
The spa sits high on a hill overlooking the resort and the adjacent warm waters of the Mar Menor, but you will not have to exert yourself to reach it as La Manga Club, on request, provides a shuttle service to all its amenities which are spread over an area three times the size of the Principality of Monaco, and include a large variety of dining choices with more than 20 bars and restaurants.
Accommodation is available at the four-star Las Lomas village, where apartments and townhouses can be rented, or at La Manga Club’s five-star Hotel Principe Felipe, which comprises 192 elegant guest rooms and seven suites.
All of the staff provided friendly and helpful attention during my visit – if only I had placed myself next in line for assistance at the Leadbetter Golf Academy, my game could be soaring ever higher alongside La Manga Club.
• Chris Stratford travelled with Jet2.com which offers low fares, great flight times and a 22kg baggage allowance from Leeds Bradford Airport to Alicante Airport. Flights start from £49 one way including taxes. For more information visit www.jet2.com or call 0800 408 5599.
For more details about the La Manga Club resort visit www.lamangaclub.com or www.lamangaclubresort.co.uk