But don’t forget to take a car; otherwise, it’ll be a long walk. I begin my tale on a negative note, the recession really was worldwide and the Costa Calida was not the one that got away.
Back in the day, the area between Alicante and Cartegena was largely rural. In fact, the area known as Murcia was also known as the bread basket of Spain. There was little there except a wonderful complex called La Manga Club. I know a lot about La Manga Club. I have a house there that was given to the late, great Severiano Ballesteros in 1983 as a fee for him being their touring professional. La Manga Club was an oasis in a very rural area, and quite alone, until the property boom.
Then, the region got the go-ahead to build a Paramount Studios theme park and the massive new Corvera International Airport, which is featured in many films because it’s finished but not open. It's a bit of a white elephant. I’ll come back later to the subject of elephants.
At that point a huge golf and property boom began.
It started with Hacienda Del Alamo, near that airport, and five Polaris World developments. Using Jack Nicklaus as a course architect, each resort built several thousand villas and apartments. That was followed by the go-ahead for around 50 new developments in the Mar Menor area.
The Mar Menor is an inland sea known for its healing properties. In fact, not too long ago the World Health Organisation voted it as the healthiest place on the planet. That was before the boom!
I’m not sure how many buildings were built, but in the middle of all this, the market crashed and many developers went spectacularly bust. Many of these properties are now waiting to be occupied, although few are buying the properties anymore. Nearly all the courses are kept open by the banks to try and raise revenue. Sitting back and waiting for the market to return can be a long game.
I’m no clairvoyant, but I would suggest that’s a long way off. The silver lining to this considerable cloud is that bargains are there, and I’ve yet to find a bad course.
What this means for the avid golfer like me is that there are a plethora of inexpensive but fabulous courses to play within a two-hour drive. Drive really is the operative word here, as many of them are some distance from the major conurbations and are indeed off the beaten track. But if you are a golfer, it’s like being a kid in a chocolate factory who just found the golden ticket.
Start by playing the "Bear trail," the phrase given to area courses designed by the legendary Nicklaus. All are spectacular and test of golf skills, just what you would expect from Jack.
Alternatively, you could base yourself at La Manga Club or Hacienda Del Alamo and play yourself silly. In in the summer, you can shoot 36 holes a day and have change from €90, and that includes a buggy. Believe me, in that heat you’ll be glad you hired one.
You could even fly into a small airport called Murcia. Low cost airlines such as EasyJet or Ryanair fly in almost daily from all the major UK airports, or British Airways and Monarch fly into Alicante, which is about an hour away. January playing conditions are pleasant, clocking in at around 18 degrees. In August, it can get into the 30s. Thankfully for summer golfers, the area gets a nice cooling breeze in the evenings, unlike its cousin, the Costa Del Sol, where the heat and humidity rarely let up.
The Nicklaus courses have elevated tees and plenty of water; La Manga Club has a mixture of pine and palm trees and Hacienda Del Alamo is more of a desert course. There also is a Ballesteros course at Peraleja, which is a 20-minute drive from the Murcia airport. In fact, there are at least a dozen courses within 30 minutes of the airport.
My favourite is a nice little gem called Roda, which is almost next to Murcia’s San Javier Airport. It has generous fairways, a massive bonus for me as I have been known to be a little wild off the tee! So if your idea is to get started immediately, jump in your hire car at the airport and within cinco minutos you’ll be on the course.
La Manga Club has a 5 star hotel with three courses — East, West and South. The South has hosted several Spanish Opens and just lost out to Valderrama in hosting the Ryder Cup; it was actually Seve’s choice.
All the courses have property for sale, so if you are looking to invest, interested in a bargain, and like cheap golf, then the Murcia region of Spain is a real must.
I didn’t even mention the food, but a short drive from the Club is the City of Cartagena, the departure city for the famous Hannibal. Not the fictional sadist that Anthony Hopkins portrayed, but the General of Carthage that crossed the Alps with 40,000 soldiers and 200 elephants. Well, that was what he started with anyway … And rest assured, Cartagena has hundreds of fantastic restaurants, Roman ruins and shops to explore when you’re not playing golf, house hunting or driving.
Have fun, and if you are really adventurous, you could always keep going. Granada is three hours by car from Cartagena, and it really is a wonderful drive. You can ski there in Europe’s southernmost resort or visit the famous Alhambra Palace. Film buffs may be interested to know that on the way you’ll pass the desert courses of Almeria, the city made famous by the Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns. And if that doesn’t take your fancy, you could always go to the Costa Del Sol and play. However, the courses around the Costa Calida are a lot less crowded and much nicer.