Unexpected discoveries of fabulous courses in Spain, Morocco and beyond

By Kirsten Hanna, Protravel International Luxury Travel Agent

As I sit here, I take a sip of my milchenkaffee belly up to the counter at the Munich airport. It’s 7:30am and I await my connection to Newark from Marrakech. As I reflect on my last 10 days, I think to myself that I, without a doubt, have the best job ever.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a professional discovery trip to learn about golf travel across the globe. As a Luxury Travel Advisor, I have clients who love to golf. It is a large part of their leisure life and they want to play on vacation. But where to go? The million-dollar question. Ireland? Done that. Scotland? Done that too. They are both undeniably fantastic golf destinations, but many want to try something new.

We began our adventure in the Andalucia region of Spain and concluded at the International Golf Travel Market in Marrakech, Morocco.

Marnie Brown, from Protravel International’s $23 billion parent company Travel Leaders Group led the trip. Her vision is to create a golf platform with the Protravel SELECT program. She and Sean, one of our fabulous golf partners who specializes in curating golf travel in the UK and Spain, designed the itinerary. The two of them put their heads together a few months back, collected several eager travel advisors from around the country and Canada, and created an incredible itinerary for us to all experience together. How lucky was I to be a part of it? VERY. 

First stop: Malaga Spain. Our itinerary took us to the Costa Del Sol in the region of Andalucia. We stayed at the Anantara Villa Padierna in Marbella. Exquisite. We all met there on Wednesday October 9th . The group including Sean and Marnie came from Toronto, Chicago, San Diego, Austin, Tampa, and Minneapolis. When we arrived, we noticed a $2.9m Bugatti parked out front, so we knew this property had to be something special. And it was. The hotel is located up the canyon from Marbella with spectacular views of the Mediterranean down below. We took a tour of their course, Golf de Villa Padierna. While breathtaking, it is incredibly challenging, even for the best golfer, to play. We were so fortunate to enjoy the property, see the course, enjoy a fabulous dinner onsite with lovely wine, and get a good night’s sleep before the next full day.

Finca Cortesin Golf Course, Malaga, Spain

Day two we ventured to Finca Cortesin to play 18 holes. We arrived before dawn (thank you Sean for allowing zero downtime :). We were first to tee off as the dew danced on the perfectly groomed tee boxes. As the sun rose, we had no complaints. Wow. What a gorgeous golf course! The surrounding homes were equally impressive with their modern yet Spanish architecture. No homes under €6m. If I could get a few putts back off of those famously quick greens, I could call it a perfect day of golf. It was special.

We finished the round with coffee, cocktails and tapas out on the patio looking out onto stunning views over the driving range, and the hills of Andalucia beyond.

The site visit at Finca Cortesin that followed the golf took us through an incredibly beautiful property. Multiple pools, vistas, sitting areas, stunning suites, spa…the list goes on. Yet very quiet, upscale, and managed with details being a top priority. Finca Cortesin would not disappoint even your most discerning client. Except the putting. So tough. I need to go back and try it again. 

The night…was all about Marbella. Miguel Guerrero, from Visit Costa del Sol, treated us to dinner at Restaurante Santiago, and a fabulous walking tour of the old town of Marbella. What a beautifully quaint and preserved little city. Narrow stone streets and alleys, all with unique shops that you don’t find other places. Many open air restaurants and lively music playing all around. Not touristy by American standards ..in fact, we didn’t see any Americans at all. Lots of people from the UK. The British might say its touristy. But for us, it was very European and charming. The shopping was upscale but local. It was really wonderful.

The next day we packed and moved to the Gran Melia Don Pepe on the waterfront in Marbella. It sits along 22km of boardwalk. So fun. Right in the heart of the action. This western edge of Marbella in Puerto Banus is where the wealthy come to play. As we walked along the marina, we admired the parade of beautiful Bentleys and Rolls-Royces rolling down the road. Best of all, this area did have the shops we all know, and our clients love. This is the South Beach of the states. A place to see and be seen.

Day three we played La Reserva Sotogrande. Again, magical. The views are lovely of the hills and surrounding homes and villas. The course seemed more playable (or I had gotten warmed up). Either way, it was incredible golf. The highly skilled golfers in our group loved this course. Not a detail left untouched. Picturesque and peaceful.

As we nestled in to the Gran Melia Don Pepe that evening, we had dinner at a square table (I love square and round tables. Why don’t more restaurants have square and round tables?). The conversation was great as we all compared golf games and learned from Monika a little bit about the hotel. The rooms are all ocean rooms, with balconies. In the morning you can often see the Rock of Gibraltar and Africa off in the distance. It is a great hotel for your clients that don’t mind driving 20-30 min to golf. The non- golfers have tons to do. Shopping, beach, explore old town, wine and dine near the marina, run on the boardwalk…etc. The next day was about the countryside and experiencing Spanish culture. We took a ride to Ronda. We boarded our Mercedes van and embarked on a 1 hour drive up the mountains. Two words about the vans: muy importante.

My clients need to feel special, and this is one way to accomplish that. I arrange transfers that show them that they are VIPs. How nice was it to have Wi-Fi and a USB port to charge our phones while on the way to/from our daily activities? VERY. And there is no better way to make my clients feel as though I paid attention to the details than by having water and beer in the van cooler. Brilliant.

Ronda was jaw-dropping amazing. I didn’t know what to expect. It is a quintessential small Spanish city with loads of history and incredible vistas. We sat and enjoyed espresso on the rooftop of an old prison overlooking the famous aqueduct bridge. My how times change. While enjoying our espresso we all discussed how fortunate our generation is to drink coffee and wine in so many places that were once tragic settings. We don’t take it for granted. After our private walking tour, we were swept off to a bodega (wine cellar) for lunch and a lesson in wine making. Spanish wine is beyond yummy. The views and architecture must have been inspired by Napa. (Um just kidding…we all know which wine came first.)

That evening, back in Marbella, we were fortunate enough to be treated to another wonderful dinner by Miguel from Visit Costa Del Sol. We went to Libato de Mar. The food was delicious.

Costa Del Sol is the coastal area along the southern part of Spain. This is IN the Andalucia region of Spain, not to be confused. It’s like South Beach is in Florida which is in the United States. Both tourism boards of Costa Del Sol and Andalucia would LOVE more visitors from the US.

Honestly, it is mind boggling that Americans aren’t already coming here. Especially for golf trips. But they really aren’t yet. We wrapped up Spain that evening and it was hard to say goodbye to Miguel from Visit Costa Del Sol and Manuel from Andalucia tourism. They are salt of the earth nice people. And with 320 days of sunshine a year, they live in a heavenly place.

On to Marrakech!

Our next adventure took us to Marrakech, Morocco to attend the International Golf Travel Market (IGTM) and play some more golf. The first day we all split up and played scramble-style tournaments at various courses around the city. It was very different than Spain, and different than most regions in the US. The best way I can describe it is like Arizona golf. Plush fairways and greens with desert landscape surrounding. Each course was a bit different from the others, but this day was all about getting to know people from other golf regions of the world. I was paired with two Spanish golfers attending IGTM representing their own areas of Spain. The Alicante area just up the coast from Costa Del Sol and another representing hotels in an area further north than Alicante, closer to Barcelona. Both were jovial, and highly entertaining. I was so nervous. But when we used my drive and my first fairway shot, my jitters went away. It’s nice to have the advantage of the ladies’ tees! We didn’t win. But we had a great time.

Marrakech. How do I describe it? Vibrant in the culture. Lovely peaceful people. The first and second day, we had a bit of time to explore the famous markets. Inside the Medina (the walled area of the city) is a souk (market). It is like nothing like I’ve ever seen. Bustling, busy, safe, tight quarters, energetic, full of fragrances like cumin, jasmine and leather. You can buy anything from shoes to wood bowls, carpets and rugs. If I only could have had free shipping and UPS store nearby! I bought some easily packable fresh spices in case I take up cooking one day.

We saw snake charmers with king cobras, monkeys, lizards, lots of stray cats, and thousands of friendly Moroccans who are working to live, instead of living to work. It was refreshing. We ate at La Marrakech overlooking the large square and watched a belly dancing performance in Moroccan style. We took a horse and carriage back to the hotel; truly lovely.

The IGTM was a really important part of this trip. I met with roughly 40 Golf destination representatives from all across the globe. I had four meetings alone with just golf in Abu Dhabi. Several with France, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Scotland, Florida, Argentina, Spain, Egypt, Italy, and the list goes on. All in all, there is spectacular golf in these places. Who knew there is a terrific golf course on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy? I didn’t. And the US golfer doesn’t really know where to play in these international locations or how to set it up. So they generally don’t choose golf in places like Normandy. They choose the Ryder cup stops and do not venture further than that. At least that is what the reps were telling us.

View of purple flowers with golf cart in the background

I am looking forward to sending my golf clients to some of the new destinations I learned about.

So as I sit here waiting for my next flight, I finish my kaffe and feel so fortunate to be part of such an incredible company that provides opportunities for the luxury travel agents like me to learn hands on what is available to our clients.

Now on to Newark connecting again to Charleston to host a golf weekend.

Maybe I’ll have another milchkaffee...with a shot of espresso. Or two. Dinner is at 7.

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