One of the many perks - sorry, responsibilities – of my job is to take part in press trips and sample a variety of experiences which I can then share and recommend to you; the reader.
Such an opportunity was handed to us by the wonderful people of Mason Williams, inviting us to spend three days at Polaris World in Spain to test ourselves on their world-class championship golf courses.
Now, if you’re like me and struggle in the cold winter months, the chance to soak up some sun in Murcia while playing golf and staying in the 5-star Inter-Continental hotel is very welcome.
I’m not what you would call a ‘morning person’, so when I saw my flight from Gatwick was departing at 6.50, I knew I would be a little sleep deprived for the first day.
After a comfortable and sleep-induced flight, we touched down in Alicante airport, walked through the surprisingly vacant passport control area, collected our clubs and bags and jumped into the van to take us to Polaris World La Torre.
Following a 45-minute drive, we arrived at our destination; a pristine ‘compound’ of houses, shops and the hotel, all of which is surrounded by one of the immaculate golf courses on offer at Polaris World.
I use the word ‘compound’ lightly as although it is essentially a compound, Polaris World does not have the feel of a typical soulless compound. With the majority of the properties occupied or owned – by a mix of Spanish, British and other European nationalities – there is a certain community feel to the place. There are shops, supermarkets, bars, fantastic restaurants and a British school on site that make Polaris World more of a mini-town than anything else.
Of course, being November, we did not have the chance to see Polaris World at its bustling best, but I am assured that in the height of summer (where temperatures reach 45C so beware if you decide to venture over in July!) it is a vibrant place made up of families, golfers and holidaymakers.
After we checked in to our stunning rooms - with balcony views of La Torre golf course – we met in the hotel bar for a beer before lunch and our first 18 holes.
We then settled down for lunch – and another round of beers – as I tried to shrug off the grogginess accumulated by sleep depravation and the flight.
In hindsight, the three beers before even swinging a club were perhaps a mistake. In fact, they were definitely a mistake. Our first 18 holes were at the superb El Valle course; a 71 par, Jack Nicklaus-designed course, described as “one of the great challenges of the Nicklaus Golf Trail,” so I knew I had my work cut out.
As part of the final fourball to tee off, I had the (dis)pleasure of watching a succession of extremely handy golfers tee off and boom their drives straight down the middle of the fairway.
It was now my turn to show what I could do. Leaning over my ball on the first tee – with as many beers in my system as hours of sleep received – I wasn’t exactly full of confidence. And how I was proved right as I witnessed my first drive veer left into the thick shrubbery that makes up the majority of the rough and what would prove to be my main nemesis of the weekend.
Following a drop, a short nine iron ending up in a deep bunker, two attempts to chip out, a short approach to the green and three putting, I slinked off to the second tee having shot a nine on the opening par four. ‘This is going to be a long weekend,’ I thought to myself.
Fortunately, the fresh air and sunshine brought with it a bit of alertness and by the fourth or fifth hole I managed to pull something together that resembled a golf game.
After enjoying the remainder of the round – with only a few frustrated expletives thrown into the mix – it was back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at their La Vinoteca restaurant.
The food at La Vinoceta was simply incredible. The six courses – of which the salmon tartar and the seared mullet were personal favourites - were accompanied by delicious Spanish red wine and plenty of sport-based discussion.
Following a day of travel, golf, not enough sleep and too much food and wine, I dragged myself off to bed in preparation for another full-on day.
I do not claim to be an expert at many things, but I do consider myself somewhat of a ‘breakfast connoisseur’. The mark of any good hotel worth its salt lies in the quality of the breakfast on offer and this Inter-Continental did not let me down.
As well as your typical breakfast spread of sausages, bacon, eggs, cereal, toast, et al, a variety of Spanish meats and smoked salmon were also on offer, while the endless supply of pastries ensured I left for the morning round full and content.
Our next golfing challenge came at the Mar Menor course; a part of the first Polaris World resort opened in 2005 which itself offers an Inter-Continental hotel and is just a five-minute drive from the beach.
Despite another shaky start, I managed to play some semi-decent golf over the next 18 holes, which brought some extremely tough challenges. Another Jack Nicklaus-designed course, the lightning fast and difficult-to-read greens caused the main problems of the round while the expansive bunkers tempt you into going for your shots, but ensure anything not perfectly hit will find a sandy home.
For those playing this course for the first time, beware of the ball-swallowing lake that stretches around the ninth and tenth holes. Driving over the left edge of the lake on the ninth offers a much simpler and closer approach to the green, although miss-hit it and you are guaranteed to be hitting your third off the tee, like yours truly.
Similarly on the tenth - a 230-yard par three – the lake must be taken on to give yourself the easiest chance of securing par. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer the same fate as I did on the ninth and managed to save par; a rare mini-victory was enjoyed as I continued with the back nine.
Following a consistently inconsistent round it was back to the Wood House restaurant at La Torre to enjoy a spot of lunch and to reflect with our fellow golfers on the rounds we just endured. Talk of ‘battling around in level par’ and ‘didn’t play great today; scraped to a three-over round’ were met with responses of ‘struck the ball well’ and ‘the putts just weren’t sinking today’ rather than divulging my actual score.
The final round of the weekend was a brisk nine holes at La Torre’s course and the stakes were raised with a Stableford format in-place, as everyone chipped in five euros with the winner taking the pot.
After, by my standards, a good round of golf in the morning, my game deserted me in the afternoon. Perhaps it was the added pressure of playing for cash or the fact that I had fully relaxed after the grueling morning session, but I struggled to find any rhythm with my swing.
That did not take away from the stunning course. Again Jack Nicklaus-designed, a 5,400 metres, 68-par course with more trademark large bunkers and wide fairways.
My shoddy round was summed up with a limp finish; a beautiful but relatively straightforward par three nine with just a lake in front of the green. A mis-hit seven iron ensured I found the water and confirmed my wallet would be five euros lighter as we made our way back to the hotel.
After getting ready following a well-deserved bath, we made the journey into Cartagena; a picturesque maritime city based on the Mediterranean coast and home to the world’s first ever submarine.
A few beers were then enjoyed overlooking the harbour, before making our way back to Polaris World for some hearty Italian food. For those of you keen on Italian cuisine, the dinner at Trattoria Acacia is a must. Delicious salads and a large, stone-baked garlic pizza bread preceded one of the finest pizzas I have ever had.
Being our final night and with no golf responsibilities the following morning, we decided to head over to ‘The Clover’, the Irish pub offering British beer and dodgy karaoke. After watching a fellow journalist nail Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog, I thought it best to keep my tone-deaf voice hidden and stick to the socializing aspect of the night.
A few too many beers and the opportunity to enjoy a lie-in meant I missed our final breakfast. After gathering my belongings and checking out, it was time to head off to the airport, coupling the journey with obligatory grumblings of heading back to a cold, dark London.
Whether you are looking to invest in a property or simply seeking a week’s holiday, Polaris World cannot come recommended highly enough. The top-class facilities – from the outstanding hotel and its friendly and helpful staff, to the plethora of swimming pools, tennis courts, health spas, shops and restaurants – will ensure your needs will be amply met.
However, it is the golf that is deservedly the main attraction. Challenging, picturesque and immaculate, the courses on offer at Polaris World make it standout from similar resorts, while the promise of sunshine in the winter months makes the proposition of getting away for some golf in the year’s cold and depressing months is a very real and convenient one.