IRM Golf Experience An Analysis
Over the past two years, I've returned to the wonderful Murcia region of southern Spain to play all six golf courses in the IRM Nike Golf Experience portfolio, and I have been incredibly impressed with what's offer, especially when you realise that the hot, dry conditions really aren't conducive to setting up good golf courses. But these guys work with what they've got and do it really well. I would have no hesitation in recommending these courses to anybody who is looking for a good-value golf holiday.
Now I've concluded my odyssey, I felt it was an apt time to go into slightly more detail, and discuss some of my favourite aspects of the six courses: Condado de Alhama, El Valle, Saurines de La Torre, La Torre, Hacienda Riquelme and Mar Menor.
Best Par 3
The six layouts feature a number of par threes - a result of the relatively small areas of ground used in construction - but in my mind, there's only one winner in this category: the par-3 11th at Condado De Alhama. Tee shots are hit from a raised tee over a huge expanse of water to an amphitheatre-esque green. It's not just the spectacular nature of the hole that's impressive, though, it's the clever design. Anything short or left will find water, but if you go long or right, you will face a devilish second shot to a tiered green back towards the water. It's a visually stunning hole with plenty of character - especially when the flag is positioned on the left edge of the green. From the tee, it actually looks like they've put it in the lake.
Best Par 4
El Valle - arguably my favourite course of the set - features some excellent par fours in an inimitable, desert setting. That said, the characteristics of the 13th hole at El Valle are incongruous with the rest of the course. It's a hole where strategy is key.. Water runs down the left and juts across the fairway some 200 yards from the tee. Most will choose to play short, but those able to hit long, accurate drives might be tempted to carry the water and leave themselves with a wedge to a back-to-front sloping green, beautifully framed by water features, including a small waterfall to the right of the putting surface. It's picture perfect.
Best Par 5
I've thought long and hard about this selection, but I'm going for the 4th at Condado, which just edges it over the 4th at Saurines de la Torre. Both are visually beautiful holes, but Condado just gets my vote. Water runs all the way down the right of the hole, from tee to green, giving the impression there's only half a fairway to aim for. To make matters more difficult, shrubland and bunkers line the left, and if you find those, the second shot - played via a fairway that runs towards water - is very challenging indeed. From the ideal spot in the fairway, the third is played over water to a narrow, undulating green that's very difficult to hold.
Most scenic hole
There are numerous contenders in this category - testament to the work of course architects, their use of water, the nature of the terrain and some of the backdrops in this part of the world - and while the aforementioned 4th at Saurines and the par-three ninth on the same course are worthy of the accolade, I'm going for the 13th at Mar Menor. It's a sharp dogleg right, and the second shot is what makes it special. A huge body of beautifully blue water lurks invitingly, short, long and right of a narrow green that tilts towards the hazard. It's also the first hole of a sublime three-hole stretch played around a central pond, culminating in the truly distinctive par-four 15th.
Best golf course
It's a toss-up between El Valle and Condado, but I'm going to go for the former, predominantly because of it's distinct desert character, the sheer number of good, varied holes and the architectural excellence of the design. It's a desert golf course carved out of arid terrain and rocky outcrops, which really help to give it some character. It's not overly long, it's well defined, the bunkering is excellent, it's varied and water is used to enhance the course and create some truly stand-out holes.
Best off-course feel
Another factor that's enjoyable about the IRM Nike Golf Experience portfolio is the sense of balance. All course are twinned with hotels and resorts, and all boast striking clubhouses with atmosphere, especially at Mar Menor and La Torre. The outside area at La Torre - a serene spot overlooking the memorable water-infused par-three ninth - just pips Mar Menor's clubhouse patio and Condado's roof terrace as the best place to enjoy a post-round beer.
Best value for money
I'd have to say the whole collection offers excellent value for money, especially for those looking to play a number of rounds during the the duration of their golf break or holiday. With prices starting at less than 50 Euros for a twilight round - giving you ample time for 18 holes with Spain's climate - and only 28 Euros for children under 17, it represents excellent value for money. Four-round vouchers - to be redeemed at any time within one month - are also on offer for less than 250 Euros.
Best kept course
It's the flagship course, and justifiably so. Condado de Alhama it is for me. It's a fine layout, made even more special by the greens, which are absolutely immaculate. I've been fortunate to play some exemplary golf courses around the world, but I've never experienced such quick, smooth and true putting surfaces.
Best overall feature
Nicklaus design architects deserve tremendous credit for fashioning so many good golf courses out of difficult terrain, but the overriding theme throughout the set is the quality and test of the greens and green complexes. They are brilliantly conditioned and laden with undulations and steep run-off areas, which really make you think carefully about how to play your approaches. A tough proposition indeed.
To read Nick's full feature reviews for each course visit the links below:
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