While Spanish banks are certainly in the hot seat over their debt, at least one of them has some impressive assets on the other side of the balance sheet – as golfers on the Costa Dorada will be the first to confirm.
La Caixa, the country’s third largest financial concern and one of Europe’s largest savings banks, is known affectionately in Catalonia as La Madre, “the mother”, for its nurturing of key enterprises around Barcelona and along the beautiful stretch of coastline to the south. Along with huge industrial, energy and communications interests, the bank’s special investment company has a select leisure portfolio catering to the international tourist market that dominates the region’s fortunes.
The showpiece is the Lumine Mediterránea Beach & Golf Community which unfolds over some 500 hectares of sun-drenched hillsides, colourful wetlands and prime seafront between the established seaside resort of Salou and the ancient Roman outpost of Tarragona. Like its owners, Lumine – as the resort’s full name suggests – has not put all its eggs in one basket, and is gradually evolving as a delightfully eclectic destination offering a range of experiences to the wide mix of discerning locals and tourists that form its target clientele.
With three golf courses, two clubhouses and a top convention centre now comfortably established – and some serious aprèsgolf on offer – Lumine has been steadily drawing custom from across Europe, particularly Holland, Scandinavia and Russia already familiar with the bustling resort of Salou, helped by flights to nearby Reus as well as Barcelona (just 100km away).
Throw in Spain’s largest theme park on the doorstep, and travel packages combining golf with everything from gastronomy and culture to VIP trips to watch Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and co. in the Nou Camp stadium, and Lumine is emerging as one of Spain’s most appealing resorts.
Of course, whatever the other attractions (or, in the case of the Beach Club, distractions), the golf itself has to make the grade and Lumine comes up to scratch here in both the quantity and quality on offer. 45 holes is a good start, implying enough variety and tee-time availability for at least a week without venturing beyond the gates.
That’s helped hugely by the startling differences between the two 18-hole layouts and one nine-holer in terms of landscape, topography and even the course architects. Greg Norman’s Lakes Course put Lumine on the map overnight in 2008 and certainly the Great White Shark’s fins are all over this challenging, technical test that unfolds menacingly over a colourful network of marsh and wetlands.
With two-thirds of the holes involving some form of water hazard, The Lakes does what it says on the tin. But Norman’s genius here is the way his test, while undeniably severe for the better player risking perilous tiger lines over and alongside the agua, still offers enough dry alternatives for the more timid.
The Lakes opened to instant acclaim with a Sergio Garcia Pro-Am and its reputation is now such that it has been chosen as a venue for ‘Q2’, the second stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, for the next two years, starting in November. It has already hosted The PGA of Europe’s prestigious annual fourball event, with that body formally promoting the resort in partnership with the Tourist Board of the Tarragona Provincial Government.
The course record of 66 here was set during that PGA event (beating Sergio’s opening 67): no mean feat given the bold play needed to set up birdies. The four-hole finish is particularly memorable for the watery grave down the left on all but the short 17th, with a calm strategy required to tackle the par-five 18th complete with the cheeky bunker that Norman has placed at driving distance bang in the middle of the bottle-necking, dog-legging fairway.
With the Sèquia Major wetlands being home to protected fauna and flora like Purple Moorhen, Great Bittern and Yellow Iris, The Lakes has had to meet strict environmental guidelines on everything from its routing to course maintenance practices and the density and construction of the proposed housing project.
Lumine has turned these stipulations to its advantage, adopting eco-friendly greenkeeping, irrigation and water recycling practices, along with renewable energy and sustainable materials for what should be the most sought-after of the planned homes across the property. The commitment has resulted in Lumine being the first golf course in Spain to be awarded Gold Signature status by Audubon International, regarded worldwide as the kite mark for the most environmentally aware leisure developments.
And yet for all its high profile, The Lakes is arguably topped by the other loops at Lumine. Aesthetically, at least, it is blown away by The Hills Course which winds its way spectacularly though the high land on the estate with exceptional views at every turn of the distant Mediterranean and surrounding towns.
It’s hard to believe the two courses are such close neighbours given the contrast in terrain and feel. Whereas The Lakes is flat and watery, The Hills is broadly dry (water on just four holes) with some uplifting elevation changes to complement the rollercoaster experience on offer at PortAventura. The latter’s awesome structure of twisted metal is a regular landmark at Lumine, rising out of the landscape like the skeleton of a huge sea monster.
Spanish course architect, Alfonso Vidaor from Green Project, has created a consistently absorbing routing through the challenging terrain that now embraces pine woodlands, olive groves, natural quarries and rocky outcrops.
Visually it avoids some of the more prosaic views of the Tarragona oil refinery visible from The Lakes, while, from a playing point of view, the use of natural mounds and subtle shaping create clearly defined, gathering fairways that welcome the ball off the tee in areas where the steep underlying contouring could have proved perilous.
Among the most memorable holes are the superb 13th and the quirky 90-degree dogleg 18th, both par-fours with greens backed by bold vertical walls of bright Mediterranean rock. At the last, this 100ft quarry makes for a stunning setting for The Hills’ own clubhouse: an additional facility in the peak autumn and spring months to complement the main Lakes clubhouse down at the lower levels.
The planned 100-room boutique golf hotel, to be perched atop the same cliff face and overlooking both the green and the most perfect clubhouse terrace should prove something special.
Understandably, given Spain’s current economic climate, Lumine’s ultimate ‘community’ vision, also embracing a residential village and another stylish hotel at the Beach Club, isn’t yet fully realized. But it is also to their credit that Lumine has avoided the soulless rows of half-built or empty properties built on a whim that blight many of the country’s other tourist trails, with the villa project here only set to unfold in discrete phases once sufficient sales for each tranche are safely secured.
In the meantime, accommodation is more than covered by a complete range of hotels in the surrounding area of Salou and Cambrils, including the colourful ones at the PortAventura theme park to which golfing families typically gravitate. Completing the Lumine golf experience is Greg Norman’s The Ruins Course which, far from an afterthought, would arguably fit comfortably into a ranking of the continent’s top nine-holers.
Named after the traces of Roman archaeology that form some of the defining features on the layout, The Ruins also features a charming five-hole stretch that descends down a sweeping hillside: starting at the short par-four 3rd with its shelf-like fairway cut into the slope and culminating in a plateau green with more fine views of PortAventura and beyond.
As with the other 36 holes, the playing surfaces of The Ruins are immaculately tended. Which brings us to key element of the Lumine formula: the appointment of premier management company, Troon Golf, for the smooth running of not just the Kentucky bluegrass fairways and Tee 1 bent greens but all operations throughout the resort.
As mentioned regularly in Gi’s travel pages, Troon continues to make its name in consultancy on everything from agronomy and tee-time booking systems to academy teaching programmes, pro shop retailing systems and clubhouse menus.
The group’s portfolio now numbers several hundred courses worldwide, including Turnberry and The Grove, Mazagan in Morocco and Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi. Their reputation is now such that resorts have taken to highlighting Troon branding as a major selling point in attracting discerning golfers who demand year-round, ‘tour spec’ standards on the course and hassle free organisation off it. Lumine have now retained Troon to advise on everything from the hiring and training of key personnel to the operation of their Beach Club (see sidebar) and even the merchandising of their own-brand wine and olive oil. Troon is also putting the finishing touches to Lumine’s golf academy, selecting the finest coaches and kitting it out with the TaylorMade R11 clubs (which you can also hire by the round) and the same state-of-the-art Performance Centre for both coaching and clubfitting as found at Turnberry and Wentworth. Yet, for all the high-tech trimmings, Lumine has an inclusive philosophy, encouraging courses for complete beginners as well as a Junior Academy aimed at kids from six years old. They’ll surely have a captive audience once the Salou International School opens on site as part of the overall masterplan. While the timing of these future phases remains uncertain in these tough times, Lumine is certainly making the most of its formidable existing assets, luring golfing aficionados, families, foodies and culture vultures.
LIVING THE LUMINE LIFESTYLE
Lumine specialises in tailoring travel packages combining golf with a full range of other activities to suit all tastes – with accommodation to match. Here’s just a taster of the main distractions on the doorstep…..
The Beach Club
For all the great golf at Lumine, the Beach Club actually gets top billing in the resort’s full name. But then, set seductively in the pine-clad hillsides above the sweeping bay of Tarragona’s Playa Del Llarga, it’s truly one-off hedonistic mix of style, relaxation, excitement and fine dining. With nine swimming pools laid out on a series of terraces, each with luxury beds and loungers, this has become fashionable venue for a trendy young crowd as well as families and couples. The highlight is a vast purpose-built freshwater pool set, unusually, on a free-form sand base which rises up to a small private beach within one corner of the club. This is the site for Lumine’s cool Volcano Club which operates on specified days to the strains of chill-out dance music from resident DJs and light shows that live up to Lumine’s latin name.
Complete with its own Club Med-style currency of mini volcanos, this is one of Spain’s hippest hangouts where up to 1,500 of the Costa’s most beautiful people can trip the light fantastic. With its day-time action proving far more socially effective than, say, Ibiza’s all night raves, the concept has caught the eye of international clubbers and celebrity DJs, while golfers with the energy can join the action after their round.
For families and couples who simply want to chill-out more conventionally, the club is large enough to get away from it all, with other pools, the clubhouse and dining area enjoying their own seclusion at the far end.
Aventura Theme Park
The big dipper at Spain’s largest theme park is one of the landmarks visible from Lumine’s fairways and an obvious draw for families. Combining the best elements of Florida’s Disney World and Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, PortaVentura is a more than a rollercoaster experience and takes in a full range of themed hotels, some with Mexican and Caribbean flavours to suit all pockets. Gastronomy This area of Catalonia has long enjoyed a reputation as a foodie’s paradise – starting with two Michelin-starred restaurants in the seaside town of Cabrils, widely acknowledged as the gastronomic capital of Catalonia (a point reinforced by the town’s School of Hospitality & Tourism).
Lumine will arrange restaurant bookings, as required, including at La Boella, a delightful 100-hectare olive estate and boutique hotel where non-residents can also indulge in wine and olive tasting, perfect tapas and an exquisite meal under the stars. Then again, Lumine itself offers superb cuisine at the Beach Club, with head chef Eduardo Cuesta already a legend in the area.
This formidable ancient city with its narrow streets, colourful shops and terrific sea views is just 15 minutes drive from Lumine. With 2,200 years of history and a Roman heritage preserved in dozens of monuments and architectural remains, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Essential Roman highlights include the amphitheatre, the Circus depicting the route of early chariot racing, a one-kilometre stretch of original walls and fortifications from the 2nd Century BC, and a temple with its surviving portico.
Salou or Cambrils?
Bustling nightlife or seaside sophistication? The choice is yours, with both the busy resort of Salou and the more peaceful marina port of Cambrils just a few minutes drive from Lumine. Both have superb beaches and facilities.
Popular hotels with Lumine golfers include the stylish Gran Palas (where Dominic stayed), near Salou; very well placed for the golf and with a fine spa. The Hotel Monica and Hotel Tryp Port in Cambrils are also recommended.