Friday, March 27, 2009

Myrtle Beach is just like Spain

Tucker: Costa Del Sol is Spain's Myrtle Beach

MARBELLA, SPAIN – About four days into my visit in Spain’s Costa Del Sol, I find myself noticing endless similarities between it and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as a golf mecca.

Don’t get me wrong, there are stark differences too (in Costa Del Sol you curse motorists zipping by you 40 km over the limit, while in Myrtle Beach you curse tourists going 40 km under). But as golf destinations, Costa Del Sol is the Grand Strand’s European equivalent.

Geographically, the Costa Del Sol stretches about 140 kilometers along the Mediterranean Sea and contains most of Andalucia’s 130 golf clubs. That’s mightily close to the Grand Strand’s over 60-mile stretch of 100-plus courses just off the coastline. On Costa Del Sol’s main A7 road, you pass golf holes on either side in almost comical fashion. If you don’t see a course within sight between Malaga and San Roque, just wait a few blinks.

And in both spots, practically all courses offer at least some amount of public play, with styles running the gamut. In Costa Del Sol, you can tee it up on some of the world’s best courses, including Ryder Cup host Valderrama Golf Club, while at the opposite end, there are other courses that were built simply for the sake of adjoining real estate and are nothing more than a basic golf offering.

This saturation of golf courses also means you’ll find pretty competitive green fees. Value can be had here with the right combination of courses, even on the U.S. Dollar. Top courses in Costa Del Sol (excluding Valderrama’s €300 fee) range about €80-140 (Myrtle Beach peaks out at about $200). The climates line up pretty close too, with the peak seasons for golf coming in the spring and fall, while the summertime is for the beaches. In the winter, the weather can be spotty but golf is certainly on the menu.

The food? Well, Spain’s gastronomy comes second to none, but both destinations obviously specialize in their seafood. And Malaga’s signature dishes are fried seafood (a bit like Calabash north of Myrtle Beach). Last night at La Campana, a tapas bar in Malaga’s Old Town, we enjoyed some fried octopus, baby calamari and fish eggs. Now, you won’t find all-you-can-eat crab legs anywhere in Costa Del Sol (or maybe I’m just not looking hard enough), but you’re never going to bed hungry (or in most cases sober).

And both destinations are huge expat/transient spots, and golf has been a big slice of that. In Myrtle Beach, the area’s massive growth over the last 15 or so years is thanks to snowbirds from Canada and the northeast and Midwest. Costa Del Sol has experienced an even more rapid boom and is very densely populated along the coastline. Here in Marbella, it’s full of U.K. and northern Europe expats, where Spanish is practically a secondary language. Head just a few minutes down the road from here to Sotogrande and you’ll encounter a charming, more laid-back marina town that’s home to many Americans. But if you’re looking for more of a authentic Spanish coastal town, head to San Pedro (in between Marbella and Sotogrande), as it’s kept its Spanish vibe better along this stretch of coastline.

The most notable difference between Costa Del Sol & Myrtle Beach’s golf, however, is the coastal topography. The Grand Strand is mostly flat, where 40-foot elevation changes are cause for marketing points. Contrarily, I didn’t know just how severe Spain’s coastline, highlighted by the La Concha mountain looming over Marbella was, and the golf courses reflect that. Even courses a few miles off the coastline are going to have sea views, just because you’re so high up. In Costa Del Sol, you’ll encounter both steeply-elevated tee shots with panoramic mountain and sea views, as well as greens perched so high you must club down three irons just to get your shot to the front edge.

So if you’re a regular visitor to Myrtle Beach and are considering a foreign exchange, Costa Del Sol is what the doctor ordered (and to our European readers, flip that). Stay tuned for plenty more on Costa Del Sol at

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