Updated: Jun 12, 2018
This was a 3 course trip, 8 golfers, flying into Bilbao from Edinburgh and spending our first night in Bilbao as we arrived late.
Eating late in Spain is always ok and we found a local restaurant (La Viña del Ensanche)
easily that was still packed at 10:30pm. We ordered a set menu of various tapas for 30 euros each and some decent Rioja to go with it. More than enough food and drink to satisfy us after our short flight and we headed back to the Sercotel Hotel for a reasonably early night.
Next day we had a 75 min drive to Izki golf, lying high up in the hills in the countryside about 100km South-East of Bilbao. Designed by Seve it resembled some of the courses you might find around Perthshire or Aviemore (but a bit warmer). Spectacular views and peaceful without any houses around, the course was excellent although early in the season so the fairways were reasonably soft in parts.
The stroke Index 13th where a risk/reward approach is required to clear a large ravine with your drive and leave a short shot in for a birdie chance, and the 18th a sweeping dog leg par 5 from right to left (not a possibility for me) are the stand-out holes.
An excellent start to the tour with unanimous approval for the course from our party– reasonably long off the yellow tees but still very playable. Best score of the days was a fairly modest 27 but everyone scored in the 20s
We then headed up to San Sebastián in our hired mini bus. Around a 90 minute drive, but plenty to chat about on the way. We arrived at the Barcelo hotel lying about 15mins walk from the main beach and 30 minutes from the old town and headed out for some relaxed beer and Pinchos (local Tapas, typically on small pieces of toasted bread) in one of the many bars San Sebastian has to offer.
Next day we took the short (20 min) drive to Golf Basozabal (Royal National Golf Club of San Sebastian). Set in the green rolling hills to the West of the city this is a spectacular course where the fairways travel up and down the hills and are flanked by steep slopes that either kick the ball back towards the fairway or often away in the opposite direction creating difficult second shots for anyone not straight off the tee.
A superb course and well worth adding to your Spanish bucket list.
Scoring improved on day 2 with 35 points taking the first prizes aided by a birdie, birdie finish by one of our party, a story he was keen to pass onto former Ryder captain and 2 times Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal who was taking some leisurely practice at what is his home course, until 8 Scottish golfers requested a selfie !. Thankfully he was a complete gentleman and more than happy to oblige. What a legend and a real highlight of our trip !
We headed back into town with stories of other celebrity encounters ad ryder cup memories at the forefront and at the Beharri restaurant, San Sebastian’s old town settled for the popular “cider set menu”. This entails a set menu of fish,meat and cheese with free and unlimited cider from from the in house cider vats ! Another must do if you are in this part of the world – but take it easy on the cider.
The final day we took an easy drive (50minutes) up to Biarritz to play Chiberta in Southern France. Sitting only 5 miles out of town Chiberta is a mix of true links, with great views of the local lighthouse and Atlantic ocean and parkland with high pine trees and tight drives (closet I can think of in the UK would be Longniddry and Archerfield (Fidra). This was the second time I had played Chiberta and I must say I enjoyed it far more this time (less windy) and thought the condition was excellent.
Scoring improved again with scores of 39, 37 and 36 points being recorded on what were clearly good scoring conditions true greens. Stand out hole is the 9th with a good drive leaving a tight approach to a large green flanked by a large lake on the right.
Izki – 9/10
San Sebatian (Real Nuevo Club Golf) – 8/10
Chiberta – 7/10
Bilbao – Sercotel, 4* - comfortable and central
San Sebastián – Barcelo 4* - well priced and fine, but worth looking around for something nearer the old town if you want to avoid taxis in the evening.
Restaurants (San Sebastián)
Beharri – cider menu a must !
Zelagenko – excellent pinchos and restaurant
This trip involved a reasonable amount of driving but if you don’t mind the travel it’s well worth it for a golfing experience in a region of Spain that has spectacular scenery, fantastic food and drink, that is genuinely the best you will find anywhere and great courses.
Options are also to play the 2nd course in San Sebastián that is also excellent or Seve’s home course (Pedrena) …close to Bilbao (although you can’t book tee times easily and it increases the driving required a little)
About the Author
Stuart Rowell is a non executive director and former corporate sales leader and now an independent golf course reviewer, photographer and bespoke tour organiser. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland and La Manga, Spain, he is a category 1 golfer and a member of North Berwick and Luffness Golf clubs, the Bass Rock and Scottish Seniors Golfing Societies. I also caddy at North Berwick and occasionally at Muirfield and still harbour an ambition to carry a tour bag !
I have played numerous courses in the UK, USA, Africa and Europe.
Please contact me for more information if you would like to organise a trip to this region.
@linksgolfphotos "May all your putts hit the centre of the cup"