Photo courtesy Adrian Cox
Graham Nash, a resident of Barcelona for 28 years and founder of the Sant Jordi Golf Society, has an appeal for Catalan politicians. “My appeal would be to approve the construction for more golf courses. There’s definitely a demand for it.“
Back in 1994, Nash, along with eight others, participated in a British Chamber of Commerce Golf Day, an annual event which still takes place. They had so much fun that they decided to re-create the same kind of event every month, but opening it up to anyone who wanted to come along. Thus, the Sant Jordi Golf Society was born.
The club meets on the last Thursday of every month and organises an 18-hole tournament, followed by a three-course lunch and raffle draw. Over the years, the list of participants has grown tenfold, from eight to 80, although a typical tournament will see around 35 players take to the fairways. They have always had a healthy balance of locals to foreign residents (around 40 percent to 60 percent) with past participants hailing from 18 different countries including China, New Zealand, Portugal, France and the UK, as well as Spain and Catalunya. Although business is usually conducted in Castilian, English-only speakers should not be put off, as there is always someone on hand to translate.
Since the inaugural Sant Jordi tournament, Catalunya has enjoyed a rising profile in the world of golf. The New York Times, in 1997, ran a travel piece focussing on golf in the region, while in 2000, Catalunya was named emerging golf destination of the year by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators. But Nash still believes politicians are reluctant to capitalise on the region’s natural resources and fabulous weather. “I think it’s based on the idea of golf as an elite sport.”
The answer, he believes, is in making golf more accessible, with municipal golf courses and ‘pay and play’ options. “It’s a cheaper option and is a good alternative to being a member of an exclusive club.”
The Sant Jordi society operates a similar policy, allowing participants to opt-in, and only pay for each tournament they play. There are no membership fees, registration procedures, rules or regulations, and no one is ever turned down, said Nash. Those keen to participate simply need to contact him by telephone (details on next page) with their name, handicap and mobile number. He calls everyone on the list a few days before the tournament, which normally takes place at the Club de Golf Montanyá course. Sant Jordi members only meet for the tournaments and don’t generally practise together, although they do encourage the members on their list to free up all Thursdays at the beginning of the year. A day’s participation costs €42 for the green fee, €17 for lunch (prepared by a three-star Michelin chef), and eight euros toward the prizes. “No one goes home empty-handed,” according to Nash, who said that those who don’t place in the tournament’s top three can always try their hand at the raffle.
Aside from ‘elitism’, the other main criticism golf faces is over the environmental issue. Catalunya is frequently threatened with water shortages, and it seems hard to justify spending scarce water resources on irrigating an 18-hole golf course. But Nash asserted that the Club Montanyá, situated in the Montseny natural park, a UNESCO biosphere site, is way ahead of the game in dealing with this. “They have their own lakes and collect rainwater. Those lakes are now totally full and there are little waterfalls everywhere on the course.”
The Montanyá club even has a resident biologist who works to maintain biodiversity. “One year they’ll do a whole field of sunflowers, or a little corner of wheat so the butterflies and insects, and the birds that eat the insects, have a place on the course. There are wild mink too, playing in the rivers.”
The society will shortly be launching a webpage, and already provides an e-newsletter. In July 2008, they played their 165th tournament, and also sent 16 players to play at Carnoustie in Scotland. Overseas tournaments are becoming a regular fixture, and the ‘friendlies’ are open to all. However for more competitive tournaments, such as the Hanslope Trophy, played in Oxfordshire against a division of the British Foreign Office, the society picks its best players.
In December, the Sant Jordi trophy is presented for the highest scoring player of that year. The trophy has been presented for the past six years, and only won twice by the same person.
Honouring the society’s name, the trophy depicts the eponymous saint on horseback, but instead of brandishing a sword at the approaching dragon, he bears a golf club. But, as with the monthly tournaments, there are also other prizes up for grabs, sometimes sponsored by local businesses. In past years, tea, cava, a mobile phone, and two nights accommodation at a spa have been won by society members.
The trophy, and indeed the society’s name, was chosen for its link between the Catalan and English patron saint—one of their main philosophies is to create understanding and friendship between locals and foreign residents in a relaxed and friendly environment. Although there are no rules, the main emphasis is on fun, and participants are always strongly encouraged to stay for lunch afterwards, instead of taking off back to the office. Non-golfing partners are also welcome to come along just for the lunch.
Nash would like to see more women get involved too, and the society has toyed with the idea of starting a women’s division. He believes it can be intimidating for a few women players to compete against 35 or 40 men, but reiterates that the society is open to everybody, and that the priority is relaxation and fun.
They also have a long-standing tradition of welcoming new members to the society with a gift of their own brand new golf ball. “It’s to replace the one they will invariably lose in the lake on the first hole at Montanyá,” said Nash, with an innocent smile.
• For those who don’t know how to play but always wanted to learn, individual classes are offered by the staff of local golf courses.
• Three of Catalunya’s courses figure among the top 100 of Europe’s 2,600 courses, according to Golf World Magazine. They are:
Golf Platja de Pals (www.golfplatjadepals.com)
Empordà Golf (www.empordagolf.com)
PGA Golf de Catalunya (www.pgacatalunya.com).
• Those wanting something easier than world-class courses have alternatives. One is the pitch-and-putt, recently opened on Montjuïc. Details at: www.golfmontjuic.com
• Sitges has the second oldest course in Catalunya: www.golfterramar.com
• A half-hour’s drive north will bring golfers to the Llavaneras golf club, recently expanded from nine to 18 holes: www.golfllavaneras.com
For more information, or to participate in the Sant Jordi Golf Society, contact Graham Nash on 607 818 865.
For information on the Club de Golf Montanyá, visit: www.golfmontanya.com