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  • Writer's pictureGolf on Costa del Sol

La Cala Europa Pro Challenge

Updated: Feb 26

Today we say hello to an old friend and challenge match veteran, Damien Murphy. He and Mike Roberts exacted a terrible beating upon JW and I at La Cala Golf America a few months ago in our first challenge match. He is back for more! His chosen partner for today’s battle is fellow touring professional Blair McKeithen.


Blair is an outstanding fellow with the most noble sense of sportsmanship. This became evident as he negotiated the bet for the challenge match. “Firstly I think the course should be played as the designer intended” he opined, “from the back tees”. JW blanched, the colour drained from his face as he steadied himself with his driver. “How about we give John 10 shots and Stuart 5?” JW’s face immediately regained its rosy glow as a broad grin spread from ear to ear. It was Damien’s turn to pale. “Jeez Blair, that was very generous of you” he said putting on a brave face. I think he was rather hoping that we might say “no Blair we can’t take that many shots…” – not a chance! Today is going to be a good day for the old boys.


Venue – La Cala Golf Europa Course


Our venue for today’s challenge match is the La Cala Golf Resort Europa Course. The third of the Cabell Robinson designed courses at the La Cala Golf Resort. The management took advantage of the Covid crisis to close the Europa course for a year in order to re-grass all of the greens with Bermuda grass. Europa re-opened recently and we are keen to see how it plays.


La Cala Golf – Europa Course – The front nine holes


The old boys take an early lead


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

The first at La Cala Europa is a good birdie chance and gives you a good chance to make a positive start. Gallantly we offered the honour to the young guns. Each rifled fizzing 2 irons down the centre line of the fairway. JW’s trusty M2 driver delivered a fine result which allowed me to take a wild lash with the driver and have a crack at the green.


The lads played into the green first, both ran a little long, Blair in the back bunker and Damien on the apron. JW found the heart of the green. My drive left me with 15m to the green, “This should be a birdie” said John. He was right , it should have been. It wasn’t. My first chip covered 5m of the remaining 15m. My 2nd chip was stiff for a scrambled four and a half.


The second hole brought the first of a plethora of shots for JW. From the tee a pair of bunkers sit on the crest line of the fairway, the left edge of which is the tiger line. From the crest line the fairway runs down hill and to the right to the valley floor and a small well guarded green.


Damien and Blair again striped 2 irons exactly on the tiger line. My tee shot was too far to the right presumed lost in the red staked rough on the right. JW hit another fairway finder and kept us in the hole.


Blair and Damien were in perfect position just 70m short of the green. Two fine wedge shots see them create 2 birdie chances. JW, unphased, found the middle of the green with his second shot and set the target with a four net three. Damien from below the cup left his birdie achingly close but ultimately short whilst Blairs slippery downhiller slipped past.


One up! We are actually one up! First time ever we have taken the lead in any of our challenge matches. What a glorious day in paradise!


A bridge too far

It’s our honour on the third hole. JW selected his 6 iron for the 160m tee shot and smoked it to 3m! Outstanding. I hit a nasty tug to the left which did exactly as Damien predicted hit the steep bank that guards the left and incredibly made its way to 1.5m from the cup.


Even this outrageous luck did not distract the professionals. Blair struck an 8 with perfect purity. Flying right over the flag it proved to be too much club and finished 11m past the pin. Damien hit another lovely iron into the green just right of the pin about 6 paces from the hole. None of the birdie putts found the bottom of the cup, a half.


This 4th hole is murderously difficult. I had no idea how to play it. Sportingly, Blair offers guidance. The tiger line is 30m up the mountain slope but needs a good hit to carry the ravine, you have to fly it close to 260 yards”. He put a beer in my hand which fortified me and made up my mind to attempt the tiger line.


I hit a nice shot which carried the distance but was cutting slightly and was last seen heading into the ravine. JW took the safe line which is to hit the ball towards the spit of fairway on the other bank of the ravine across the bridge. It is a longer route in, but is the only option if your partner has dunked one in the river!


JW and Damien both played the safe line. Blair smoked one over the shoulder of the mountain and found himself 120m from the flag. I took a penalty drop about 20m behind Blair and found the green for 3 net 2.


Both Damien and Blair found the dance floor with their second shots. JW hit a cracking shot which we all thought was in perfect position. Sadly the ball was never found.


Two more heartbreaking near misses from the Alps Tour players. It seems that they cannot buy a putt today. I saved a scruffy 5 to halve the hole.

This might be a contender for the toughest par 4 I have ever played!


La Cala Golf Resort – Epic in scale


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

The fifth and sixth holes offer amazing views across the valley looking over the other two golf courses. The sheer scale of La Cala Golf Resort is vast, it is only when you take in the view do you really understand the scale of investment made by FBD Insurance the Ireland based owners of the La Cala Golf Resort.

Blair points out the huge scale of the La Cala Golf Resort and the incredible vision it took to bring to life. Blair is a native of San Diego and as a professional golfer has played golf  at all of the great courses and resorts that California has to offer such as Pebble Beach, Spanish Bar and others. He points out with incredulity that nothing on this scale exists in California. “Each time I get to this tee I take a moment to drink it in. This place is incredible” He is right. La Cala Golf Resort is an incredible place and vitally important to European Golf as well as golf on the Costa del Sol. A remarkable place.


Quiet confidence prevails

We won the fifth to go 2 holes up only to have it snatched away again on the difficult 6th. One up going on to the 7th tee and we are faced by one of the most inviting driving holes on the golf course. The fairway rises from the tee to reach a plateau at 200m. A bunker guards the right at 180 from the tee, another guards the left at 250m from the tee.


Keen to steal the momentum from us, our young foes each smoke their drives far into the distance. JW has no problem finding the centre line and I hit a very odd looking drive that staggered into the air like a wounded pheasant before expiring in the right hand bunker. All that vein popping effort and I could only get it go 200 yards!! Despite my poor effort on this hole the mood in our buggy was quietly confident of restoring our 2 hole lead!


All four of us were deceived by the stiff breeze and left our second shots short. All four of us got up and down to save par, in our case, net birdie. With our 2 hole margin restored we race to the next tee!


Birdie or bust


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

Four perfect drives on the cracking par 5 set the tone for the 8th hole. It’s birdie or bust. JW put his second shot in perfect position just 80m short of the green. Blair, Damian and I having all hit crackers off the tee each have around 130m into the green. The lads hit superb iron shots pin high with makeable eagle putts. My own effort was less notable coming up short of the green. I redeemed myself by executing an excellent chip for a gimme birdie. JW two putted for a net birdie.

The tension was palpable as in turn Damien and Blair lined up their eagle putts. Each putt looked to be in from the moment it left their putters, each putt horse-shoed around the rim of the cup and remained in the daylight. Quite how they did not go in is a mystery. It seems that the great God of Golf is teasing them today!


This par 3 9th is a tough one today – the wind is howling directly against us. I don’t think I have an iron big enough to deal with the 160m to the green.

JW hit a low raking 3 iron that passed within inches of the cup before coming to rest in the back bunker. I hit my tee shot to 2m. The challenge has been set. Blair fizzed an iron into the wind with a delicate fade to settle on the green just outside my ball. Damiens ball did not move on the wind and finished just off the left apron.


JW stiffed his bunker shot giving me a free putt which I dutifully drained to win the hole and put us 3 up at the turn.


Great start to the back nine

On the 10th tee the sight and sound of the waterfall and lake on the right of the green make this par 3 a most picturesque hole.


Riding a wave of confidence I drill my tee shot to a few centimetres of the cup. Cries of angst are emanating from our bowed opposition. I could not help but notice the huge smile carried by JW at this point. 4 up!


The 11th toughest hole on the course, shots here for both JW and I. My new found confidence buggered off the moment I stood on the tee and was confronted by the magnitude this drive.


A long par five with ball gobbling gorse and heather along its entire length. A fairway that seemed to me to have the proportions of a lollipop stick provoked in me visualisations of failure. They came true. It’s up to JW to save us again.


He and the lads hit fairway piercing drives none were in range to reach with the second shots.


JW missed the green to the left with his third giving hope to the enemy. Alas it was false hope. JW got up and down for a net birdie. “He can’t keep doing this” I heard Blair protest, “He bloody well can” retorted Damien. Their birdie putts failed to drop and the score rose to 5 up.


Beaten by a Texas Wedge


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

The 12th had me beat just with the view down the fairway. Trouble all along the low left half of the fairway proved too much for me to resist. My 4th ball of the day immediately left the confines of the golf course never to be seen again. I was followed in short order by Blair, only JW and Damien managed to find this slender fairway.


Both JW and Damien found the front left bunker with a pair of poor second shots. JW splashed out whereas Damien knifed his across the green into the back bunker. Oh dear! In an exemplary display of self control Damien did not murder anyone as he walked across the green to his next bunker shot. With iron composure he took a very difficult decision, one that talented golfers never take lightly – he putted out of the bunker! Blair was just about to chastise him when the ball disappeared into the cup! JW, shaken by witnessing a sandy texas wedge missed his par putt. Finally the boys won a hole!!


Confidence oozed from the professionals as they strode off the green. JW and I rode in the buggy in silence still shocked by what we had seen. Putting from a bunker – it’s like an underarm serve at Wimbledon!


Another tough driving hole. My fragile swing cannot withstand much more of this! Damien hit his to the left and had a very tough shot across the rough into the small elevated green. Blair hit his drive miles and had an easy wedge into the green. Luckily for us JW has a shot and a gift for finding fairways. He is a little behind them, but he is in the fairway for nothing! I found one of the bunkers that line the extreme left of the fairway and managed to find the middle of the green with my second.


Heartbreak for Damien as his perfectly hit recovery shot carried just 1m too far and fell off the rear of the green coming to rest against an olive tree. It’s all over for Damien on this hole.


Blair had 3m for birdie. A snaking, slick down hill putt that has to go in. It did not, it ran the same distance past the cup resulting in a 3 putt bogey and the loss of the hole. We are now dormi 5 up!!!


Handshake

We are 5 up coming in this gargantuan par 3. Two hundred and thirty three metres! What a hole! It’s our honour and I manfully lead the way. A few seconds later I sheepishly sidle to one side of the tee having pumped yet another ball into the abyss and mumble something to JW about playing safe, use your shot etc. JW thankfully ignored my wheedling and with great nobility under duress striped his driver the entire 265 yards to the centre right of the green, Shot of the day from JW!


Sportingly Blair elected to join me out of bounds on the right leaving the huge burden of responsibility upon Damien. Stepping on to the tee with a cool demeanor that only golfers of a certain standard can muster, Damien hit the prettiest three wood with a baby fade to 8m of the stick. Pure class – a golf shot worth witnessing!


An unusual 3 stab from JW halved the hole with Damien’s par and the match was won, and we are 2 up on the back nine looking good to claim the full nassau bet!


Unbreakable John


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

The 15th is a fantastic par 5. The view from the tee tells you what you need to do and it makes it quite clear that the task ahead is daunting. The River Ojen traces its path to the sea in its deep ravine on the right making for an unfeasibly tight drive.


It’s my honour. When faced with an intimidating tee shot my strategy is to drive it out of bounds. “That’s ball number 6 over the fence so far today” commented Blair. JW groaned under the weight of dragging my corpse for the last few holes and still managed to despatch his drive up the middle of the fairway.


Blair hit a missile like drive up the left of the fairway. We watched in amazement as it carried the fairway, the first cut of rough and crossed into the red staked rough high on the banking that runs along the left side.


Damiens drive again found the fairway. A poor wedge shot saw Damien’s third shot in the front right bunkers on this exceedingly tough par 5. JW found the back edge of the green and cosied his birdie putt to the edge of the hole for a win.


The press bet

Sensing imminent defeat on the back nine and the total loss of the bet the lads entered a huddle emerging a few seconds later with a proposal. “Right” they said. “Here is how we see it. It looks like you are going to win the back 9 holes as well. However at the moment Stuart could not hit a cow in the arse with a banjo, JW is doing all the work – we don’t think you can drag him around the entire way to the 18th green! How about a press bet for the remaining holes?” JW attuned to a good opportunity when he sees one thrust out his hand. The press bet was sealed.


As if by magic my swing came back to me and my Hogan like 7 iron rifled at the flag coming to rest 2m from the cup on this delightful par three 16th hole. The young professionals were shattered, unable to find the putting surface on this exquisite par 3 victory was ours on the back nine too. Your earnest scribes had finally won their first challenge match. This is surely the overture to greater things to come.


Total victory in the Challenge Match and a healthy 1 up lead on the bye!


The close out


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

A long uphill par 5 that certainty favors the long hitting pros. JW has a shot which is likely to be critical. All four of us found the expansive fairway. JW unable to reach in two hits a good 3 wood to leave 70m for his approach shot.


The three of us were all about the same length off the tee. I hit a terrain following 3 wood which scorched its way up the fairway coming to rest just short of the front apron. Damien’s second shot had a similar fate. Bliar selected a 5 wood and hit the most beautiful golf shot. Taking a line on the left edge of the green he hit the tiniest fade to bring the ball onto the flag and take a little distance off it. It was pure. From my vantage point below the green it looked to me to be stone cold stiff!


JW and I drove towards the green believing that he needed to make a birdie for a nett eagle just to halve the hole. Still unable to see the dance floor and the proximity of Blairs ball to the cup. JW fired in his wedge shot leaving himself a side hill putt of around 3m for birdie.


We arrived at the green to discover that Blairs second shot had in fact flown the green and was 15m over the back edge! A nasty, slippery down hill pitch and run was required for Blair to get his ball close. Inevitably the ball ran 3m past the cup. Damien and I had similar length putts from either side of the hole for birdie, both slipped by. Grasping the nettle Blair hit his putt with enough energy to remove vagaries of terrain, the ball hit the middle of the cup, jumped in the air and sat firmly on the edge.


JW now has 2 putts to win the hole. As an experienced match play campaigner he used them both. His first putt finished at the side of the cup leaving a tap in to secure victory in the press bet too!


La Cala Golf Europa Course Mijas Malaga Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol Golf holidays

The 19th Hole

Some beer and pizza gave us a chance to reflect upon a cracking game of golf. Damien and Blair were great protagonists. We had to agree that everything went our way today, the next time we play I doubt that we will be so fortunate.


La Cala Golf Europa is a cracking golf course. Great fun to play with many generous fairways. It does have the ability to bite back. There are a run of holes on the back nine which had me completely flummoxed. I could not figure out how to play them.


The condition of the course is exactly as you expect from a resort with the reputation of La Cala Golf – exemplary. A great day of golf at La Cala Golf Resort! I look forward to my next visit.

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