Ian Miller had a vision for creating an adventure golf course in Murcia, southern Spain many years ago. He bought a bar-restaurant that had fallen on hard times with the intention of turning it into a superb adventure golf centre, coupled to a great food and beverage experience. He hadn’t reckoned on the magnificent Spanish planning system, which to put it mildly, is extremely awkward. The site is on the edge of Cabo de Palos and at the start of the La Manga strip, a 20km long spit close to the famous golf resort of the same name. There is excellent visibility from the main road and whilst this could be a blight on the enjoyment of those using the course, the water features seem to drown out all of the noise very effectively. Best of all though, the site can be seen by thousands of passing tourists each day in the summer and many hundreds during the rest of the year. It is the best possible form of marketing.
The main point of contention with the Spanish authorities was that they had decided that the major storm drain adjacent to the site, which takes the form of a large tunnel that runs underneath the nearby dual carriageway, would be compromised by the building of an adventure golf course: Ian‘s plans were stuck for several years on this very issue.
Then in September 2019, the Gota Fria (meaning ‘the Cold Drop’, caused by frigid polar fronts driving temperatures some 16c below average, resulting in torrential rain) descended on the region. This extremely violent storm lasted for many hours wreaking havoc on all of the local towns up and down the coast between Valencia and Almeria, with thunderstorms, tornedos, and up to 280mm rainfall in some areas, resulting in extensive flooding. It was the worst storm for over a century, with a number of people losing their lives, and the effects are still being felt today.
Ironically, the Gota Fria provided an opportunity for Ian, who is nothing if not determined. Once ensuring that his family, friends and neighbours were safe, Ian took several hours of video footage of the water flowing through the storm drain during and after the Tempest. Even after the excessive amount of rainfall, it was only ankle deep and proved comprehensively that there was no possible danger of the storm drain being overwhelmed due to the creation of an adventure golf course. A horrid tragedy for many, but one that provided a resounding victory for Ian. He explains:
“The Gota Fria was terrifying and so many lives were lost or ruined, but I had to take my chance. I knew with complete certainty now that the storm drain was adequate to cope with any amount of water coming from the area above our property. The authorities had been using it as an excuse to block my plans for years. Having edited the full footage, I went to the planning offices and camped out there for two nights and refused to go home until I won an interview with the planning inspector. I showed him my video and he granted me the crucial planning permission.”
City Golf, the Swedish adventure golf company, was chosen to build the course. The layout extends in a linear manner from the clubhouse along the line of the main road, giving maximum visibility for passing motorists and prospective customers to see the fun others are having on the course. There are several water features and the layout has plenty of space including benches for people to stop and take a breather, or just admire the course. Gary Jenkins, from City Golf spoke to Golf Features:
“The City Golf team have built a really beautiful course here. It has been designed to be fantastically playable, providing the best possible visual impact for passing tourists, encouraging lots of repeat trade. Ian was a pleasure to work with and we wish him all the very best for the future.”
The original business that Ian purchased was called the Palm Lounge. It has snooker and pool tables and is deceptively large, with sunny patios and shaded verandas - an ideal pub restaurant. Ian has selected an excellent team of enthusiastic young people who are more than happy to encourage participation in all sorts of leisure activities: pilates, yoga, art classes, quiz nights, pool tournaments, snooker leagues and a wide range of inclusive activities designed to encourage everybody to visit.
So, having battled the planning authorities for many years and managing to build a super adventure golf course, Ian then has had to open during the Covid pandemic. Frustrating beyond belief. The number of tourists visiting the region is down markedly on previous years, even in what are normally busy autumn and winter seasons – usually a time when the weather is perfect for playing golf. Travel has been restricted, older visitors are more reluctant than ever to make longer journeys and many countries have quarantine measures in place which make even a brief visit almost impossible. In addition, the local government has introduced a policy forbidding anyone travelling between the various municipalities: these are smaller regions within the larger province - in this case the adventure golf is situated in the municipality of Cartegena which is - fortunately for Ian - one of the largest regions within the province of Murcia. This restriction on movement between municipalities, along with a 11pm strict curfew, and all food and drinks needing to be served on outdoor terraces only, have caused a number of issues, especially now that the much cooler evenings have arrived. Nevertheless, the business is well set up for the future and despite the rocky start, Ian and his team will no doubt prosper greatly when normal trading returns. We wish him well in these challenging times.