The man at the fairway really didn´t look like a golfer. With a white shirt, spotted tie, black suit trousers and leather shoes with heels, one would more likely have taken him for a well-nourished bank executive rather than one of the most colourful European artistocrats of the time. This particular spring day in May 1964 Prince Rainier of Monaco had the honour of inaugurating a golf course on Mallorca. Exactly 50 years ago, the aristocrat managed a rather skilful drive – despite not being dressed for the sport: it was the first ball ever played at Golf Son Vida. Representatives of the press, local dignitaries, and the course owners had been watching him. This royal opening ceremony, in which Rainier´s then nine-year-old son and today’s Prince Albert of Monaco also took part, made headlines in the newspapers as far away as Germany and the UK.
Rainier’s choice to be the godfather of the first and still existing golf course on Mallorca, was not by chance, of course. Together with his wife, the former Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, the Prince had visited charming Castillo Hotel Son Vida on his honeymoon three years earlier. And two men met, who are inevitably linked to the history of the golf course: former U.S. pilot Stephen A. Kusak and Mallorcan wine- maker José Luis Ferrer. Both had already purchased the former five-million-square-foot estate in the hills behind Palma in the mid-50s, to transform it into an evergreen residential complex, including a luxury hotel. The golf course was ultimately the icing on the cake of this ambitious and – at least in Europe – unprecedented construction project for Kusak and Ferrer. Prince Rainier had invited the American and Mallorcan entrepreneurs to Monaco, enabling them to return to Mallorca with a good deal of inspiration from the famous “Monte Carlo Golf Club”.
And then everything went quickly – almost too quickly. At Golf Son Vida, only the first nine holes were playable initially. The back nine were released for operation in June 1964. Actually, the opening had been planned a year earlier, but new variations of the original layouts led to delays and excessive construction costs. After completion of the course, the whole project was estimated at around 20 million pesetas (about 120,000 euros). The Golf Son Vida Golf Course was the most expensive of its time.
Golf Son Vida is still the figurehead of the golf offer in Mallorca; no other course is as traditional or charismatic. And none abroad is known as well as the 18-hole-course. Like its two sister courses Son Muntaner and Son Quint, Son Vida Golf and the hotel of the same name are in the possession of the Schörghuber Group and their business brand ‘Arabella’. Famous figures have swung wood and iron in the past five decades at Golf Son Vida. It is certain that many members of the Spanish, Saudi and Moroccan royal families have been among the list of players. And a dizzying number of celebrities have played here, ranging from Truman Capote, John Lennon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anthony Quinn, Jack Nicholson, Sting, Julio Iglesias, and Gary Kasparov, to Niki Lauda, Franz Beckenbauer and Boris Becker.
Golf Son Vida neither was nor is only a “green lawn catwalk” for the rich and famous. Many international top professional golfers have been listed on the score card here. The place was the venue for the 1990 and 1994 ‘PGA Open de Baleares’. The championship was – among others – attended by fairway greats such as Lee Westwood, Paul Lawrie, Barry Lane, and even the late Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros. The latter won the first edition of the professional tournament – to the great delight of the local audience – in a play-off against the Swede Magnus Petersson. Among the guests were top players such as Gary Player, Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenéz.
“Golf Son Vida offers a thrilling mix of challenges for all handicaps,” says Bernat Llobera, director of the Arabella golf resorts. “It is a relatively short course, on which success depends ultimately on the right game plan.” Among the outstanding holes are the final and the sixth, where you can enjoy a unique view of the skyline of Palma and the Cathedral, while teeing off. Because of the relatively steep slope, this fairway is often called ‘San Francisco’, and compared to the famous Lombard Street in the Californian city.
Fifty years ago, the first tee-off – Prince Rainier’s on May 14th in 1964 – was set at Hole no. six. It must have been a very well-looped strike. In any case, the Monaco prince was so excited that he didn´t want to put his club aside after the official act. Instead he played all holes to the end. In suit and tie, of course. Noblesse oblige.