Sunday, November 13, 2016

From A Well In Alcudia To Prince Rainier

There is a well in Alcudia which, in August 1707, was covered over by the order of what then constituted a town hall. The local authority was concerned about the number of stones that children were throwing into it and possibly also by how many children might have disappeared into it.

A well from over three hundred years ago might seem like a peculiar starting-point for considering Mallorca's golfing heritage, but it was to prove be crucial in the creation of the island's first golf course. The well came to eventually be sited within Alcudia's electricity plant in the early years of the last century. The water was used to drive that plant, and the owner of the electricity distribution network in the town was a gentleman by the name of Pere Mas i Reus.

In 1933, Mas i Reus and Jaume Ensenyat acquired 198 hectares (around 490 acres) of land. It was sold to them by Joaquim Gual de Torrella, who himself had obtained the land from the bankrupt New Majorca Land Company, established by the British engineer Frederick Bateman for the purposes of draining and cultivating the Albufera wetland.

Mas i Reus, Ensenyat and Gual de Torrella's son, Mariano, were involved with an ambitious project. They planned to create a resort. Some one hundred plots were to be sold, a hotel was built and, central to the whole project, a golf course was created. Which was where the well came into the story. Its water was needed for the course and for the properties that were to be built on the plots. The well was, by then, no longer inside an electricity plant. The building had become a textile factory - Tapices Vidal - and Mas i Reus paid the factory two centimos of a peseta per cubic metre for general use of the water and seven centimos for watering purposes. In addition, he had to install a pipeline for the water to be supplied from the old town to the site.

The hotel was called the Hotel Golf. It is now the adults-only Vanity Golf, the home also to Team Sky when they train in Mallorca in the winter. The golf course was officially opened in February 1934. Ensenyat, in addition to believing that tourists could be attracted, felt that the course would be of value to the British (and American) residents in neighbouring Pollensa. Some members of this foreign community were invited to the opening.

What they witnessed and what they played was rudimentary. The course had nine holes, all of them on totally flat land. The greens were indistinguishable from the fairways, which were marked out with stones and shells. How successful (or not) the course was to prove to be, its life was short. The Civil War came, and the course was taken over and used as a landing-strip.

As for the well, that remains. The factory has long since closed, but it too remains, occupying a corner of Alcudia's market area. The well, though, has been accorded a certain status in the town's history, which speaks of it having a well-deserved place in the economic development of Alcudia and of Mallorca. How much greater or swifter that development might have been is purely hypothetical. The golf course and resort project were killed off by war. It wasn't until the 1960s that the plan for the resort, minus the golf course, was revived.

The importance of the well and therefore the provision of water cannot be underestimated. An indication of this was the fact that the Alcudia course wasn't strictly speaking the first. Mas i Reus and Ensenyat were both heavily involved with the Mallorca Tourist Board. Mas i Reus, though known more as an engineer, had joined its governing board as a spokesperson for the association of hoteliers in the mid-1920s. Both he and Ensenyat would almost certainly have attended a function at the Hotel Formentor in 1930, which was specifically for members of the tourist board. They would probably have observed that the hotel had a golf course.

Little is known about this course and it seems that it was never actually used. And the reason why not was that there wasn't sufficient provision for water to maintain it. A subsequent plan for the Formentor course never got off the ground. The year was 1936.

The Civil War and then the world war put everything on hold, including another plan for a resort with a golf course. Habitat Golf Santa Ponsa was founded in 1932, the garden city design of the whole resort having principally been the work of two Germans - a Berlin building tycoon Heinrich Mendelssohn and architect Max Säume.

It wasn't to be until 1964 that a golf course - a sustainable one - was inaugurated. The concept for the Son Vida course, originally just nine holes, was mainly that of one of the partners in the hotel, the American Steve Kusak. Another of the partners, Jose Luis Ferrer of Binissalem wine fame, was said by his daughter to have had no idea about golf or golf courses. Once he had visited courses in Monaco and Zurich, his enthusiasm for the development of the course was kindled. It was Prince Rainier of Monaco who teed off for the first time. Mallorca's golf was finally, and after the stuttering attempts before the war, on course.

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