With a putter in one hand and a glass of red in the other, my dad said, “I’d love to play there.”
It was two years ago while he and I were watching Miguel Angel Jimenez win the Spanish Open at the PGA Catalunya Resort, near Barcelona. Now, here we are, to begin this famous journey and, what’s more, it’s dad’s 70th birthday.
We have always loved playing sports together, it’s the only time we have to recover.
On the swing: Chris and John on the pitch of the stadium at PGA Catalunya Resort
And thanks to the European Tour Travel Club, you can now see the likes of Justin Rose win on television, then play on the same tees and greens the following day.
The PGA Catalunya Resort is one hour north of Barcelona and the famous Camp Nou.
It turns out my dad played there a few times during his years as a midfielder for Chelsea and full-back for Arsenal.
But it’s funny how a man who has fought on the football fields of Europe suddenly falls silent when he arrives at a golf course.
There are two 18-hole courses here: the championship Stadium Course, which is number one in Spain, and the Tour Course, which is slightly shorter.
“Let’s check,” my father says with a nervous squeak in his voice.
On most golf trips, the hotel never matches the course. Maybe it’s because most golfers just want a good game and a comfortable bed.
But the new five-star Hotel Camiral, refurbished at a cost of £ 28.5 million and only open in June, has much more to offer.
There are two 18-hole courses at PGA Catalunya Resort: the Championship Stadium Course, which is the number one in Spain, and the Tour Course (above, the thirteenth hole)
It is luxurious, chic, but it also has a real homely feel.
We play our first round on the Tour Course, a perfect warm-up for the big one. Pippo my father.
“I traveled here to play as a plonker,” he says by way of analysis. We are both a little discouraged by our performances and almost immediately go back to our rooms.
But as the sun goes down, suggest a quick drink by the pool and remind ourselves that we’re not professional golfers and never will be.
And what a place to snatch scorecards. A warm, gentle breeze blows from the mountains as our bodies and, most importantly, our heads cool down. We could stay all evening.
Refined cuisine; a slice of history: PGA Catalunya Resort’s 1477 restaurant is so named because that was presumably the year the first Catalan cookbook was written
Then it’s time for dinner. The Costa Brava has some of the best restaurants in the world. In fact, 13 have Michelin stars and are all within an hour’s drive from here.
So the hotel restaurant 1477 has to be good to compete. It is called 1477 because it is the year in which the first Catalan cookery book was written.
Let’s go to town with suckling pig and wild sea bass, and let’s not hold back from the local rose. Catalan cream and dessert wine follows. This is not how McIlroy or Stenson would have prepared for the ups and downs of the Stadium Course.
The next morning, we have an early tee time. When you’ve wanted to play a course for so long, you wonder if it will live up to expectations. It does.
Sportsman: Chris Hollins was born into a footballing family in Bromley, South London. In 2009 he made use of his imaginative footwork, winning the Strictly Come Dancing series
Hard, yes, but much more beautiful than I had imagined.
The route goes through a pine forest and there are spectacular views over the Pyrenees. There are also lakes.
My favorite hole is the 13th, with its raised tee that allows you the perfect view of mountains, woods and lakes.
I got a great tee shot and recognized the huge cheers of the imaginary crowd. Then I put my approach shot in the water.
Final results? The game was halved at the last minute following a generous concession from me.
The smile on my father’s face as I give him the ball tells me it was an electrifying experience.
The only thing missing is a Miguel Angel cigar to celebrate.
Travel Information: Plan your golfing vacation in Spain
EasyJet (easyjet.com, 0330 365 5000) flies from Gatwick to Barcelona from £ 58 return.
The European Tour Travel Club (europeantourtravelclub.com, 0845 2508404) offers three nights B&B from £ 325 per person at the Camiral Hotel of the PGA Catalunya Resort (pgacatalunya.com, 0034 972 472 249), including a ride on the Stadium and Tour routes.