Elite women golfers and cricketers have taken advantage of Murcia’s excellent winter climate and sports amenities to prepare for the next phases of their respective international sporting aspirations.
An exciting Ladies European Tour Qualifying School concluded at La Manga Club in January with Amy Boulden, the 2014 LET Rookie of the Year, winning the final stage by three strokes from Magdalena Simmermacher and Alison Muirhead.
Later, the 26-year-old from Llandudno in Wales, whose career-best finish in six years on tour was second in the 2014 Lacoste Ladies Open de France, said, “I’m relieved. It’s always a tough week coming back to Q-School. I decided to play a bit on the (US) Symetra Tour last year and didn’t manage to keep my LET card from the six events in which I played, so I was always planning to come back. I love playing in Europe, but you feel a bit of extra pressure once you’ve had your card and then lose it. It’s a big relief to have it.”
Simmermacher, 23, from Buenos Aires, will become the second Argentinian member of the LET after securing second spot (based on the best last 18 holes, a 68). “I can’t believe it… It’s really exciting that I’m going to play a full season.”
Muirhead, the 21-year-old Scot who had led the field in pre-qualifying at La Manga Club (her first tournament as a professional), said, “It feels amazing. I never expected this to be the outcome. To do last week and this week and finish first and second, I’m really pleased. It’s been a long two weeks and I’m excited for the tour and feel like I’m ready to be playing.”
Switzerland’s Kim Metraux – whose sister, Morgane, qualified in 14th spot – finished fourth, and England’s Alice Hewson took the final spot in Category 5c.
Fifteen other players qualified for the 2020 Tour in Category 8a, highlighting the multinational nature of the LET: Maiken Bing Paulsen (from Norway), Sarina Schmit (Germany), Casandra Danielle Hall (South Africa), Nobuhle Dlamini (Swaziland), Anne-Charlotte Mora (France), Pia Babnik (Slovenia), Filippa Moork (Sweden), Carolin Kauffmann (Germany), Morgane Metraux (Switzerland), Sophie Hausmann (Germany), EunJung Ji (Korea), Gudrun Bjorgvinsdottir (Iceland), Tiia Koivisto (Finland), Charlotte Thomas (England) and Monique Smit (South Africa).
Smit secured the 20th card with a birdie four on the second extra hole after a four-way play-off on the 18th against Manon Gidali (France), Leonie Harm (Germany) and Mireia Prat (Spain).
The 2020 LET season begins on 20 February with the Australian Ladies Classic Bonville in New South Wales.
England Women Preparing for Successful Cricket World Cup Bid
Meanwhile, also competing in Australia in February is the English cricket team – in the ICC Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup.
Head coach Lisa Keightley and her staff spent a week preparing the players at the La Manga resort, before the squad flew to Australia for the competition, beginning with their opening game against South Africa on 23 February.
The team members were able to take advantage of La Manga Club’s top-level practice facilities at the European Cricket Performance Centre. “The resort has got great facilities,” said Wyatt. “There are plenty of nets and there is also the middle practice facility so it’s great preparation for the World Cup in Australia.
“The weather is a lot better than being at Loughborough in the cold. It’s going to be quite hot in Australia so we have been acclimatising in the sunny weather by wearing our hoodies and jackets while we train. We’ve also made use of the sauna and spa facilities here which have been fantastic.”
Facilities at the club’s European Cricket Performance Centre include six first-class grass pitches, 23 grass and five artificial net lanes (all with 25-yard run-ups), a specialist grass fielding, catching and wicket-keeping areas, and two cricket grounds.
Other top cricket teams, including Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Glamorgan, are also due to undertake warm-weather training at the centre in the build-up to the new season.
In addition, Charlotte Edwards, who captained England on 220 occasions, has been named as a resort ambassador, followed the likes of Scottish football legends Kenny Dalglish and Gordon Strachan.
Welcoming her arrival, La Manga general manager Nick Montgomery said, “With the investment that the resort has made in the last few years, La Manga Club is now right up there with the very best warm-weather training venues in the world.”
A third sport, tennis, will be in the Murcia spotlight from 7 to 8 February, when Spain’s top women players begin their 2020 Fed Cup campaign against Japan at La Manga, which is the official overseas training base of the Lawn Tennis Association.