Almenara Golf Resort
Pine trees, cork oaks and lakes
Almenara, which opened in 1998, has three nine-hole loops, each of which is the brainchild of local architect Dave Thomas, and also provides very extensive practice and teaching facilities. A top class hotel, professionals shop and restaurant complete the amenities at one of the coast’s up-and-coming golfing venues.
On arrival I met the ebullient Lotta, a new member of the golf staff recently arrived from Sweden, who showed me around with an obvious sense of pride. The changing rooms have been tastefully furnished with plenty of lockers and swanky showers but I thought the seating was quite sparse. That charge cannot be levelled at the restaurant, which has expanded out of all recognition and is much the better for it. The inside area now seats about 100 guests and there is a small area set aside for private functions, which seems a good idea. The outside veranda has also been increased in size and Almenara can now comfortably cater for all-comers. Deciding to wait until after golf for something to eat, I headed downstairs and collected a newly washed buggy from Pedro, the caddiemaster, who gave me a Strokesaver with the card of the course and smilingly wished me a pleasant round. How easy it is to make a visitor feel welcome!
There is something inviting about a golf course which opens with a par-5, and the loop called Los Pinos is no exception although where the name came from is immediately obvious. There are lines of pine trees in all directions while the view out over the Mediterranean is quite spectacular. From the elevated tee the wide expanse of fairway stretching out in front seems impossible to miss but then the gaze rests on a lake to the left and somehow the tummy muscles tighten. In truth only a bad hook will bring the water into play but many of us can produce that shot easily. If the wind is against, the second shot will be played down into a valley from where it is just a short pitch up to a long but narrow green. From the tee of the par-4 second the fairway drops down, in a series of steps, into a valley before swinging around to the right and rising up to an elevated green which is bunkered on both sides. The Strokesaver earned its keep by drawing attention to a bunker on the right, about the 225-metre mark, which cannot be seen from the tee. Any approach over-hit will scamper down a steep incline,and crash off the buggy path, after which it will have a mind of its own. From the third tee the course continues its downhill journey on a fairway which slopes from right to left. A water hazard, bordered by railway sleepers, runs down the entire left-hand-side but stops some 20 metres short of the green. The area after the hazard consists of nothing but dense foliage and pine trees and a ball diving in will never see the light of day again. Considerable time might be saved if the boundary of the hazard were extended, thus stopping the lost ball rule coming into play.
The fourth is a par-3 measuring 142 metres (all measurements from yellow markers) and what an eye-catching hole it is. Played to an elevated green framed by pine trees, care must be taken not to over-hit as, eight metres behind the putting surface, the ground runs severely downwards and into a hazard. On the left of the green a deep steepsided bunker awaits but there is plenty of room on the right. On my way to the next tee I passed under a very striking canopy of pine trees which offered some welcome respite from the blazing sunshine. The fifth hole is a short par-4 (302 metres) played to a narrow fairway well bunkered on the left. Should the tee shot be pulled immediate prayers should be offered that the ball gets caught in the sand; otherwise it will plunge into the dense shrubbery and trees that quietly lie in wait. The right-hand-side is no bargain either as white posts appear ominously on the garden wall to the right of the buggy path. A narrow neck forms the entrance to the green and, again, anything overclubbed will finish in a hazard at the back. The sixth measures 372 metres and fully merits its rating of index 1. The drive is across a valley onto a fairway lined on both sides with dense trees while the approach is very much uphill to an awkwardly shaped green where danger of a serious nature awaits should you miss to the left.
The par-3 seventh measures 153 metres and is a somewhat innocuous hole. Care should be taken not to miss on the right; otherwise the second shot will be sharply uphill and played from the fairway of the previous hole. The eighth is a par-5 where danger lurks in all directions. The drive is down onto a landing area of the fairway where the hole dog-legs to the left before travelling uphill to a very small green. While the fairway is generous, out-of-bounds markers lurk on the left while a drain guards the opposite side. Short of the green there is a bunker on the left of the fairway but one of a more serious nature greenside. This is one to steer well clear of on the approach to a tiered green. The final hole on this loop measures just 302 metres where the main danger is a huge bunker on the right which eats into the fairway about 100 metres from the green. The bunker is some 34 metres long and looks like a big jig-saw piece. My eye was also caught by some attractive stone formations on the right while the, not so attractive, white posts appear on the opposite side.
Hotel bungalows form the backdrop to a very large green which is well bunkered on the left. So came to an end the nine holes called Los Pinos and I wallowed in the feeling of tranquility brought about by the ever-present trees and plantations which surrounded me as I meandered through the test. What treats lay in store on the loop called Los Lagos, I wondered, as I headed off towards the first tee of that nine holes.
The well signposted drive to the Los Lagos course brought me out by the car park and along a path (bordered by a neatly trimmed hedge) beside the entrance roadway: I then crossed that road and onto the first tee of a par-4 measuring 348 metres. The fairway snakes around to the left as it slips down into a valley.
The main danger is the boundary wall which is 10 metres inside the buggy path on the left, while further difficulty may be encountered by a scattering of trees on the same side about 100 metres from the green. The long narrow green is tilted both back to front and right to left and some stately trees form a backdrop. The second is a par-3 measuring 152 metres: played from an elevated tee to a green which lies somewhat below the level of the fairway; the hole is not one which will take up much space in the memory bank. The elevated tee of the par-4 third allows a full view of the generous fairway which is lined on both sides by dense trees. Some 100 metres from the green the fairway narrows into a bottleneck caused by a lake which stretches right up to the green. There is an attractive stone feature on the right, which could be a Wishing Well but, unfortunately, it is in the middle of a hazard so I could not drop any money in and wish to play better! The green is located a good few metres to the left of the lake but, for me, it was not quite far enough!
The par-5 fourth is where the lake really takes on gigantic proportions and I anxiously checked the number of golf balls in my bag. A simply huge expanse of water stretches out on the right and must gobble up golf balls at an alarming rate. About 150 metres from the triangular shaped green the lake eats into the fairway, leaving a playing area just 20 paces wide, so great care must be taken on each shot. I was somewhat surprised to find the stroke index of the hole was as high as 13. The par-4 fifth measures 396 metres and is shaped like a boomerang. From an elevated tee the drive is to a fairway below which then dog-legs 90 degrees to the right. Take a moment to savour the view of the stunning forestry on the left and enjoy the quietness which seems to envelop this area of the golf course. From the dog-leg it is 150 metres to the slightly elevated green which contains two tiers. Standing on the tee of the par-4 sixth the water appears yet again on the right but the fairway is quite generous apart from a copse of trees about 200 metres distant on the right. The approach shot is played on a fairway shaped like an upturned J and on its journey to the green the ball has to carry the edge of the lake. I was not sorry to see the back of that hole, which is made difficult by its extremely awkward shape.
The seventh, a par-3 measuring 164 metres, is quite a delightful hole. With water seemingly lapping at the feet the tee shot is across the lake to a large guitar-shaped green surrounded by trees. I crossed to the green by way of an attractive timber bridge and savoured each moment of this memorable hole. The eighth is a par-5 measuring 430 metres played to a fairway which moves gently around to the left. It is lined on both sides with dense trees, and attention should be given to the out-of-bounds markers on the left. The Strokesaver again shows its usefulness by drawing attention to three bunkers lurking on the left which cannot be seen from the tee. As the fairway moves to the left it rises gently upwards to a long but narrow green at the back of which stands a boundary wall. I then re-crossed the road passing some colourful flowers and arrived at the tee of the final hole on this loop. Measuring just 322 metres this hole will play considerably longer as it is quite an uphill slog. The main danger lies in the white stakes beside the buggy path on the right while the opposite side is not a very attractive proposition either, festooned as it is with rocks and trees. The front of the green is protected by three large bunkers sure to catch many players who overlook the fact that the shot is sharply uphill. So came to an end my golf at Almenara and I had thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet of the day. I was impressed with the quality of the greens and pleased to notice the greens staff busily employed making considerable improvements to the appearance of the course in preparation for the coming season.
Sitting out on the veranda of the restaurant, beneath a large parasol, it was time for some lunch and a thirst quencher. Where I come from this would be referred to as the 19th hole but at Almenara (with 27 holes), it is referred to as the 28th. The view, which extended out over the Sotogrande Estate with the Mediterranean shimmering in the background, was captivating. I was woken from my reverie by a smiling Pepi who noted my requirements methodically on her notepad and was sensible enough to reappear, almost immediately, with the bottle of sparkling water. My attack on the reviving liquid had hardly commenced when the smoked salmon and creamed cheese (on wheaten bread) arrived with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of efficiency. While savouring the lunch I tried to figure out why the salt and pepper canisters were emblazoned with the Peugeot logo but all to no avail! The snack was extremely tasty and the bill came to a very acceptable 12.63€: the view alone was worth that. Jaime Anabitarte is the Director of Golf at both Almenara and La Reserva and a more experienced director it would be hard to find. Jaime knows how a golf course should be presented and has obviously set very high standards throughout the entire facility. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and left with the distinct impression that Almenara Golf is a thoroughbred addition to the stable of courses in the Sotogrande area of the coast.
Article reprinted courtesy of Andalucia Golf The views expressed do not reflect the opinion or verified data of Golf in Spain and are LIABILITY of their author/ s.