Golf Club Valderrama
“Walking the same fairways as the world’s best”
On my third attempt I was allocated one of the elusive tee times at Valderrama and, with a keen sense of excitement, set out with my playing partner on a Monday morning in early January to try this world renowned golf course. What a difference the new motor-way makes to the journey, it took just 50 minutes of absolute trouble free motoring from Fuengirola. I knew the exit to take as Noelia, from the reservation service at Valderrama, had sent me full details, together with the rules of the golf club, when she confirmed my tee time some months ago. In these rules I was delighted to read that the use of mobile phones was totally prohibited within the precincts of the golf club,what a scourge these infernal things have become!
During the journey it dawned on me what a marvellous game golf is for shortly I would be walking the same fairways as the world’s best have done in recent years. What other sport offers this opportunity?Woods, Mickelson, Duval, Garcia, and Monty, to mention just a few,have all taken on the challenge of this course, with varying degrees of success. Pictures went through my mind of the recurring difficulties encountered by Tiger Wood’s on the 17th during his various visits and suddenly I felt very inadequate! “Relax Finn” I said to myself, “it is only agame” but the gremlins insisted on doing handstands in my tummy.
Having got through security at the entrance (first indication that thisis somewhere “different”) we were met by the General Manager, DerekBrown, who bid us a warm welcome and wished us a pleasant game.We then checked-in and were advised that Valderrama was a cash free zone and if we intended to purchase anything we would require a smartcard and any unused balance on the card at the end of the day wouldbe refunded as we departed. Then it was into the Spike Bar for coffee and a bite to eat and I would have to say the service was first class. The girls made us feel very welcome and everything was served with a smile.The bar displays many memorable photographs of the 1997 Ryder Cup(most of them by Jeff Kelly publisher of Andalucia Golf) while one wall is given over to Volvo Masters winners all lined up like soldiers on parade. I noticed that Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, joint winners in 2002, have not yet received their recognition on this wall.
Our tee time soon arrived and when we collected the buggy our clubs were already onboard so off we went to the first tee where the starter checked that all the paperwork was in order. With tee times at 15 minute intervals the match in front which, incidentally, included Jose Maria Canizares, had departed the first green before we were given the nod to drive off. Standing on the tee everything looked immaculate and there seemed to be plenty of inviting fairway, in fact, the first hole did not appear to be in any way threatening. I soon changed my mind as I walked off with a 6 having done nothing spectacularly wrong other than being on the incorrect side of the fairway from my drive. The green was in superb condition although not as fast as I had expected.
The second has a big cork oak in the middle of the fairway and you soon realise that position from the tee is everything on this course. Valderrama is not especially long and, most certainly, is not the type of golf course where you jump up on each tee wield-ing your driver. Every hole requires careful thought which is not an ability most handicap amateurs are blessed with.
After the par 3 third comes the first long hole which was play-ing into a very strong wind. Straight hitting is the key on this hole and the green-side water feature was quite striking as it sparkledin the morning sunshine. The green has a big tier which divides it into two distinct levels while the left side is guarded by a lone tree which overhangs the putting surface and is sure to catch any pitch brought in from that side.
Standing on the seventh tee (a forward one I might add) the green seemed to be miles away and for us it is a par 5. It is hard to credit that in major events played from a back tee (a long wayback) this hole is a par 4 and suddenly I realised how far top golfers can hit the ball, a fact that does not really come across on television. Today,playing into a strong wind, the hole required three good hits to get near the putting surface and I can only marvel at the power and accuracy of players who have reached the pinnacle of their profession.
Playing Valderrama one’s eye is inclined to wander, such is the beauty of the trees standing sentinel over all and, as these majestic sentriesare something like 300 years old, one wonders if they approve of golfers traipsing around, what was for centuries, their private territory.
On the eighth tee the refreshment buggy arrived with a selection of sandwiches and drinks and we settled for sparkling water as we tackled this awkwardly shaped hole which has an elevated green guarded onthe front by a particularly steep-faced bunker.
Then it was back around by the putting green and club house to the 10th tee and memories of various play-offs during the Volvo Masters. Adog-leg right par 4 on which your drive must be down the left hand side otherwise you have no sight of the elevated green not to mention the fact that your drive will run the risk of toppling down a slope into the waiting lake.
With its marked banking from left to right the par 5 11th is a difficult hole particularly as we played into a very strong wind which felt almost gale force when we reached the green which is the highest point on the golf course.
Glad we were to get to the shelter of the 12th tee on a delightful par 3 hole played to a green closely guarded by bunkers while the 13th is a short tree-lined par 4 and, incidentally, the only hole on the golf course without a bunker.
The 14th is made difficult by the fact that the green is so elevated you cannot see the putting surface while playing your approach shot while the 15th fairway gently meanders to the right where you discover a large green well protected by bunkers.
Sufficient club is the secret on the par 4 16th as the fairway slopes away to the right and anything landing short will trickle away into places best avoided.
Every golf course has one hole which gets more mention that all the others put together and on Valderrama it is, without question, the 17th. Over the years this hole has come in for severe criticism from various top players one of whom had the temerity to suggest it should be “dug up”. I think it fair to say that even the President of Valderrama, don Jaime Ortiz-Patino, has not yet decided the final design of the hole as he has changed it, sometimes quite dramatically, over the years. Whatever one’s thoughts, the hole as laid out before you is the one which has to be played so off we drove, again into the wind! After two shots I was still 150 metres from the green and my eyes were completely invaded by the lake which gives the green such great protection. The ever present wind made this a long shot for me and I walloped a 5-wood as best I could. Without any hint of embarrassment I can tell you I was “over the moon” as I watched the ball carry the lake and land gently on the putting surface. After such an adrenalin rush the inevitable three putts followed on the frighteningly fast green but, despite this, I still walked off as pleased as Punch.
The 18th has a huge cork oak to the left front of the tee and what a crime it would have been had anybody listened to the cries of anguish from the players at the recent Volvo Masters Andalucia who suggested it should be cut down as it interfered with their tee shots. Thankfully the “Powers That Be” at Valderrama were totally deaf to these thoughtless outbursts and the tree remains where is has stood “since Adam was a boy”. Bearing in mind the amount of rain which fell in the Sotogrande area of Andalucia recently, Valderrama was in top class condition apart from a couple of tees which were very bare and, more or less, devoid of grass. Maybe somebody was a bit exuberant in their use of weed killer? We finished our day back in the Spike Bar with a light meal which was splendidly presented. A little bird whispered to me that Mr. Patino had sent his chefs to Paris recently in order to fine tune their skills and, that being so, I can assure him the effort was well worth while.
What a day! What an experience! A day on a golf course does notget much better than this.
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.
GOLF CLUB LOS NARANJOS
“In the shade of the old orange trees”
A little over twelve months ago I tipped my hat to the management at Los Naranjos as, faced with unsatisfactory greens and an unreliable irrigation system, they took the bull by the horns and closed the course for a couple of months in order to carry out the necessary remedial work. The additional costs, caused by the loss of revenue, must have added tremendously to the eventual total but a recent visit there illustrated what marvellous improvements have been achieved.
On a delightfully sunny November morning I arrived at the course having eventually negotiated the endless round-abouts encountered on the journey through the area known as “Golf Valley”. Having driven into the car park an attendant guided me into a space and then carried my clubs into the clubhouse. Check-in was quickly dealt with by a smiling Manolo, whom I seem to remember has been working at Los Naranjos for countless years: he gave me a card of the course and also offered a course planner.
Manolo has the happy knack of making visitors feel welcome and, coupled with the experience in the car park, provides an excellent introduction to this most friendly golf club. The check-in area is located in the professional’s shop, where many bargains were on offer, but I stopped my eyes from wandering, beat a hasty retreat, and headed to the first tee before I could give in to temptation.
The opening drive is absolutely tailor-made for the average amateur whose stock-in-trade is a slice. That is exactly the shot necessary to carry the ball around the sweeping fairway as it heads downhill into a valley. A plethora of shamrock-shaped bunkers guard the right-hand side of the fairway as it rises up to an elevated green where more bunkers stand guard. Any shot which does not reach the putting surface will topple a considerable distance back towards the player, such is the severity of the slope fronting the green. The second is a par-5 which gets a rating of index 4 simply due to length. A more straightforward hole it would be hard to find but, at 517 metres, getting on in two will be the exclusive domain of the longer-hitters. The par-4 third measures 327 metres (all measurements, by the way, are from the yellow markers) and is played from an elevated tee down into a valley where two bunkers are strategically placed on the right. A river (which will cause consternation over the next number of holes) cannot be seen from the tee but, rest assured, it lies in wait for a mishit drive. From the valley the fairway rises up to an almost circular green which is surrounded by bunkers and slopes severely from right to left.
The fourth is a par-3, measuring 168 metres, played from an elevated tee to a green down below. The putting surface is fronted by the already mentioned river, which is five metres wide, while anything over-hit will descend into serious quantities of sand. Large eucalyptus trees, standing on either side of the entrance to the green, may hinder the tee shot, be it drawn or faded. This is a first class hole and one which will be remembered when others may well have escaped the memory. The fifth is a short par-5 played onto a fairway which slopes from right to left. The river continues all the way up the left-hand side while the gardens on the right must also be avoided. The generous landing area is dotted with palm tress on the right before the fairway swings sharply left, across the river, to an elevated green, the surface of which cannot be seen from below. Any approach shot landing short will tend to run back down the slope and, hopefully, be caught by a bunker; otherwise it will meander all the way into the stream. More danger lies over the back-right of the green where oblivion awaits amongst the bushes and shrubbery. The sixth is a difficult par-4 which well merits its rating of index 2. Mainly difficult because of unseen dangers, the drive should be hit out onto a plateau which eventually dives dramatically downwards. A tee shot hooked wide of the bunkers on the left may well tumble down a steep hill and into the river which is still very much in play. If the tee shot does not reach the brow of the plateau, the golfer will be playing his second blissfully unaware that the river (again) runs across the front of the green, where it quietly awaits its unsuspecting prey. All-in-all the sixth is a hole which may well be deemed somewhat unfair by golfers playing the course for the first time.
The seventh is a short par-4 measuring 325 metres played onto a wide fairway, but heed should be taken of a notice on the tee which warns that out-of-bounds lurks outside the bunkers on the right. The left-hand side is lined with trees while there are a few more scattered up the right. The main danger to the approach shot is the big bunker on the front-right of a good-sized green which has palms at the back. The par-3 eighth, which measures 180 metres, requires a good hit across a valley to reach the target. The green is well bunkered and its many dangerous slopes will make holing out in two putts difficult. The final hole on the outward nine is another difficult par-4. While it is tempting to try and take a short cut over the bunker on the left of the fairway it does require a hit of almost 200 metres to carry it, so beware. A safer line is out to the right which will, of course, make the hole longer but you can take my word a bogey is a good score. One hundred and fifty metres from the green the fairway dives down into a valley before rising up sharply to a well-bunkered green which is one of the smaller ones on the course.
A half-way house, situated on the journey to the 10th tee, is a welcome sight and a short respite is taken whilst lost energy is replenished with some fruit and a refreshing bottle of sparkling water. The design of the front nine holes at Los Naranjos is as good as one could wish for and the present condition of the greens brings an unaccustomed confidence to the putting.
The opening test on the return journey is a long par-4 where the tee shot should be aimed out to the left of a fairway lined on both sides with palm trees. The green, which has a narrow entrance, is surrounded by bunkers and slopes from right to left. On my way to the 11th tee I am reminded of the name of the golf course by the sight of countless oranges trees while their fruit, lying around in gay profusion, could be disconcerting for anybody using a yellow golf ball. The hole is a fairly straight par-4 where a lengthy drive is a prerequisite for any golfer hoping to reach the green in regulation. The slightly elevated green is shallow but wide, while banking at the back will assist an over-hit approach trickle back onto the putting surface. A lake, sitting just one metre off the right-hand side of the green on the par-3 12th, could be the cause of recurring nightmares to the golfer with an uncontrollable slice. While the green is a good size, the bunkers on the left, coupled with the large expanse of water, seem to diminish the target area considerably to the eye of the golfer standing on the tee: anybody walking off with a par should be quietly pleased.
The 13th is a par-4 measuring 347 metres where the main danger are the white posts lurking down the left. Played from an elevated tee the landing area is generous despite the two bunkers which eat into the fairway about 120 metres from the green. The putting surface is well bunkered and, despite what you may read, does slope from front to back, while any ball over-hit will dive into waiting bushes. The 14th is a long par-5 where the left-hand side must be avoided at all costs as an out-of-bounds line stretches from the tee to the green. Measuring 493 metres this is a genuine 3-shotter (for most) with a plethora of orange trees on the right while, towering over the green, five palms stand straight and tall, like sentries keeping watch over all who pass through. Despite its deceptively easy appearance, the 15th is an awkwardly shaped hole where a hooked tee shot will find a watery grave. In order to avoid the water (at least on the tee shot) it must be played up the right out towards the corner of a dog-leg. The fairway then turns towards a green bounded on the left by more water while sand awaits the pushed approach. This is a hole which will inevitably catch out the unwary and spoil many a good card in the making.
The 16th is another par-4 played onto a fairway which swings gently to the right. Lined on one side with palms and the other with orange trees the green is guarded on the front-left by a big bunker, while its smaller brother lies in wait on the opposite side. The penultimate hole is a delightful par-3 played to a green framed with stately palms. From the tee, a sea of sand assails the eye and this is another short hole where par will be a welcome return. The final hole on Los Naranjos is one which will long remain in the memory bank: a superb par-5 measuring 504 metres. The fairway, which slopes from right to left, swings gently to the left in a seemingly endless curve. About 140 metres from the green a lake appears menacingly on the left: it then feeds a river that meanders along until it reaches the front of the green. The final section of the fairway turns at right angles as it approaches the elevated green that is shallow but wide and banked on all sides with the clubhouse gazing over all. An approach shot not reaching its target will probably fall back down the slope into the ever-waiting river. What a terrific hole: for my money one of the best finishing holes on the coast.
Lunch on the veranda, overlooking the final green, was a treat and excellent value at ?7.50. Gazing down on unfortunate golfers endlessly picking golf balls out of the water was a cause of merriment to some: for me it was simply an action replay of my own experience just a short time earlier. Los Naranjos is in terrific condition but, like all golf courses on the Costa del Sol, is quite thirsty and will benefit greatly from a good dousing with much-needed rain. The standard of the course is a just reward for the decision to close at the beginning of last season and the management deserve great praise for taking that costly step.
With the green fee set at ?84 during high season Los Naranjos is not inexpensive but it more than compensates by presenting a golf course prepared to the highest standards. The friendliness of the staff in all departments, coupled with a top class restaurant, all combine to make it one of the leading golf facilities on the coast and I would have no hesitation recommending it to fellow travellers. It will certainly be included in the itinerary for my next visit.
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.
THE SAN ROQUE CLUB
Great design, superb course
For a number of years the never ending road-works put me off visiting the golf courses in the Sotogrande area for, by the time I had battled through the mayhem, my nerves were usually in shreds worrying about missing pre-arranged tee times. The opening of the new autopista has changed all that and now, once you can afford the substantial charges, this centre of brilliant golf courses is just a handy one-hour drive from Fuengirola.
An invitation to play San Roque in the middle of June had me setting out in high spirits, under clear blue skies, for it was some time since I had last played there. During its formative years this Dave Thomas designed golf course, together with the Suites Hotel, never seemed to make any great inroads attracting golfers visiting the area and the many building plots around the course lay empty and bare awaiting new owners. Dramatic changes are now taking place and there is a huge upsurge of interest which may well have been ignited when the Japanese owners sold all the building plots to a developer. The money generated by that sale is presently being invested in a second golf course, designed by Perry Dye and Seve Ballesteros, and, believe me, the embryonic product has all the hallmarks of a course which will rank very highly on the Costa del Golf pecking order. However more about that another day. The developer, meanwhile, appears to have found the key to successfully selling the sites and, all of a sudden, the San Roque Club is forging ahead in leaps and bounds.
The golf club now has something over 360 members and my spies tell me that almost 40% of them come from the Dublin area in Ireland. Motoring up the tree lined entrance drive I was immediately struck by how clean and tidy the area was and how attractive the driveway lamp-posts were. In the professionals shop my booking was very speedily processed and my questions answered with great courtesy and charm.
Green fees in June are very good value at 90e and become even better in July and August when they reduce to 80e. In high season (about four months of the year) green fees are at the higher end of the scale at 132e, but there are 10 minute intervals between tee times which makes for some comfort while playing.
Before play there was time for a little lunch which I took sitting on the veranda overlooking a putting green and the golf course and, with a feeling of contentment, I tucked into a club-sandwich which, together with a bottle of water and coffee, cost a reasonable 15e. The caddiemaster supplied a sparkling clean buggy which, thoughtfully, contained two bottles of water, a card of the course and a pencil. (The little touches make such a difference). So, off to the first tee through an area of delightfully coloured and immaculately kept flower beds not to mention another putting green.
Standing on the tee it was hard not to be impressed with the mower stripes on the fairway as it meandered off to the first green some 357 metres distant. The features on the front nine are cork trees and bunkers and during the course of play the golfer is fairly certain to fall foul of either if not both. It did not take me long for, starting about 42 metres from the edge of the first green there is a bunker on the right which is some 85 metres long and, all I will say is, I spent a considerable time in it.
The second hole is really a continuation of the first, travelling downhill as it gently swings to the right, and finishes on a circular green which slopes from back to front. The third is a par 3 measuring just 143 metres which cannot be missed to the right if you wish to see your ball again. The long but narrow green is sometimes difficult to read but, all in all, it is not a very difficult hole. Indeed the first three holes provide a gentle opening to a golf course which gets more testing as you progress and by the time the 18th green is reached you will have used all the shots in your armoury in an attempt to master it.
Indeed the next three holes begin the test with a yawning out of bounds to the right of the fourth, while the par 5 fifth has a hazard down the same side and is played to an elevated green, to the left of which, an old cork tree stands in lone magnificence. The par 4 sixth is index 1 and it is here the player will meet a serious water hazard for the first time. A big fairway lake, filled by an eye-catching waterfall, takes up a considerable amount of the proposed landing area so care must be taken with club selection.
The seventh is an uneventful par 3 played uphill while the eighth swings around in the opposite direction. With out-of-bounds both right and left the tee shot must be straight but the undulating fairway is quite generous. The green is closely guarded by yet more cork trees, the sight of which you may well be fed up with by this stage, and you then head back towards the club-house while playing the par 5 ninth. A long fairway bunker about 260 metres off the tee is the first problem and, should this be avoided, there are seven more bunkers both short and surrounding the large green which brings the golfer to the end of his first nine holes.
The 10th is another par 5 which has a very sharp dog-leg to the left. To have any chance of par the drive must be up the right-hand side but beware of the bunker which awaits the slightly cut tee shot. On exiting this green you again drive past some colourful flowers and cross a small road to the tee of quite a superb hole. Index 2 on the card the hole measures some 384 metres (yellow tees) and has a small stream meandering diagonally across the fairway while a lake, just a few metres from the right side of the green, makes the approach shot quite intimidating.
Teeing up on the 12th it becomes apparent that the problems created by cork trees have now given way to water as this hole has two lakes connected by a little stream in what is a very picturesque section of the golf course. The green-side lake certainly merits attention but, thankfully, the green is quite large. Off again, then, through lovely flowers, across a road, through a considerable amount of building activity, and into a different area of land for the next three holes. It is here I feel the standard of the golf course takes something of a nose-dive for certainly the 13th and 15th holes are fairly weak compared with what has gone before.
The 13th is a downhill par 4 with a distinct dog-leg to the left where it is easy to run out of fairway. There is a bunker to the right-hand side which must be 100 metres long and this runs up beside the green.
The 14th is a par 3 played to an elevated green which has a fine back drop of trees against the sky-line. The 15th can only be described as an “uphill slog” turning left with fairway bunkers and then, at last, it is back onto the main golf course where the finishing three holes will revitalise your thoughts regarding San Roque.
The par 3 16th is played to an elevated green which has a bunker to the right and eight magnificent cork trees protecting the left-hand side. They really do stand majestically guarding their charge and, over the years, have wreaked havoc with many a card.
The 17th is the final par 5 and a good long straight hole. The main problem encountered is a big lake situated to the front right of the green which will catch an approach shot pulled even ever so slightly.
The 18th may well be the finest hole on the course. It has a sharp dog-leg left, on the angle of which there is a lake with a little island. In order to stop players attempting to cut the corner the island comes complete with a huge tree and overhanging branches and it is festooned with flowers of varying and startling colours. From that lake a stream runs diagonally across the fairway, about 50 metres from the front of the green, where it feeds another lake to the right-hand side of the green. Quite a superb hole and one which has brought moments of both delight and despair to competitors playing in the European Tour Qualifying School during the years it was located here.
So I come to the end of my first round of golf at San Roque for some time and what marvellous changes have taken place since my previous visits. The course is in apple pie order and bears all the hallmarks of a golf course whose management is in a very positive frame of mind. I came away with the feeling that all the pieces of a jig-saw, which had been lying in disarray for some time, have, at last, been put together.
There is little doubt this great Dave Thomas design will now go from strength to strength as it changes from a golf course into a golf club with an ever increasing membership. Well done to all concerned and, thank you, I enjoyed every moment of my visit.
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.
GOLF RÍO REAL
“A feeling of tranquility as I wandered below endless lines of towering trees”
Having written many moons ago that Rio Real was the most improved golf course on the coast I thought it about time a return visit was made to find out if the improvements had been maintained. Although apartments and villas are springing up like mushrooms on the entrance road to the golf course, the plus side is that the road has been resurfaced, for which my car was more than thankful. Driving under the arched entrance I was guided into a parking spot, opposite the entrance to the ultra-smart hotel, by a security guard and from there I trotted down a few steps to the caddie-master’s desk and was checked-in with a minimum of fuss.
Standing on the tee of the opening hole, a par-4 measuring 312 metres, the first thing I noticed was that the tree which has caused me so much heartache over the years was still in the middle of the fairway and seemed, if anything, to have grown somewhat. The opening tee shot is made to measure for the golfer who fades the ball, as that is exactly the shape required to loft it out onto the fairway. Assuming the big tree is avoided the approach shot will be pretty straightforward to a circular green bunkered on both sides. It is a relatively gentle opening hole which may tend to lull the golfer into a false sense of security.
Nineteen steps lead up to the tee of the second, a par-4 measuring 353 metres. The trees lining both sides of the fairway seem to have spread their branches ever wider, and again it favours the faded drive: anything hooked could well be in dire trouble as the river, from which the course gets its name, meanders down the left. One hundred metres from the green the fairway swings around to the right and on the angle a big bunker awaits the tee shot which may have been over-cut. The relatively long but narrow green is guarded on the sides and back by bunkers.
The third is a par-3 and another hole on which your tee shot can get you into serious trouble. Although only 137 metres the aforementioned river runs across the front of the green so anything under-clubbed or mis-hit is going to find a watery grave. The shallow but wide green slopes sharply up at the back and is bunkered on both sides.
I then travelled down underneath the main road and, having crossed the river (again) by way of a bridge, arrived on the fourth tee. Although the fairway is generous there are yawning bunkers on both sides, about 220 metres from the tee, which have to be avoided. The green is shaped like an electric light bulb and is surrounded by deep bunkers while, behind the backdrop of trees, the Mediterranean glistens in the morning sunshine.
The 383-metre par-4 fifth is a dangerous hole as a faded drive could well sail out-of-bounds, while an added difficulty is a big hillock on the right of the fairway which blocks any sight of the green. The left-hand side must be favoured off the tee and then care should be taken with the approach shot as the river runs along in front of the green. The putting surface is surrounded by majestic trees which have spent many a year gazing down on golfers searching for their golf balls in the flowing waters of the river. There is quite a lot to contend with on a hole which is more difficult than its rating of index 6 might suggest.
I then wandered back under the main road and climbed uphill to the tee of a hole which you either love or hate: a sharply uphill par-3 of 140 metres bordered on the right by apartments. Over the years I have witnessed many a badly cut tee shot ricochet off the walls of the buildings and come back onto the green but it is not a result one can bank on! The front of the green is guarded by a very deep bunker while anything hooked will bring the river back into play. This is a hole on which long is far better than short and there is plenty of room towards the back of the green.
The journey then continued uphill, through a marvellous selection of old palms and cacti, and onto the tee of the first par-5 on the course. Measuring just 440 metres (nowadays regarded as modestly short) it is played onto a generous fairway which travels uphill with a big bunker lurking dangerously on the right. Danger lurks on the left where the ground falls away, amongst numerous trees, down onto the fairway of the following hole below. About 100 metres from the green the fairway heads downhill ever so slightly before rising up again to a putting green well guarded by bunkers. Too much club will see the ball bound over the plateau green and down into awful trouble against a boundary fence. Although a relatively short hole, golfers who cannot keep the ball travelling straight will find themselves writing pretty ugly numbers on their score cards.
The eighth is played from a platform tee out onto a generous fairway guarded on the right by a bunker; 160 metres from the green the fairway drops sharply down into a valley before climbing up again onto an elevated green which is banked on the left. An approach missing the green on the right will tumble downwards, leaving a very difficult pitch.
The final hole on the outward journey is a par-5 measuring 454 metres played back up towards the club-house, while in the background the mountains seem to tower over the stately trees. The green has a steeply banked bunker on the right, a flatter version on the opposite side, and is nicely framed with, yet more, trees.
I suppose every golf course is entitled to at least one bad hole and the 10th at Rio Real would feature prominently on my list of the worst golf holes on the coast. About 220 metres from the tee, the fairway dog-legs sharply right, leaving a short pitch to the green. Not being able to hit the ball that distance leaves me in no man’s land where a club with sufficient elevation to clear the trees on the right (which seem to be getting higher as the years go by) will not be long enough to reach the green and then serious trouble awaits. The only answer is to play it as a par-5, which is somehow annoying on a hole measuring just 326 metres. The green is banked on all sides, while outside the banking white posts lurk.
I then travelled up a hill, across the entrance road and onto the tee of the par-4 11th, which is probably the most dramatic hole on the golf course. From an elevated tee the drive must carry out over the tops of trees as it whizzes down into the valley below. The hotel borders the left-hand side while there are seven big trees, and a plethora of their smaller brethren, on the opposite side. The river reappears across the front of the green and, while it appears quite insignificant from down the fairway, it does, in fact, require additional carry of 12 metres. The circular green is well bunkered and has palms on the right with other trees at the back, while the Incosol building towers over all.
The 12th is the relatively new par-3 (which replaced the old 17th) and, on the day of my visit this part of the course was undergoing major reconstruction. The lake guarding the green is being enlarged considerably and by the look of the hole being excavated it should be sufficient to hold an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The work being carried out necessitated a temporary tee on the 13th, which made the hole a straightforward par-4, but, when completed, this will be a very picturesque area on the golf course.
The par-3 14th measures 164 metres and has a big house on the right which was the long-time home of Hollywood screen star Deborah Kerr and her husband. Over the tee two palms stand straight as guardsmen on parade while behind them a tower block rises over all. The only place that the tee shot must avoid is on the left as the ground there topples down onto the fairway below.
The 14th is played out through an avenue of trees onto a fairway, moving gently to the left, while the par-5 15th wanders all the way back down to the edge of the N340 (or whatever it is called nowadays) where motor cars, whose drivers are oblivious to the beauty which surrounds them, zoom past. The course finishes with two par-4s lined with yet more trees.
Wandering along I was struck by how green the course was and how well the fairways had been mowed, with their stripes creating the impression of different shades. Rio Real, designed by Javier Arana, has been in operation since 1965 and renovations and modernisations in recent years have made it one of the leading courses on the coast and a delight to play.
Having returned the buggy I wandered upstairs to the restaurant and eased myself into a waiting wicker chair on the terrace in the sunshine. Immediately a waiter appeared to take the order, and in jig time a welcome sparkling water arrived followed by a succulent fillet steak served in Arab bread. While enjoying these treats my memories were of playing on a course which seemed to envelop me with a feeling of tranquillity as I wandered below the endless lines of towering trees: Rio Real oozes a maturity which is an aspect sadly lacking on so many of the other courses in the area. From the moment of arrival in the car park I got the immediate feeling that the staff at Rio Real take care of their visiting golfers. From the excellent locker-room facilities, where plenty of sparkling white towels are available, to a first-class check-in area, under the all-seeing eye of Juan Cantos, and finally a delightful restaurant where simple snacks are so well presented, everything is geared to make the visitor feel welcome and at home.
Rio Real has worked hard and rightfully earned its place in the upper echelons of Costa el Sol golf courses, and these high standards make the 90-euro green fee perfectly fair. Golfers visiting the coast should ensure that Rio Real features on their itinerary: it is certain to provide lasting memories.
LA CALA RESORT – CAMPO EUROPA
It travels dramatically uphill before plunging down dale
The La Cala Resort proudly opened its new golf course on the 18th March, in the presence of the Mayor of Mijas, and I was delighted to subsequently receive an invitation from the Director of Golf, Alan Saunders, to play it.
Christened “Campo Europa”, this third course, although yet another Cabell Robinson design, is totally different from his previous two creations at the same resort. With the vast majority of holes being played from elevated tees, there are very few blind shots, which should result in fewer lost balls and, more importantly, quicker rounds. The reduction in golf ball losses will not be good news for the considerable number who make their living selling second-hand golf balls along the entrance road to La Cala.
This is not a golf course which should be walked. It travels dramatically uphill before plunging down dale in a series of switch-backs somewhat reminiscent of a roller-coaster ride. Exciting drives from elevated tees onto fairways far below are followed by approach shots which plummet down yet again to greens that appear postage stamp size in the distance.
On the long journey from the clubhouse to the first tee I was distracted by the remarkable view out over the North Course and almost failed to realise I was travelling sharply downhill, and gathering speed at an alarming rate, as I whizzed past a small plaque commemorating the opening of the golf course. I then crossed a bridge (which could well qualify as a viaduct), passed through a tunnel and then along beside a, more or less, dry riverbed before eventually arriving at a starters’ hut sitting comfortably in the shade of a magnificent eucalyptus tree.
The opening hole measures just 289 metres (all measurements in this article are from the yellow tees) and is but a foretaste of things to come. It is played to a generous fairway which travels downhill while the wide but shallow green is bunkered at the back and located well below the level of the fairway. A gentle opener, I mused, as I drove to the next tee. Standing on the second tee all thoughts of gentle holes quickly evaporated as I gazed out over heather and bushes until my attention was distracted by a chasm on the right which awaited any sliced drive. The thought “gentle” was quickly replaced by “daunting” accompanied by a minor degree of panic. Provided the tee shot makes the fairway this is another relatively short par-4 played to a narrow but long and well bunkered green which tilts from left to right. Any approach missing on the right will find trouble as the green falls sharply down to the third fairway and then, down again, to the riverbed. The short third measures 152 metres and is a fairly straight-forward hole. Played from an elevated tee, the long green is bunkered on the right while outside the bunker the riverbed lies in wait. The left-hand side should be favoured as the banking on that side will, hopefully, kick the ball back down onto the putting surface.
I crossed an splendid suspension bridge on my way the tee of the fourth, a par-4 measuring 362 metres. The narrow fairway moves gently around to the left and is guarded on that side by the seemingly everpresent riverbed. The second shot has to carry that hazard (which by now was beginning to haunt me) and onto a large and well contoured green which has two huge bunkers on the right. Having taken a considerable number of putts on that difficult green I then crossed another bridge and headed sharply upwards onto the tee of the fifth hole where I was faced with the first blind tee shot of the day. The straightforward drive over the brow of a hill is made somewhat difficult as the designer displayed his sense of humour by leaving a big tree sitting atop the hill. While there is out-of-bounds up the right it would be a very bad shot which managed to fly out over the fence. The fairway contains a series of bumps and hollows and a big bunker guards the front of the green. On the elevated tee of the sixth hole I just had to stop and admire the view. Golf holes stretched out in all directions: mountains, valleys, hills and trees completed a startling panorama which made it difficult to concentrate on the drive which lay ahead. The tee shot drops dizzyingly down onto a generous fairway below but any hooked tee shot will require a reload: care must also be taken to avoid the little trees which stand hither and yon on the right. The fairway then travels back uphill, allowing little sight of the green for the approach shot, and the long but narrow putting surface houses a couple of different levels.
From there it was onwards and upwards to the seventh tee where a water dispenser was a welcome sight. On arrival I was faced with another drive over the brow of a hill with out-of-bounds pretty tight to the buggy path on the right. Both sides of the fairway are littered with bunkers as it levels out before reaching the well contoured green, which has a run-off area at the back. Then followed a long hike to the next tee and the first par-5 on the course, which measures 475 metres. The tee is located on a very high and remote point and I got the feeling that I was in an area of land which hadn’t been stood on for hundreds and hundreds of years. The fairway drops down in startling fashion and my eye was caught by a big ornamental stone standing forlornly on the right. The fairway drops down and down until it eventually reaches its valley before it swings upwards again for about 100 metres to the green which is bunkered to the left and back. The final hole on the outward journey is a par-3 measuring 155 metres from an elevated tee to a good sized green bunkered on the left. It is a fairly simple hole as befits its rating of index 18 and, as I wander off, I realise I am back beside the first tee.
The return journey opens with the second easiest hole on the golf course: a short pitch-hole, measuring 113 metres, to a ircular green. There is a lake on the right, fed by a cascading waterfall, but it is purely decorative with flower-beds adding a splash of colour. Then I headed back uphill to the tee of the 11th, a long, long par-5 with another daunting tee shot. Standing on the tee I only caught a glimpse of a narrow strip of fairway before my eye was completely dominated by a huge chasm which stretches out from the left-hand side of the tee and seems to go on indefinitely. The difficulty of the tee shot would be ample to earn the hole its index-1 status. The fairway swings around to the left and is pock-marked by bunkers on both sides as it heads downwards before it rises up slightly to a narrow but long putting surface. All along the left-hand side is a no-go area as the chasm continues to retain the attention. The par-4 12th measures 316 metres and is played onto a fairway which slopes severely from right to left. Thankfully the left-hand side is well bunkered; otherwise the ball would run down into the chasm, which is still very much in play. There is plenty of room on the right of a hole, which looks far more difficult then it really is. Two centuries-old cork oak trees overlook the green, which cannot be missed on the left if the yawning chasm is to be avoided. I did notice there were no red stakes lining the chasm, which presumably means that any ball entering it brings the lost ball rule into play.
From the 13th tee I drove across a small valley onto a narrow fairway which dog-legs to the left before gently rising uphill to a good sized green which slopes from left to right. Accuracy is the key as big danger awaits an approach shot which misses on either side or is too long. I then crossed another bridge to the par-3 14th and noticed it held a stroke index of 7. The mere mortal can hit the ball with everything in the bag as it has to carry practically the entire 217 metres to the target. Trees, standing motionless in the sunshine, provide the backdrop to the long but narrow green. The riverbed reappears on the right and swings around the back of the putting surface but not many players will be able to hit the ball that far. This hole is a test which is sure to bring an abrupt halt to the makings of many a good card. I now found myself in a very picturesque area of the golf course: surrounded by nature all I could hear was the flow of water somewhere in the background. Peace and tranquillity prevailed. In order to avoid the river the 15th tee shot must favour the left-hand side, and about 180 metres from the green the fairway swings around to the right and travels gently downwards. The almost triangular shaped green is guarded on the right by a cork oak and has a run-off area on the same side.
The short 16th is played from an elevated tee to a green below surrounded by a necklace of seven bunkers but the main difficulty encountered may well be the severe contouring on the putting surface. The 17th is yet another par-5 measuring 472 metres with the tee shot played across a valley onto a fairway climbing upwards. Looking around I was struck by the starkness of the white bunkers contrasting against the green fairways which provided irrefutable evidence of Cabell Robinson’s hand in the design. It is essential to find the good sized fairway as gorse abounds on the right while worse is in store on the opposite side with the dreaded white posts in plain view. The fairway continues to climb upwards onto a heart-shaped green which slopes considerably from right to left and is well bunkered on all sides. The final hole provides another exciting drive as the fairway drops dramatically down, but danger waits in the shape of a pot-bunker sited in the middle of the fairway just 100 metres from the green. The putting surface is protected by six bunkers while anything missing to the right will tend to bounce off the buggy path and disappear into the river, which makes yet another appearance. The green slopes severely from back to front and will probably cause much muttering from players who finish their round with a three-putt.
Enjoying the usual “post-round” sparkling water in the clubhouse bar, I felt as if I had just completed an adventure: excitement coupled with the odd sense of fear as my buggy went rocketing downhill on some of the more vertical cart paths. Although I laughed when I first noticed it, the note on the card of the course which read, “All buggy drivers must have a valid driving licence”, is probably a very sensible rule. Whilst there are vast distances between some greens and the following tee the course is very well signposted and if I didn’t get lost – well nobody will. Another notable feature were the natural stone markers on each tee to which classy metal plates had been fixed showing the details of the hole to be played.
All-in-all “Campo Europa” is a very exciting and memorable golf course which brings, I am told, the investment in the La Cala Resort up to a staggering 200 million euros. It is early days yet and I look forward to a return visit after the course has had some time to settle and all the finishing touches have been applied.
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.