Find out why Sotogrande is a long-established Spanish hotspot with some of Europe’s finest courses
But for the vision of a former US army colonel called Joseph Rafael McMicking, the world-class resort of Sotogrande would not exist. McMicking, who served alongside General MacArthur throughout World War II, wanted to create the perfect retreat with unspoilt beaches, good airport access and quality golf courses.
He succeeded in all those aims: Sotogrande, at the western end of the Costa del Sol of Malaga, was the result. His ambitious project was well-timed as it satisfied the exacting demands of the emerging 1960s jet set. Over the years it has developed – tastefully, with no expense spared – into one of the most luxurious sports and residential developments in Europe.
Sotogrande boasts the first dedicated marina to be built in Spain along with some of the best courses in Europe. There are prestigious courses throughout the region, with the stand-out being the legendary Valderrama. It needs little introduction – the Ryder Cup venue of 1997 is consistently ranked among the best courses not only in Europe but world wide.
However, as you will gauge from the following pages, there is no shortage of classy layouts nearby and these definitely include Real Sotogrande – the first course Robert Trent Jones designed in Europe with its rolling fairways just a stone's throw away from the Mediterranean seashore – and the modern layout of La Reserva. This Cabell Robinson design, ably supported by its state- of-the-art country club facilities, has fast made a name for itself since it opened in 2003
Sotogrande: The Courses
Quantity and quality abounds in this corner of the Costa del Sol: there is something to suit all tastes, budgets and handicaps. If you've got deep pockets, superstar layouts Real Sotogrande, Valderrama, San Roque and Finca Cortesin (below) are the prime venues. The former – designed by leading US architect Robert Trent Jones and built in 1964 – really put the place on the golfing map. But there is more reasonably priced golf at the likes of Almenara and La Canada too.
While it might lack the wow factor of some of its neighbours, Almenara is worthy... and off the back tees is a real test. It is not manicured to the same impeccable level as its illustrious neighbours, but the overall layout is excellent. Designed by Dave Thomas, it has three nine-hole loops – Lakes, Pines and Acorns – with tight fairways winding through two large lakes, and countless pine and cork trees. There are few easy-driving holes on any of the loops and there is no shortage of hills – so a buggy is advised.
The stand-out hole is the 389-yard par-4 6th on the Acorns nine. With a lake bordering the fairway on the left and steep banking and bunkers on the right side, precision rather than brute force is the tactic. This course is good value and is testing. La Reserva might not attract the same level of interest as nearby Valderrama but many would argue it is in the same class.
Carved into the hillside, the fabulous views are either over Sotogrande town and the Mediterranean or upwards to the mountains and trees of La Gran Reserva, Sotogrande's highest point. The 7,400-yard championship layout has quickly become a firm favourite, having hosted the European Tour's NH Collection Open in 2014, which featured several Ryder Cup stars including Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood and Thomas Pieters.
The course is always in immaculate condition and is highlighted by wide, sweeping fairways. La Reserva (pictured below) is not the most punishing from tee to green so long hitters can let rip. However, your short game better be in extremely good shape on the large, slick and frequently two-tiered greens.
The par-4 1st is as stunning as any opening hole in Europe, with an elevated tee overlooking a generous fairway that dog-legs sharply to the left. A stream short of the green awaits any poorly-struck approaches and if you take too much club the banks around the green guarantee a tough chip back. Water hazards feature on seven holes, most noticeably all the way along the left of the signature par-4 8th.
The Costa del Sol valleys ensure no shortage of elevated tee positions which makes club selection tricky. As you make the turn, you are faced with its most intimidating tee shot, demanding a long, accurate drive to a fairway that offers little room to bail-out on either side. The 18th winds back up to the stunning clubhouse with a green set into the hillside offering views of the Mediterranean and the mountains. The palatial clubhouse offers the best in Andalucian hospitality.
La Cañada was the first public course on the Costa del Sol and sits within scenic, rolling countryside. Originally a nine-holer created by Robert Trent Jones, it benefitted from a second nine – this time by Dave Thomas. It provides a pleasant round and isn't too demanding, but watch for the gully that gives it its name and lurks on the 18th hole.
A matter of minutes away is Valderrama, scene of the 1997 Ryder Cup, the European Tour's Volvo Masters and the 2016 Spanish Open, while Finca Cortesin – a three-time host of the Volvo World Match Play – is 25 minutes away. The Robinson-designed Finca Cortesin opened in 2009 and sprawls across a vast 532-acre estate and is complemented by outstanding practice facilities including a state-of-the-art Jack Nicklaus Golf Academy. The greens are big, undulating and quick!
Off Course Travel Guide
Where to stay
It's a top holiday destination so you're spoilt for choice with a wide range of places to stay – from beautifully-appointed villas and waterside properties to splendid hotel options. The former includes Villa Oasis, a classic but modern Andalusian architectural gem with six deluxe suites, ample living areas, indoor and outdoor pools, spa and gym facilities, a cinema and a fully-stocked wine cellar plus sea and mountain views.
The latter includes the Almenara Hotel, with a majestic hilltop location encircled by the 27-hole course. You're treated to unparalleled views, with the hotel providing 145 village-style terracotta-roofed rooms. Prices starting from £150 per night. Nearby you'll nd the family-friendly NH Sotogrande hotel. It's close to the courses and less than 10 minutes to the marina. The 106 rooms and suites are laid out as low-rise, whitewashed buildings overlooking pristine gardens and the La Cañada course. Prices start from £130 per night.
Food and drink
Puerto Sotogrande and Sotogrande Marina is the rst port as vessels enter the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. The elegant marina and residential community is a great spot to unwind, wine and dine and is known as 'Little Venice' owing to its impressive cluster of boutiques, bars and restaurants.
Sitting on the Mediterranean, Sotogrande's waterfront and 12km of sandy beaches provide a plethora of water sports including kayaking, diving, snorkeling, kitesur ng and paddle boarding while inland there's hiking, birdwatching, cycling, mountain and 4X4 excursions through the natural park of Los Alcornolcales. Or you can check out the famous Club Hipica, which houses over 100 horses and offers facilities for numerous equestrian pursuits. The river Guadiaro and estuary forms the Andalusian National Park, Wildlife and Nature Reserve while there are more than 50 Bronze Age cave dwellings in the area – including Cueva del Tajo de las Figuras, where the artwork has been compared to the Sistine Chapel.
You can fly to Gibraltar with either Monarch Top to bottom: The infinity pool at La Reserva's El Mirador and the resort's L'Olive restaurant. (monarch.co.uk) or British Airways (ba.com) and it's a 20-minute transfer from there but an hour from Malaga, 90 minutes from Jerez and Cadiz and two hours from Seville.
Best time to go
It's a year-round destination with sunshine 325 days and an average temperature of 18oC. Golf can be a tad sticky in summer.
Deal 1: The Sotogrande Classic package launches in September with prices starting at €929 based on three nights at Hotel Almenara in a double superior room with breakfast, and three green fees. To book e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0034 956 785 252.
Deal 2: Play & Dine at La Reserva Club – from €185 Dec 16-31 and includes green fee, buggy, range balls and evening dinner in L'Olive de La Reserva restaurant. To book e-mail email@example.com or call 0034 956 785 252.
Deal 3: Six nights' B&B at Hotel Almenara, daily Spa Elysium access, two rounds at Almenara and round at San Roque New (no buggy), access to Trocadero Beach Club with hammock included, costs €1,168 (double room). To book, call 0034 956 582035 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org