Valderrama is the most famous course in Spain by some distance after it hosted the Ryder Cup in 1997 as well as several Tour events. Laid out by Robert Trent Jones and enjoying exceptional conditioning, it was tweaked by Kyle Phillips to keep it at the top of everyone’s wish list. Phillips’ modifications have ensured driver is required on more holes by even the strongest players while green shapes were restored to their original form.
Another Trent Jones creation, Sotogrande Old, is now too short – at less than 6,900 yards – to test Tour players – but it remains a brilliant venue for the rest of us – and arguably superior technically to neighbouring Valderrama.
La Reserva is a new kid on the block in Sotogrande after being opened in 2003. At nearly 7,400 yards it is a big, bold track and American in style (designed by Cabell Robinson) with generous, undulating fairways and heavily-bunkered greens.
Robinson is also the man behind the new course of Finca Cortesin. At over 7,600 yards off the tips, the home of the Volvo World Matchplay Championship is one of the longest courses in Europe.
Robinson also laid out Santana, in a former avocado plantation, near Malaga while nearby Torrequebrada is a real unsung hero of the Costa del Sol. Soon after working on Sotogrande, Trent Jones worked on Las Brisas, located to the west of Marbella and just a couple of miles inland from the swish beach resort of Puerto Banus.
In the coastal town of Cadiz, Arcos Gardens only opened in 2006 but has already been selected by the Spanish and English amateur teams as a winter training base. Nearby Montecastillo is a Jack Nicklaus course which got on the golfing map in 1994 when it hosted the Turespana Masters and then the Volvo Masters from 1997 to 2001.
The San Roque complex is one of the most famous in golf and the Old and the New remain very popular with visitors and ex-pats. The Old was designed by Dave Thomas and offers plenty of water and bunkers – redesigned by Seve Ballesteros – as well as a sprinkling of star dust. Pete Dye’s son Perry is the man behind the New, which continues to rapidly gain favour in southern Spain. Dye moulded the contours of the hills into an enjoyable test for scratch players as well as higher handicappers. Lovely views to the Guadalquiton River and the Mediterranean Sea ease any pain hacking about in the cork oaks.
Also in and around Marbella there is Los Naranjos, next to Las Brisas – which has generous fairways, lots of water, mature palm trees and slick greens – plus Mijas, whose Los Lagos course opened in 1976 when Trent Jones was prolific in the area. Both nines fi nish with fabulous, lakeside holes.
Robinson’s La Cala (America) – with fi ve par 5s – and Los Flamingos, by Ryder Cup player Antonio Garrido, are also here and very good. Arana’s Aloha
was one of the first courses to be built during the proliferation of courses in Spain 30 years ago and is to be found in Golf Valley, the stretch of land between Malaga and San Roque which is home to so many of these fi ne tracks.
Slightly apart from the crowd are El Rompido, in Huelva on the western side of Andalucia, – which blends seamlessly into the wetlands of River Piedras – and Real Club de Sevilla, by Jose Maria Olazabal. It’s 7,140 yards but has generous fairways. Nine lakes and 90 bunkers mean it is no stroll.
Murcia is well know for the La Manga complex and its three courses provide three different challenges as well as some fine practice facilities. Also in Murcia is Hacienda del Alamo, a Dave Thomas resort course with an abundance of water features and sand, and Mar Menor, a fabulous course which is attached to an equally delightful Intercontinental hotel.
The Valencia area is home to two outstanding venues; El Saler and El Bosque. The former is arguably Arana’s finest work, a classy links with sand dunes or umbrella pines lining the fairways. El Bosque is another Trent Jones classic amid undulating, pine-clad parkland. In Almeria, don’t forget about the delightful Valle de Este complex, with its lovely course and accommodation options.
The north of Spain is rarely commended but it has some notable courses which make a trip beyond Britons’ usual paths worthwhile. Neguri, in Algorta, is located on the north coast in the Basque region, and is laid out on a headland which juts into the Bay of Biscay. You sail past it on the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry and so you won’t be surprised to hear this clifftop course’s difficulty is much dependent on the strength of the wind.
Pedrena, in Cantabria, is a Harry Colt design from 1928 which is most famous for being where Seve learnt the game. Ulzama in Pamplona was laid out by Arana and is found on hilly terrain in an old oak forest and, unusually for Spain, you must deal with blind shots now and again. To the north of Barcelona, PGA Golf Catalunya is a new star. Old pals Angel Gallardo and Neil Coles have worked cleverly to route it impressively on difficult terrain. The result is an abundance of elevated tees, sweeping downhill holes and breathtaking panoramic views. There is also not a weak hole and you even get the occasional glimpse of the Pyrenees.
El Prat is another star-studded course near Barcelona, Greg Norman and Alfonso Viador placing a great emphasis on the spectacular. It has 45 holes in beautiful countryside. Sant Cugat was founded by British and American golf lovers nearly 100 years ago and they asked the legendary Harry Colt to lay out their course. It remained much as the Englishman intended until 2004 when a few of the short holes were altered to add a bit of length.
Emporda, near the coast in Gualta, is the work of Robert von Hagge,. Home to two 18-hole courses, the Links and the Forest, it is a great option away from the madding crowds. North east of Barcelona, the Pyrenees are a fabulous backdrop to Fontanals, while Platja de Pals in Girona is a Fred Hawtree linksy course through pines next to Playa de Pals beach. In and around the capital there are three especially good courses, the best being Golf Santander, a Rees Jones design of 7,500 yards which is rated highly by Spain’s Tour pros.
Puerta de Hierro’s Arriba course is one of the oldest courses in the country and has been worked on by Tom Simpson, Colt and Phillips.
Finally, there is former Spanish Open host Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, a lovely parkland.