Insight Southern Spain – GOLF
Serge On…!! - So off the back of El Niño’s success at The Masters golf in Augusta this year it seemed like the perfect time to approach the subject of Golf Course options on the Costa del Sol…
The Costa del Sol offers the highest concentration of golf courses anywhere in Europe with the highest standards and facilities on offer. For the avid golfer the warm weather provides a very long season throughout the year in Andalucia with really only the height of summer being a little too on the high side for most players other than perhaps the odd twilight tee off time…
It is hard to say exactly how many courses there really are on the coastline between Malaga and Gibraltar as it seems to be a forever changing dynamic plus there are those that are called golf courses but in reality are built as secondary offerings to what are essentially real estate projects, so I consider although they carry a name they do so without much credibility. All in all I think we are talking around the 70 mark but here is a short insight into those I consider to be worth the mention for like-minded Golfers!
Taking only the coastline between Benalmadena and Gibraltar into account with this there are 3 large golfing hubs that spring to mind…
The main one and the one most people are familiar with has to be the renowned ‘Golf Valley’ in Nueva Andalucia; the centrepiece to the largest urbanisation in the Marbella area with 4 top end golf clubs which are; Los Naranjos de Marbella an attractive and well laid out course and surrounded by some very good real estate but in this case the golf course definitely came first. One of my referred places to play. There is Las Brisas, another one of Robert Trent Jones’ successes which can be a tough one to get on without a member sometimes but well worth the effort if you can manage it.
Aloha Golf is a totally natural course carved out of the existing base of La Concha mountain that often comes into view behind. It can seem a bit hilly but has many interesting holes. The La Quinta Golf Resort consists of three full 9 hole courses to make up your round, originally designed by the Spanish players Antonio Garcia Garrido and Manuel Piñero and one of the first courses I played back in 1996.
All these golf courses are all beautifully presented with fabulously manicured golf holes and the slickest of greens that include water hazards and palm tree lined fairways yet they all seem to offer something quite different from the other when you play them despite the 1.5km radius proximity.
The Triangle Zone…
Then there is the golf courses located between San Pedro-Cancelada on the border of the Triangle of the 3 municipalities of Benahavis, Estepona & Marbella where you have two 18 courses in Atalaya founded in 1968 with the ‘New’ & ‘Old’ courses with their avenues of tree lined fairways, the peaceful setting of El Paraiso, designed in 1973 by the great Gary Player, and the newer Villa Padierna Hotel & Golf Resort with the stunning Los Flamingos course that has some breath-taking scenery where golf course meets lake with the Med beyond which has to be for me one of the nicest outlooks on the whole of the Costa del Sol right there. Hard to beat for an all-round great day out. The resort has since added the Alferini & Tramores courses but watch out for the odd ravine and if you do happen to lose out don’t get brave, just drop and play. All 3 boast the use of the Palace Hotel terrace that forms part of the Clubhouse area with a view to make any 19th hole seem somewhat of a disappointment thereafter. Then back towards Marbella you can find the established courses in Guadalmina (inaugurated in 1959), the ‘Sur’ & ‘Norte’ which both lie flat but are most picturesque with the former bringing the Mediterranean Sea into play…
The courses here are not heavily marketed due to their traditions I suppose but they are no less attractive and in fact this area offers some of the more established golf courses on the coast.
Not quite The Straights...
And the third would be further west along the coast towards Gibraltar in the area of the Sotogrande marina with the internationally famous Valderrama; rated number one in Continental Europe, a beautifully maintained golf course and always in excellent condition. It hosted the Ryder Cup in 1997 and the Volvo Masters since 1988.
La Alcaidesa boasts to be the only true links course in Andalucia, the forestry San Roque with its rolling hills, the flat and spacious Reserva de Sotogrande with cork and pine trees in abundance, Sotogrande Real Golf being the first Robert Trent Jones course built in Europe in a nice setting and the less known Almenara golf course designed by Dave Thomas, the three 9 hole courses, ‘Los Lagos’, ‘Los Pinos’ and ‘Los Alcornoque’ with fairways winding through breath-taking landscapes. The greens have already been accepted as being of tournament quality - but all very high level golfing venues, a challenge for even the single handicapper. Fabulous, a secret gem.
Not an area heavily trodden by the standard tourist to Spain but with what the marina has to offer by night and these golf courses boast for your daytime entertainment this has to be a real contender for a top golfing holiday.
Rest of the Best on the Coast….
Of course, there are many in between close to the sea with the seemingly isolated Torrequebrada Golf near the hotel in Benalmadena with many tropical trees an all-round tricky one due to the lakes and bunker positions.
Back towards Marbella you have the likes of Rio Real, a spectacular course that takes the name from the river that runs through it, I love it. Santa Clara a parkland course with large greens, ample trees and barely any rough, again another course I liked from the very first time of playing and one I have gone back to many times. The Marbella Golf & Country Club a challenging championship course set on hilly ground, Santa Maria in Elviria, set in a valley with natural vegetation, streams and lakes forming many hazards. A tricky course even though it is shorter. Irons off the tee type play.
And one last one with a sea breeze but isn’t always in the best nick is the picturesque Cabopino located behind the marina of the same name, again just East of Marbella.
Down to the town centre of Estepona we go and as you pass the marina we have Valle Romano also designed by Cabell B. Robinson with an excellent clubhouse and practise facility, with a history for hosting the Seniors PGA tournament. Next door is the long standing and vastly improved Estepona Golf with its shorter fairways but more difficult rough so requires some accuracy.
Beyond that, still heading Westbound but before arriving at the area of Sotogrande there is Casares. On the road to the village there is the award winning Finca Cortesin, a 5 start Hotel and Spa resort with fine dining to match, this course has been the scene of the Volvo Masters in 2009, 2011 & 2012. Very special.
Mountain Goat Golf Inland….
Then there are those that are a little further from the sea, set inland for a more mountainous challenge. Certainly not my preferred type of golf but if you hate flat lies the likes of Alhaurin Golf could be for you. Located up behind the Mijas mountains, comprising of 45-holes technically, made up of an 18 hole course for adults, a 9 hole par 3 course and an 18 hole children’s course - the main one having been designed by the late, great Severiano Ballesteros.
La Cala Resort is a purpose built golf resort with Hotel recently extended to three full 18 hole courses all in golf mecca of a place. The 36 holes are all set in beautiful surroundings with something for everyone. ‘Campo America’, spectacular views to the Sierra de Ojén and sea beyond, ‘Campo Asia’ has plenty of challenging holes, guaranteeing a testing round and ‘Campo Europa’ is an easier prospect and far more manageable. All designed by Cabell B. Robinson. Mijas Golf with two 18 hole courses, ‘Lagos’ with its wide fairways and 6 lakes and pleasant layout while ‘Olivos’ is a newer, more technical course with less hazards.
Halfway between Fuengirola and Marbella you will come across Calanova which is a new course in relation to many others but it is improving all the time. It can play much like a links course if the wind is blowing but the newly finished clubhouse has finished the facility off nicely and represents good value. Then there is the more established Miraflores Golf hidden inside the Urbanisation of the same name. A challenging course with magnificent views of the sea and the Mijas Mountains.
In the municipality of Benahavis there are a few courses that offer some amazing scenery. Los Arqueros is another of Seve’s works although you will notice it is equally challenging as his other one in Alhaurin. This course offers very few flat lies and then there are the ravine’s, well needless to say hit well or arrive packing.
La Zagaleta overlooks much of the coastline from its elevated vantage point, which I have been lucky enough to go round through a member contact I had at the time who was also a resident of this exclusive resort and as far as I am aware is still run as a private club so this is the only way to get on here. Great place.
From the Ronda road to the Benahavis road now and you will find access to the discreet and exclusive offering of the Marbella Club Golf Resort which is a Dave Thomas creation who has had a hand in over 100 course designs over the years and he has come up with some special holes and views to match. A proud club that follows tradition and good etiquette, the sort more commonly seen when the ‘plus fours’ were standard and most clubs had wicker shafts - maybe due to its links to the fine Hotel on the famous Golden Mile of the same name that also prides itself on excellence.
It has taken me 21 years to get round the 38 or so courses I have named here, and thankfully there are plenty more I haven’t yet played, but to keep this a first-hand account I haven’t entered them here but believe me you are all on my radar which could bring in any unsuspecting golfer quite literally into range of my sporadic slice shot off the tee so be warned in the future….!
This article is only offered as my insight into these courses and therefore should not be taken as golden but is to simply act as a taster into what to expect so you may begin looking into it for yourselves.
If you have been looking online it may appear I have only managed just over half of the golf courses on the Costa del Sol but I made a conscious decision to discard the 12 or so clubs I class as ‘pitch and putt’ par 3 or ‘half courses’ with just 9 holes as many don’t even boast a clubhouse. They are mainly only there to help facilitate property sales from back in the boom and used to encourage then buyers into paying inflated prices and in the main, barely ever see a player on them other than some ‘rabbit resident’ slapping it into some poor proprietors terraced area.
The point is, I know there are many articles like this out there clearly written by someone who thinks a ‘Titleist’ is someone who does things for effect and I did not want to mislead…. No no, this is about golf for the purists and all of these aforementioned establishments are for the seasoned player and offer the full 18 hole par 70/72 facilities so rest easy there…
I think its fair to say that if you are a golfer, from anywhere in the world and you want the best there is in the game then the Costa del Sol has to be on your radar as a future destination… It certainly seems to be a heavy driver for the influx of tourists seen outside of peak holiday season as well as a key factor for potential homebuyers looking at property in the area.
I hope that if you read this as a golfer you are inspired to find out more about what some of these courses are about and you get to establish which ones are going to inspire you into a visit to Southern Spain…