Wow, wow and more wow …
I’ve played many courses in my life (over 325) and I have played some of the better country clubs in the USA but the overall conditioning of Valderrama had me baffled.
This course has some serious tournament history and it’s not somewhere everybody can just pitch up and ask to play. The green fee is quite steep for starters (€320) and they only open up a few tee times a day. This is a club owned by members since they bought it off the Ortiz-Patino family.
Constructed in 1974 as Sotogrande New by Robert Trent Jones Sr, the course was acquired by Jaimie Ortiz-Patino in 1984. The course was redesigned and extended again by Robert Trent Jones Sr. By 1999 it was generally recognised as one of if not, the best golf course in Europe. The 1997 Ryder Cup with an inspired Seve Ballesteros as European Captain firmly established the myth that is still Valderrama.
The course itself is not overly long by modern standards with a par of 71 and just under 7,000 yards. For British and Irish golfer, a slope of 147 wouldn’t mean much but it probably equates to a standard scratch of around 76 so 5 over par. This is not a pushover course. So what makes it so difficult ? As an example, I played in a pro-am shotgun start and our first hole was the 18th which is not the easiest of holes. My drive hugged the corner of the dogleg and ended up at the far end where we could see it sitting pretty. When we arrived to the ball, on the right hand side of the fairway, the distance to the flag was around 135 yards. Great result … except … we had no shot to the green let alone the flag. The only option was to hit an extra club over the left hand greenside bunker and chip back. I did and ended up making par. This is the main difficulty of the golf course, you have to be on the correct side of the fairway, the correct distance etc. which increases the pressure on your tee shot. Overhanging branches, well bunkered and small greens and generally 12 on the stimp will make any golfer doubt himself.
All the holes are great but some are memorable. The Par 5 fourth ‘La Cascada is certainly one of them. After two good shots I was left with around 130 yards. In the left hand rough and with the pin top right, it was hard to pick a line. There is nothing you can see bar the waterfall and the lake. Miss it right, you’re dead. Miss it left and up the slope, you’re dribbling it down a slippery green towards the water. It does really test every shot you have and requires some shots you haven’t got. Another cracking hole is 17 where Tiger famously dunked a couple in the lake fronting the green. Read the plaque indicating that Graeme McDowell hit driver - 7 iron en route to an albatross and wonder … I had one of my better drives of the day, admittedly into the wind, and was left with 245 yards, again into the wind. Not a hope in hell I was going to get there. Left myself short but unfortunately in a fairway bunker from where I hit it over the green … and plugged. Now I’m faced with a nightmare shot to a short pin and a green sloping away towards the water and nothing to stop my ball.
This is a course that keeps on testing you over and over. Physically demanding enough but mentally draining, Valderrama really is a ‘tick the box’ experience and if you ever have the chance, don’t hesitate. You’ll have clubhouse stories for months.
One of the best courses I’ve played … ever.
From the moment you enter the Sotogrande Resort it starts to dawn on you … this is not your average Spanish resort. The entrance to the club, although guarded and all is not that impressive, a few covered parking spots
Real Club Valderrama
Avda Los Cortijos s/n 11310 Sotogrande, Cadiz, España
Reservations & Information:
President, Visconde de Pereira Machado; firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice President & Treasurer, Juan C. Garay Ibargaray
General Manager, Javier Reviriego Bóveda; email@example.com
Words: Jo Maes (Mr. Buzzy) - Chairman of the European Golf & Travel Media Association.