Spanish golf is a force to be reckoned with

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June 15, 2011
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

Editor's Note: The following article is written by David Brice, President of Golf International. Established in 1988, Golf International specializes in the design and operation of quality golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, France, Spain and Portugal. The articles written by David represent trips available to Golf International customers. Click here to learn more about Golf International.

Spain's rise to prominence as the top golf destination on Continental Europe has been a long slow process, started out in 1891 when the very first course opened on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria. Unlike other countries that have more recently jumped on the golf bandwagon, Spain has been perfecting its golf offerings for 120 years, putting time, effort and resources into developing a golfing infrastructure that is in a league of its own and unmatched outside of the British Isles.

Ryder Cup venue Valderrama set the standard for Spanish golf.jpg
Ryder Cup venue Valderrama set the standard for Spanish golf.
San Roque Old Course was a part of the original Golden Triangle and still ranks among the best.jpg
San Roque Old Course was a part of the original Golden Triangle and still ranks among the best.
Sotogrande has an aura of majesty befitting its official Royal title.jpg
Sotogrande has an aura of majesty, befitting its official Royal title.
San Roque New Course has joined the ranks of Spain's best layouts.jpg
San Roque New Course has joined the ranks of Spain's best layouts.
La Reserva - Golfing splendor under Andalucia's endless warm sun.jpg
La Reserva - Golfing splendor under Andalucia's endless warm sun.
Finca Cortesin - an impressive newcomer and already a regular European Tour venue.jpg
Finca Cortesin - an impressive newcomer and already a regular European Tour venue.
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The quality and quantity of outstanding golf courses were key among the many reasons why Spain was selected as the very first country outside of Britain and the USA to host the Ryder Cup in 1997, when the now world famous, Valderrama Golf Club, was chosen for the honor.

The very same reasons explain why Spain is home to no less than four of Continental Europe's Top Ten ranked golf courses and hosts more official European Tour events than any other European country. In 2011, seven of Spain's very best layouts have been selected as the venues for some of the European Tour's most important tournaments -- that's almost 30% of the total being shared between all of European countries.

With Spain's firmly established position as a golf powerhouse, it's easy to see how she has produced such an impressive bevy of world famous golfing super-stars. Seve Ballesteros, started the trend back in the mid-1970's, continued by Jose Maria Olazabal, then Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez -- and the best maybe yet to come.

Encouraged by the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, there's an entirely new wave of talented young Spanish players already making a name for themselves in Europe and quickly working their way up in the rankings. Names such as Alejandro Canizares, Pablo Martin, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal, have joined Alvaro Quiros and Rafael Cabrera-Bello, as being among the most impressive, all with the potential to be Spain's next Sergio or Seve. And there are even more in the junior ranks, waiting in the wings, intent on continuing Spain's golf legacy. Golf in Spain is alive, thriving and growing at an amazing rate and on all fronts.

Over the past 40 years or so, Spain has been opening quality new courses at an astoundingly consistent rate, as the world's most respected golf architects have flocked here, eager to leave their own indelible mark and be a part of the golfing phenomenon called Spain. Robert Trent Jones, Donald Steel, Robert von Haage, Cabell Robinson, Dave Thomas, Nicklaus, and Player are among the many who have contributed to Spain's showcase of course excellence. Spain's own, highly accomplished designers, have also played a key role in building this golfing wonderland, with master architects, Javier Arena, Jose Gancedo, Ramon Espinosa and Manuel Pinero being joined by Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, all continually raising the bar in an unspoken contest to shine among their peers.

Spain has only benefited, with an amazing collection of world class courses, now numbering well over 300 in all. Scattered throughout the country, the heaviest concentration basks under the perpetually sunny skies of the Mediterranean coast in the south. Reaching from the Portuguese border in the west, to the border with France in the northeast, this is Spain's true golf heaven where top drawer courses are blessed with the perfect, year-round climate and a golfing season that literally, never ends. Winter, spring, summer or fall, any time of the year is the best time to golf here.

The epicenter of Spain's great golfing wealth lies along the Costa del Sol, a brief stretch of barely 100 miles of Mediterranean shoreline, extending from Gibraltar to the historic, provincial capital of Malaga. Home to some 60 golf courses, the Costa del Sol boasts among them the now fabled, Valderrama, the sole occupant of Golf World Magazine's, "Best Course on Continental Europe" ranking, since 1991. Twenty years on top, might create the false impression that golf along the Costa del Sol is a one pony show and nothing could be further from the truth. Competition for the Top Dog position is fierce and never more so than among Valderrama's immediate neighbors.

For many years, this corner of the Costa del Sol was referred to as The Golden Triangle, a triangle of golf formed by the three best courses of the Sotogrande region, all located within a 10 minute drive of each other. Valderrama was joined by Sotogrande and San Roque Old Course, forming the Costa del Sol's fearsome threesome, a triumvirate of truly inspiring layouts. That was when life was a little simpler, but in recent years, more outstanding courses have been added to this western end of the Costa del Sol.

First came a second course at San Roque, appropriately named, The New Course. A tough as nails, very contemporary design from Perry Dye, this is a track for the skilled player and even the most accomplished will be lucky to escape a round on San Roque New Course, unscathed.

Next came La Reserva, another masterpiece of architectural creativity, this time from Cabell Robinson, a man well experienced and highly respected for his many excellent course designs in Southern Spain and other Mediterranean countries. Neither Cabell Robinson, nor La Reserva has disappointed and the end result must certainly rank among Robinson's best, transforming the Golden Triangle into a Golden Pentagon.

Cabell Robinson was not so easily satisfied and undertook yet another design project in the area that will undoubtedly go down as his crowning glory, the amazing, Finca Cortesin. It may not be officially in the same Sotogrande area as the five courses already mentioned (but still only 15 minutes from Valderrama) the quality and superb design, the challenge presented and the sheer artistry and drama of this outstanding layout, certainly warrant an extension of the Fabulous Five, into the Stunning Sextet.

Only inaugurated in 2006, Finca Cortesin hosted its first European Tour event within months, when it was selected as the venue for The Volvo World Match Play Championship. So impressed were players, spectators and organizers alike, Finca Cortesin is now the regular venue for the tournament. To be selected for such an important event speaks volumes for the quality of a course, already acknowledged as one of the most important additions to Spanish golf of the past decade.

There is no doubt that Spain's 120 years of thoughtfully developing one of the world's most impressive golfing infrastructures, is bearing fruit and Spain has earned the enviable title as Europe's Golf Capital. Make sure that Spain is at the very top of your golf travel list.

For some creative ideas and suggestions on how to get the most out of your Spanish golf trip, both on the golf courses and off, contact the Spain experts at Golf International by calling toll-free, 1 (800) 833-1389, or click here.

©2010 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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