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.
Andalucia can never be accused of not supporting golf -- Spain's most Spanish region is awash with golf courses and forgetting the quantity for a moment, it's the consistently high quality of the vast majority of these layouts that is so impressive. Naturally, some are better than others, but even at the lowest end of the scale, the quality remains much better than good and at the top end, quality levels literally shoot off of the chart. Nowhere is this as true as with the newer courses that have opened during the last dozen years or so, bringing some really classy new gems to the region.
Along Andalucia's Costa del Sol, Spain's unofficial golf headquarters, there have been a number of new boys on the block in recent years that have taken the golf world by storm. The Cabell Robinson design at Santana was immediately proclaimed a winner when it opened and the same Cabell Robinson's more recent effort at Finca Cortesin has received even more enthusiastic endorsement from practically the entire European golf community, including more than a few comparisons with Valderrama, the very course that set Andalucia's golf course standards. It's certainly the most flattering compliment any course could ever be paid.
It was only in 2004 that another new Costa del Sol course opened, at the time to far lesser acclaim. This was not due to any shortcomings in the design, a brilliant effort from America's own, Perry Dye, nor any other fathomable reason. It was simply due to the fact San Roque's New Course, was the younger sibling of the original San Roque layout, now to be called The Old Course, a team effort between Dave Thomas and Tony Jacklin. Nobody accepts a new, younger brother with open arms, especially when the brothers are golf courses. Until it has proved otherwise, which is at least a few decades or even longer, the newer layout will always be labeled as the second course, with the accompanying stigma of being presumed to be inferior to the original. Nobody wants to play a second course.
Making the situation even more difficult, the original San Roque course was a founding member of the Costa del Sol's, so called, Golden Triangle -- the linking of what was generally accepted as being the three best courses on the coast that also happened to be immediate neighbors -- Valderrama, Sotogrande and San Roque.
As the saying goes, "you can't keep a good man down" and a mere eight years after opening, San Roque New has impressed the golfing fraternity in grand style with the gritty determination only a youngster possesses. It has proved its worth and is now considered a more than worthy companion course to its older brother. Locals still refer to the Golden Triangle, but today they really mean the Golden Quadrangle, including both San Roque layouts.
Selecting the better of the two San Roque layouts will be dependant upon each players skill level, competitive spirit and whether or not they can think their way out of problems with no apparent solution. The Old Course is the kinder and more forgiving brother, testing from the back tees, but far more manageable from the front. It's a true classic and a gentleman from beginning to end.
By comparison San Roque New is thoroughly modern and definitely a layout for scratch and low-handicap players, providing a very serious examination of golfing skills to any who may dare -- Forgiveness is not a word in the New Course's vocabulary. Narrow fairways demand pinpoint accuracy, with deep fairway bunkers waiting to collect the penalty from any who may fail. The greens are well protected and water hazards, mature cork oaks and nasty pot-bunkers, only add further complications. Attack this layout without a solid strategy and thorough understanding of your own capabilities, means inevitable defeat. The New Course takes no prisoners, but for the real connoisseurs of the game who enjoy a tough fight, be prepared for one of the most invigorating rounds of your Andalucian stay.
Cabell Robinson is not your ordinary golf architect. With an established reputation around The Mediterranean region, he is in high demand by everyone looking to develop an outstanding course, but he refuses to become a design factory. Taking very much a hands-on approach with every assignment, he picks and chooses each project carefully. If Cabell Robinson's name is attached to a course, be assured of two things -- first, the man really did design and oversee construction from start to finish. Second, the course will not be a run of the mill layout, but something very special and quite memorable. This is an architect who like any real artist, puts his heart into every design he creates.
There are a number of outstanding layouts along the Costa del Sol with Robinson's signature -- The three impressive courses at La Cala, La Reserva at Sotogrande, the outstanding Finca Cortesin and another relative newcomer, Santana Golf & Country Club. True to form, all are gems and listed among the best layouts in all of Spain.
Santana is a particularly enticing track. Handsomely set between two rivers on 138 acres of what was once an avocado plantation with the Sierra de Mijas Mountains as a backdrop, Santana is nothing less than visually stunning. Robinson has preserved many of the original old avocado trees, together with some specimen cork trees that have been standing here for over 500 years. Adding eucalyptus, mango, orange and lemon trees, the layout is a lush green oasis under the brilliantly blue, Andalucian sky.
Without the typical space limitations, Robinson has allowed his imagination to go on the wild side with generously wide fairways and a track measuring a hefty 6,306 meters (just shy of 7,000 yards). But don't be misled into thinking that big hitters have all the advantages -- in typical Robinson style, strategy and good course management wear the white hats and will win out in the end. Brute force, unless accompanied by accuracy and ability just won't cut it.
As serious a test of golfing prowess Santana may be for the single digit handicapper, there is a built in confidence booster for those of far more modest skills - a range of tee positions that brings this would be monster within the playing abilities of the rest of us. Yes, even the most casual golfer is assured 18 holes of challenging fun -- bringing out another of Cabell Robinson's traits -- he never forgets that golf is a game and games should be enjoyed by all.
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Santana is the variety of different challenges that have been incorporated into each of the 18 holes that meld seamlessly, one into the other. If variety is the spice of life, then Santana is certainly a spicy dish. Water hazards are not in short supply, but never dominate. There are a couple of interesting doglegs and short holes that are as testy as any par 3 you have ever been confronted with. There are long holes and one, the 660 yard eighth that takes the crown as the longest on the Costa del Sol.
The greens are large, extremely well maintained and filled with subtle slopes and undulations. Encroaching mature trees are sometimes used to narrow the access, providing further examination of a player's shot making abilities. And the closing hole is a real thriller and an appropriate ending to what will be a truly memorable round.
Santana and both San Roque courses, deserve to be on the must play list of any visiting golfer, but unfortunately, so do many other fine Andalucian layouts. Maybe you'll just have to resign yourself to extending your stay in this golf paradise for a little longer and at today's value packed prices, that's likely to be more affordable than you think.
Spain is a bargain for Americans at the moment, so it's a chance to not only play some of Europe's very best courses, but also to discover the multitude of other attractions Andalucia offers. Make the most of it and start planning your golf trip to Andalucia now -- and take the family along!
For more ideas on how to get the most out of your trip to this wonderful corner of Spain, contact the Andalucia experts at Golf International by calling toll-free 1 (800) 833-1389. or click here.
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