Course of the Week: Valderrama

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October 03, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

David Brice, CEO of Golf International, reviews destinations on PGATOUR.COM that can be experienced by purchasing a package with Golf international, a leading provider of high-end international golf travel. For more information about this trip or any other of Golf International's destination trips, click here.

The Ryder Cup has always delivered its fair share of thrills, spills and good old fashioned excitement, but the spectacular win squeezed out by Team Europe last weekend, under the brilliant captaincy of Jose Maria Olazabal, is already in the history books as one of the most dramatic ever.

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Since its beginnings 85 years ago, The Ryder Cup had always been a biennial battle between the best golfers of Britain and Ireland, versus the USA. It wasn't until 1979 the British/Irish team was expanded to include top players from Continental Europe and became a true, Team Europe. It was a good first step in acknowledging that golf was not the exclusive domain of Anglo-Saxons and some of the world's best golfers were from European countries beyond the British Isles. It would take another 18 years before a Continental European venue would be selected to host the event and the ultimate honor went to Spain, a land of world-class, golfing plenty.

Whatever arguments went back and forth at the time over whether or not Spain should have been the choice, were quickly dispelled from the moment the players first stepped onto the fairways and greens of the immaculately maintained Valderrama Golf Club. This was an extraordinary course that impressed everyone.

Before its climb to Ryder Cup fame, Valderrama was already an established name in Europe and a regular host to The European Tour's flagship event, The Volvo Masters. When Valderrama won its bid to host the 1997 Ryder Cup, Volvo took their tournament an hour's drive north to the Jack Nicklaus layout at Montecastillo, located just outside of Jerez de la Frontera. After 5 years they returned to Valderrama where they remained until the final playing of The Volvo Masters in 2008. When you are accustomed to the very best, it's difficult to settle for anything less and Valderrama is the best in Europe, bar none.

What makes this Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout special enough to be sought after by Volvo, selected by the Ryder Cup, chosen for the WGC-American Express World Championships in 1999 and 2000 and a regular feature course on The European Tour? -- Plenty!

Ranked at the very top of Golf World Magazine's Top 20 Courses of Continental Europe for 20 consecutive years, Valderrama happens to be the most exclusive private golf club in all of Europe. The members, under their energetic and determined, honorary president, Jaime Ortiz Patino, spared no expense in building and maintaining an immaculate course, an extravagantly impressive clubhouse (including a stunning golf museum) and a club that respects the traditional values of golf like no other outside of the inner sanctum of the most traditional British club. Valderrama is a rare golfing shrine and an almost sacred place, to which every golfer should make the pilgrimage -- it's the glittering jewel in Continental Europe's golfing crown and one of Spain's most precious National Treasures.

The original design dates from 1975 when it opened as neighboring golf club, Sotogrande's New Course. Mr.Patino, a perfectionist, an art collector, golf enthusiast and shrewd businessman in search of his own course, saw the potential in the layout and successfully negotiated the purchase of Sotogrande's New Course for his investment group in 1985.

Robert Trent Jones Sr. was immediately contacted and offered the assignment of bringing the course up to full championship standard. With a generous budget and his own basic design to work with, Jones quickly accepted the challenge, taking 5 years to complete the project. By 1990, the mission was accomplished, Trent Jones had completed the best design of his illustrious career, the name was changed to Valderrama and Mr. Patino was the father of a newborn super-star.

Having already won his bid to host the 1997 Ryder Cup and with his penchant for perfection, Patino was still not completely satisfied with his course and called upon Seve Ballesteros to make further refinements. Since then Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s associate of 34 years, Roger Rulewich, has taken up the baton and continues to fine-tune Valderrama further, whilst maintaining the integrity of the original, just as the Master had envisioned. There may be no course on the planet that has received as much attention and pampering, with the result of a course that is as close to perfection, as exists anywhere.

At first glance, Valderrama gives the appearance of being a gentle, rather agreeable course -- nothing could be further from the reality. As every player discovers, this is a stern test for the best, with a level of difficulty enough to shatter the nerves of even the calmest. Carefully thought out fairways, nearly 100 bunkers, elevated greens protected by encroaching cork oaks and a generous helping of water hazards thrown in for good measure, this is a thinking man's layout where accuracy and careful course management means everything.

With the reputation Valderrama has built for itself, golfers the world over chomp at the bit to play it for themselves. But this remains a very private club and the members want to keep it that way. Despite this, they also recognize that in many ways they have built a national monument and recognize a responsibility to allow other aficionados of the game to share in their treasure.

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A very limited number of visitor times, just 9 a day, are offered between the hours of 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m. with starting times at lengthy, 15 minute intervals. There is a very strict dress code and maximum handicap requirements to be complied with, together with a serious respect for the traditions and etiquette of golf.

Not surprisingly, the laws of supply and demand require a very early application to even have a chance of playing the finest golf course in Europe and perhaps, the world. The services of a reliable golf travel company, experienced in arranging Spanish golf trips, such as Golf International, will be the best way - but what an experience awaits the fortunate few.

For more ideas on how to include the only Continental European course to ever host The Ryder Cup, together with more of Spain's remarkable collection of outstanding golf challenges, call Golf International's Spain golf experts toll free at 1 (800) 833-1389 or, click here.

©2012 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.

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