Architect David Williams talks about recent upgrade work carried out at Real Golf de Pedrena
Real Golf de Pedreña was Harry Colt’s second and final 18-hole golf course design in Spain. Opened in 1928, the course has been made more famous in recent years by its association with Seve Ballesteros, who was born in Pedreña and played almost all his early golf at the club.
Pedreña exhibits many of Colt’s endearing qualities with, for example, greens 8, 13 and 14 all sited dramatically on the skyline. Many of the greens are centred in magnificent green complexes, allowing players to appreciate the ongoing excellence of Colt’s original designs.
Perhaps the greatest – and definitely the most dramatic – complex was that of the short par three 10th hole, a wide but shallow putting surface guarded by two cavernous bunkers to the front and three grassy hollows to the rear. It certainly appears to be the “signature hole” - if they used that term - after the course was opened, often being used to illustrate articles about the course.
Although players could still see the dramatic complex, for the last forty years or so they have not been able to play it! It was taken out of play in the mid 1970s when the Club gained additional land to extend both the par four 9th and par four 4 11th into par fives, increasing the par of the course to its current 70.
A new 9th green and new 11th tee were built together with a completely new longer par three 10th hole. That new hole became probably the most unfair and therefore least liked hole on the layout, being an uphill hole of approximately 180 metres that played to a small green with fall offs on three sides and trees lining the other.
At David Williams Golf Design, we have been working at Pedreña for the past four or five years, re-building and renovating the course, with holes 3 and 5 having completely new tees, greens and bunkers a couple of years ago.
When we were informed by the club that holes 9, 10 and 11 were programmed for reconstruction this winter, we felt strongly that something had to be done to the abandoned Colt 10th green which has stood forlornly in the carry of the 11th hole for the last forty years.
Re-creating it in its current position would either mean the shortening of the 11th back to a par four (a feature obviously not wanted by the Club) or by moving the 11th tee, producing a cross-over between holes 10 and 11, again an unwanted feature.
The solution adopted was to re-create the former 10th green complex virtually identical to the Colt original but re-positioned in the approach to the 1970s 10th green. Fortunately, the existing land in that approach, an area approximately 60 metres x 40 metres and with a 5 to 6 metre left to right side slope, mirrored almost precisely the land on which Colt laid out his original green complex.
The green was re-created to the original design, the only minor change being the continuation of the two capes which divided the three grass hollows to the rear of the green further onto the green than in the Colt original. In that way, players hitting to the easier left hand (and unguarded) side have a more difficult putt when the flag is positioned on the right half of the putting surface.
There appeared to be some indecision among older members of the Club as to the position of the original tees, and therefore the angle at which the hole was originally played. However, we made the decision to play it from the position of the 1970s tees, which gave the necessary diagonal to the hole and created the strategic ‘risk and reward’ character evident in Colt’s original.
Construction was undertaken in September/October 2014 by Garden & Golf of Madrid, whose contract also included the reconstruction of all tees on the three holes as well as building 14 bunkers, many in their original positions, but many new or re-positioned to create a more strategic element to the two par five holes.
When the holes were extended in the 1970s, it appears that essentially they were just purely lengthened and the 11th, in particular, still gave the appearance of a long par four hole rather than a challenging short par five. New and enhanced bunkering has created better challenges on both holes, which are now truly strategic ‘risk and reward’ tests.
When Colt designed the course in the 1920s, the site was wide open with very few trees. In the intervening 80 or so years, the vast majority of holes have become tree lined, creating interesting golfing challenges, but often blocking up the open views across the Bay of Santander that had previously existed.
In parallel with the construction work, removal of many trees has been undertaken, opening up the holes but, equally importantly, opening up the dramatic views of the sea and mountains which surround the course.
The ongoing redesign work has re-created many of the challenges and, in bringing back into play a lost Colt green, the challenge of the original course has been renewed.