On the outskirts of Madrid lies the famous Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, perhaps the largest sports club in Europe with more than 10,000 members. There’s everything going on here for the sports fanatic, from an equestrian centre right the way through to hockey and tennis. Villa de Madrid is one of Spain’s most impressive golf complexes with stunning practice facilities and two good courses, the Negro and Amarillo. The main course and the best is the Negro.
Club de Campo is now a council-run facility belonging to the City Hall. However, up until the late 1980s, this was home for the RSHE club, which moved to a new location to the north of the city when their Robert von Hagge courses came into play. Javier Arana (who many regard as Spain’s finest ever architect) designed the Club de Campo Villa de Madrid's Negro course that is in play today. It’s a challenging, tree-lined and sometimes dramatic layout.
The club was founded in 1930 and its original 18-hole course, which was laid out by Tom Simpson and Philip McKenzie Ross, opened for play a couple of years after the club’s formation. Following the Spanish Civil War, during which the course was extensively damaged, a 9-hole layout (featuring seven holes from an earlier Javier Arana design) was opened for play in 1952.
It would take another four years before a full 18-hole course was unveiled at Club de Campo, when Arana designed a new nine and remodelled the existing 9-hole circuit. Following the club’s decision to expand its golfing operations in the 1960s, Arana constructed a third nine and this resulted in a small change to the original routing, with the 15th and 18th holes becoming the 7th and 9th.
Seve Ballesteros added a further nine holes in 1993 to effectively complete the 18-hole Amarillo course, so it was rather appropriate that three years after becoming a 36-hole facility, Club de Campo would be the site of Seve’s 50th European Tour victory (and his last as a professional) when he claimed the Spanish Open title at this venue.
Major golf championships are no strangers to Club de Campo either. Apart from hosting eight Spanish Opens (between 1957-1996) and fourteen Madrid Opens, the Negro course has also held a couple of prestigious international tournaments. The first of these was the 13th edition of the Canada Cup, won by South Africa in 1965, with the second following five years later when the Espirito Santo Trophy was captured by the US ladies amateur team.
The following edited extract is from “The golf courses of Javier Arana” by Alfonso Erhardt Ybarra and is reproduced here with kind permission from the author:
The Club de Campo grounds offered perhaps the most abrupt terrain Javier had to work with throughout his career, because the entire length of the course spirals around the clubhouse, which sits atop the Cerro del Aguila hill. Arana was forced to make intelligent use of the slopes to give the player the sense he was on a golf course rather than hillwalking.
The routing is perhaps the most salient merit of Arana’s design at the Club de Campo. Despite the extremely sharp slope, Javier brings the player down from the clubhouse’s elevated lookout to the Manzanares planes in masterly fashion by exploiting the tee shots. At the 1st and 13th,the player at the tee would try not to be distracted by the stunning panoramic view over the city of Madrid while racking his brain to calculate the distance from the elevated tee.
The nine holes leading back to the clubhouse gently climb the hillside at an angle (8th, 9th, 14th and 15th) to mitigate the steep slope players would have to cope with if they were required to make a frontal attack up the hill. The accidents of the terrain are superbly put to use at the 9th hole, where Javier routes a par three straight over a gorge separating tee from green, in keeping with the ‘heroic’ theme he was so fond of.
The course is markedly strategic, rewarding intelligent players and punishing lazy ones. The first severe test, as in so many of Arana’s designs, is encountered at the tee. Most of the fairways are at an angle to their respective tees. A clever player can place the ball at the precise spot offering a straight path into the green, while a bolder player can try to shortcut the length of the hole at the expense of an angled entrance to the green.
Exploiting the natural tilt of the ground, Arana surrounded the greens with large, deep bunkers, which were given prominent edges and covered with a layer of light-coloured sand to make them more visible from a distance. To add further complications to the approach shot, Arana designed his greens with a good measure of internal movement. On the way out, the greens of the first nine holes are mostly tiered perpendicularly to the line of play. On the way back to the clubhouse, the greens display more elaborate movement and are generally more difficult.
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March 16, 2009