More and more golfers are discovering the great modern courses to be found on either side of the Atlantic border between Portugal and Spain. On the Portuguese side, there are three top notch tracks – Monte Rei, Quinta da Ria and Quinta de Cima – that can more than match any of the Algarve courses west of Faro whilst the Spanish complexes at 27-hole Islantilla and 36-hole El Rompido offer the discerning golfer a further 63 holes of great, value for money, golf.
Situated close to a lovely fishing village and surrounded by the “Paraje Natural Protegido,” the El Rompido golf complex on the Costa de la Luz was opened in 2003 with a highly original, modern and minimalist clubhouse designed by Juan Antonio Foraster and Ana Calderón and an initial 18-hole layout (now called the South course) built to USGA specification.
Three years later, the second 18-hole course at El Rompido came along and this Álvaro Arana creation has surpassed even the very high standards set by its predecessor. Located on more elevated property, the new North course is a fine test, with fairways that are wider and longer than the South course.
On the front nine, the first seven holes skirt the coastal marshland area and there are two tough par fives to tackle at holes 5 and 8, each of which are in excess of 565 yards. The majority of holes on the inward half play a little more inland, but the 153-yard, par three 16th is an exception. Located on the edge of the marsh, the long, narrow green is protected on either side by a pair of coffin bunkers – just be careful this hole doesn’t bring a premature end to a good score on the North course!
I played the North Course on a very breezy but warm day in September, it’s part of a wider hotel and apartment complex and it appears almost everyone staying was there to play golf. I feel it’s a case of two very contrasting 9’s, the front is rather pedestrian albeit with some very long par 4’s (1st hole being SI 1!) and typical of any Spanish golf resort, not much to generate interest. However coming back is a much more exciting proposition with dramatic changes in elevation (13 being a highlight), some fine views to take in and considerably better architecture, 13-18 being a great run of holes . The course is set up to be generous from the tee with little rough and wide fairways, the only ball I lost was trying to drive the green on 11. Bunkering was well positioned to collect loose tee shots or badly hit approaches, the courses main test is to place your ball onto the large and undulating greens to avoid 3 putting or worse. I found them very difficult to read even though they were in recovery mode after summer maintenance and were not mowed to normal length they were fast, I dread to think how they would play once recovered! I found the overall course condition disappointing though, large areas of the fairways lacking any grass with scruffy and bumpy tee boxes on many holes. It was also a lottery whether the ball got any roll or bounce, seems to depend on the species of grass you land on rather than the shot you executed, fair to say no two holes were the same in that regard. By far the most disappointing element was the pace of play, expect a 5 hour+ round even though most players use a buggy, there’s no evidence of marshals or management of players and both the South and North suffer the same curse. I’ll admit that speed of play did colour my judgement and I certainly wouldn’t want to play it again unless that issue was addressed, the North is a good course despite its at times tired demeanour, worth playing for the back 9 alone.
A long and interesting course. Contrary to other reviewers, I though that the very short par 3 was a welcome relief! Greens are very true, but difficult to read. Fairways were excellent, especially considering the number of golfers they get onto this course (of which more later). The course gets off to a punishing start with a very stiff par 4 opener, with a particularly tight approach to a shallow green - anything left is dead in the marshland. I liked all of the par 3s, and the par 5s are open enough to allow a good thrash a fairway wood. The weak hole, in my opinion is the 17th, with a downhill layup at about 230-240 yards. My only problem with El Rompido was too many people, playing too slowly. It is most definitely a golf resort, not a hotel with a golf course, so almost everyone in the very large hotel and apartment complex is there to play golf. They get a huge number of people through, but rounds are inevitably protracted, over 5 hours in our case.
The South course is less crowded and is a very good test.
The thing that strikes you upon arrival is the scale of this place – it’s absolutely enormous so a buggy is almost essential if you want to get round all eighteen holes in a decent timeframe. The second thing to catch the eye is the lack of housing on any of the holes, which was a real bonus after visiting the courses at nearby Isla Canela and Islantilla. In fact, a substantial portion of the North course is bounded by a vast wetland area and this thick green carpet of impenetrable vegetation gives the place a somewhat isolated feel.
The best hole on the front nine is probably the par four 4th, which sweeps left and uphill to an elevated green. Holes 8 to 10 are located more inland before the 11th returns to the routing next to the extensive marshland area, doglegging right and uphill to a green with a back to front tilt. The only really disappointing hole for me was the very short par three 12th, measuring only 112 yards from the back tees, which just seemed so out of scale with all the other holes on the course – I never thought I’d ever criticise a par three for not being long enough but this hole really didn’t fit in with what had gone before or what was to follow.
Compared against the other par three on the back nine at the 16th (played uphill and across the edge of the wetland area to an offset green that’s flanked by two coffin bunkers) it’s easily the weakest of the two short holes on the inward half. But I shouldn’t dwell upon a minor criticism such as this because the overall package on the North course is very good.
The previously mentioned Isla Canela and Islantilla courses are decent resort layouts in the local area (albeit a little rough around the edges in places) but if you like your golf to be a bit more challenging then this is the course for you. If only I’d had time for a look round the South course at El Rompido as it too looked rather tasty. That’s always an excuse for a return visit in the future, I suppose.