La Reserva Club de Golf is the latest prestigious golf course to be constructed in this corner of the Costa del Sol, joining near neighbours Valderrama, Sotogrande and San Roque in a formidable quartet of quality golfing destinations.
Yet another design of the prolific American architect Cabell B. Robinson, the course only opened for play in 2004 but many already consider it capable of hosting a national or international competition.
It is located within two valleys which join in the form of the letter "Y" and when the site was first cleared of scrub, all trees and plants with ecological and aesthetic interest were moved to a nursery then replanted in their original place.
La Reserva is long – more than 6,700 metres from the back tees – but fairways are wide so you can afford to open your shoulders on the tees to aim at relatively generous fairways. Greens are on the large size but it is one thing to be on the putting surface in regulation and another to avoid three putting when a long way from the pin position! Water features at half a dozen holes, but apart from one hole, it does not present itself as a frontal hazard.
Both the outward and inward holes have par threes separated by long par fives. On the front nine, the green on the 164-metre 5th is guarded by a lone bunker while the
145-metre 7th is played from an elevated tee to a shallow
putting surface. On the back nine, water to the left of the green on the 222-metre 15th pressurises the tee shot and the 187-metre 17th also features water to the left of the putting surface, with bunkers further protecting the right and rear of the green.
The European Tour returned to Sotogrande in 2014 for a new tournament that was hosted by La Reserva Golf Club. Some may think a waste management company sponsored the NH Collection Open, but NH Collection is, in fact, a hotel chain with around 400 properties in their global portfolio. Marco Crespi won the inaugural NH event, claiming his maiden European Tour title after eventually progressing through Qualifying School in 2013 at the Italian’s eleventh attempt.
In May 2019 the club staged the inaugural La Reserva de Sotogrande Invitational (hosted by World Golf Hall-of-Famer Annika Sorenstam), which resulted in Céline Herbin claiming her second Ladies European Tour title.
2021, La Reserva hosted the second of four stages of the Aramco Team Series
– the first team event of its kind on any professional golf tour – when three
female professionals team up with an amateur. In Sotogrande's team event Ashleigh Buhai
led her team to victory while Alison Lee won the individual title. The
unique series spans three continents with tournaments in London (Centurion Club),
Sotogrande (La Reserva),
New York (Glen Oaks) and Jeddah (Royal Greens).
The opulence of La Reserva is primarily financed by an American hedge fund that recently bought the Sotogrande label, which includes a significant part of the region and a number of golf courses, including La Reserva. Just before Christmas, the club put the finishing touches to a clubhouse fit for the royal family. The membership now enjoy the finest facilities and a golf course that frequently offers oceanic views across the Costa Del Sol. Specific to the course, the opening stretch of three par 4s is most challenging for a variety of reasons.
The first has a crowned fairway, the second is long and tough and third has a very shallow green surrounded by deep bunkers. Fortunately the 4th hole finally offers a change in direction and is a reachable par 5. The 5th turns around and runs back parallel to the 4th, but has a large hill on the left side which helps bounce the ball back down to the fairway.
If you pay attention to the routing of La Reserva, you’ll observe that many holes run parallel back & forth (eg: 4, 5, 6 then 12 and 13). A common theme with the La Reserva routing is how the rise and fall of the land makes many fairways feel like a funnel working towards the green-sites. While the par 5s are reachable, the par 4s are where this course breaks the golfer’s hearts separating the boys from the men.
There aren’t many better uphill par 4s in Continental Europe than the 9th at La Reserva. The hazard placements are wonderful regardless of which tees you play from and put a premium on club selection for the tantalizing approach. It really should be the 18th hole as it’s an epic climax. When you stand on the 10th tee, you wonder why it isn’t the 1st hole as its fabulous downhill dog-leg left more in tune with the rest of the course. That’s the million-dollar question as a few years ago the two nines were actually switched! While the front nine was more in tune with a “golfer’s intuition” from a design and visual perspective, the back nine too often falls victim to the need for real golfers at the club to apply some golfing intelligence to a number of features. My humble observations include:
A) The 10th hole would be a thrilling opener. Amen.
B) The 11th hole is a par 5, which by itself is a brilliant hole, but when you put it under the magnifying glass, you’ll notice a questionable cluster of trees to the left of the green that blocks the sunlight and airflow resulting in unhealthy areas of scrubby land where the grass simply can’t grow. The green-site feels claustrophobic with excessive vegetation surrounding it too. Add in the overly undulating diagonal green, it’s far too penal for 99% of golfers and is not fun to play. A consideration is to thin out the trees around the green and improve the sunlight exposure.
C) The 14th is a downhill par 3 with two sets of tees in what feels like a Spanish Secret Garden. The issue I found with the primary set of tees is that there is a very large overgrown tree in front of the green which completely blocks your view of the flag if the pin is on the left side of the green. It just feels wrong. A consideration is to remove this non-value add feature.
D) If you look at early pictures of La Reserva, the view from the elevated 15th hole is often considered the signature hole. It sweeps downhill moving left to right and whets the appetite. When this hole was built, you could see the right side of the fairway and had an epic view of the putting surface. The problem today is that the club has let a large cluster of trees grow far too big which now completely block your view of the right side of the fairway, the lake and the green [see photograph]. This detrimental overgrowth is a terrible shame as the current visual of the hole suffers greatly from the original concept. A consideration is to get rid of all these trees completely and open up a fabulous view of the par 5 green restoring its days of glory and intrigue.
E) Similar to the 15th, the par 4 17th is a dog-leg right but unfortunately there’s a large cluster of unnecessary vegetation blocking the view of the strategic landing area, the lake and the green. The player has no idea that there’s water on this hole due to the visual obstruction, which is an awful shame as it would easily add tremendous value to the strategy from the tee. Too many balls get lost and this slows down play. A consideration is to get rid of all this vegetation to open up the clear vista towards the green.
F) The current 18th hole is an uninspiring short par 4 somewhat below and away from the clubhouse which offers no excitement. I played a long iron and a sand wedge into this highly anti-climactic finisher. It’s a perfect 9th hole to bring you back to the house. The two nines need to be switched.
When you consider my humble observations, it’s clear that massive improvements can be made to La Reserva without much investment. It’s the simple changes to the back nine that could yield such progress and turn this solid course into a great course. The club executives need to adopt the mindset of a golfer and quickly realise the swift enhancements that are sitting in front of their eyes. I look forward to returning to La Reserva as it is quickly establishing itself as a “must play” venue while in the same neighbourhood of nearby Spanish giants.
I played this course 3 weeks ago, 9 years after that round. There have been changes as switching 9s to make it finish facing Club House (which was brutaly improved) and believe it has a stronger and more fun finale now. Course was again in pristine shape and greens rolling very very fast. It is a course that is not short, it doesn't give away easy birdies except par 5 6th hole. It is demanding and it yes changed my opinion as I would put it in the same table with Real, Valderrama and Finca. A great progress and procession by the Management towards a great experience and very good course, this week hosting LET.
The course is long, I played it from the back markers and it is a stern 7000metres, I am not totally opposed to courses of this length as long as the design allows the player to open his shoulders and meet the challenge head on. This is what I enjoyed at La Reserva, the course tempts you into taking shots on and having a go, it is risk/reward not from the penal sense but from the more enjoyable school.
The opener entices you with its downhill drive and is relatively short which eases you into the round. The "easing" is short lived for quickly your A game is called into action with the front nine possessing some bear like holes, the par 4 second played to a green guarded by a lake and the the par 3 6th at 240 yards requiring all but the driver for many, being the standouts in my opinion. At the 9th you play back uphill toward the clubhouse,uphill second shots are a common feature here but Robinson has fashioned them in such a way as to be more inviting and appealing than the usual way they are done.
The back nine starts with a great short par 4, a dogleg left played to a kidney shaped green guarded at the front by a swift flowing stream, anything short is dead and long leaves the player a very tough pitch. The back nine climbs onto higher ground and offers some tremendous views and cracking tee shots which really ask the golfer to "have a go". The finishing holes are top drawer. 16 is an excellent par 5, played from an elevated tee to a cascading fairway below, the green is long and narrow with a deep lake lying to the right, you could easily walk off this hole with a 4 or a 7 on your card without having played the hole too badly. 17 is stroke index 1 dogelgging to the right, the green is severly contoured and a four is an excellent score here. While 18 is a tremendous finishing holes with the approach played to an angled green set slightly above the level of the fairway.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at La Reserva, everything about the place is top notch to the last detail. The conditioning of the course is up there with the best on the Costa del Sol and the greens were some of the slickest I have ever putted on. From the clubhouse to the range, the sky is the limit for La Reserva and for a place with lofty ambitions we could be looking at a future European Tour venue.