There is a dearth of top-flight golf courses along the Cantabrian coast in northern Spain. Just over the French side of the border, there are eight courses in a fifty-mile stretch from Chantaco to Molients, but, on the Spanish side, there are only a handful along a 130-mile shoreline, including San Sebastian, Neguri and Real Golf de Pedrena.
Located on a small wooded peninsula jutting into the Bay of Santander, Pedrena is a Harry Colt design that dates back to 1928, so golf has been played on this hilly parkland layout for a very long time. The eighteen holes of the 6340-yard, par 70 main course were augmented in 1992 when a further 9-hole layout was created on the property.
The course has hosted the Spanish Open three times – the last was in 1988 when Mark James won – but perhaps its greatest moment came in 1975 when it held the under-25 Spanish championship which was won by a 17-year-old local lad with quite a few family connections to the club, one Seve Ballesteros. It was in many ways fitting that the launch pad to such a highly successful professional career was on his home course.
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.
No golf trip to the north of Spain would be complete without a visit to Seve’s old stomping ground at Pedreña, just outside Santander. Architect David Williams has been working here for a while on this old Harry Colt layout, removing trees to open up the views across the Bay of Santander, rebuilding bunkers and greens, and bringing into play a new par three hole that remains faithful to the original design intent of ninety years ago.
I wasn’t prepared for just how undulating the landscape is on the course. There truly can’t be many, if any, level lies on any of the fairways as they rise and fall, twisting and turning, across hilly terrain. I spotted several patches of azaleas around the course, an obvious nod towards Pedreña’s most famous golfing son, and there are also areas where the regeneration of gorse and heather is being encouraged, particularly around some of the more elevated tee box positions.
The 349-metre 8th was my favourite hole on the front nine, doglegging gently right to an elevated green that just about clings on to the edge of a headland overlooking the mudflats of the Cubas River as it meanders towards the Bahia de Santander. The fairway also falls away to the right so it’s best to aim left off the tee before playing an approach shot to the horizon green from, in all probability, a hanging lie.
The new par three 10th hole (with the green benched into the hillside on the other side of a little gorge) works really well and I also loved the par five 16th, which features a huge big dip in front of the green. Undoubtedly though, the star of the show at Pedreña is the fabulous par four 14th, sweeping down to a green that’s backdropped by the Palacio de la Magdalena which sits proudly at the end of the peninsula on the other side of the estuary – one of the best photo ops you’ll ever find on a course, anywhere.
There was an amateur competition being played at the club when I visited (the 22nd edition of the Copa Pedreña) and the greens were stimping at 13 so be prepared for the possibility of a torrid time on the putting surfaces if you play here when tournament conditions are in operation – there’s a national Senior event coming up in May, a national Ladies competition in June and a professional tournament in September.
There’s also a 9-hole course designed by Seve routed mainly around the scenic northwest perimeter of the property and this short layout is due to be made more playable this summer by architect David Williams when he adds three new greens and sets of tees. Complementing the championship 18-hole course, this looks an ideal little track for beginners, juniors and seniors who don’t care for the rigorous walks on the main course.
Some might think that if Pedreña was located closer to a big centre of population it would be more greatly appreciated by a wider audience and therefor positioned higher in the national rankings. Similarly, with regard to the course’s non-appearance in the Continental rankings for Europe, that situation might also be beyond comprehension for some, especially when they consider the names of one or two other Spanish courses that are currently listed.
Real Golf de Pedreña. Many tell history, but only a few make it. And history is precisely what is smelled and appreciated once you walk in this little town up north of Spain, even before walking into the club house.
Pedreña is a small town 20 minutes accross the bay from the city of Santander, north of Spain. It receives many visitors every summer thanks to being known as “the home of Seve”. Seve is the perfect example of a man turning history around, creating a “before and after” in the world of the Spanish Golf. He openned many barriers for us and introduced us to the rest of the world.
Severiano Ballesteros, (April 9th 1957 – May 7th 2011) did not come from the richest of families. But was the kid with the biggest passion for golf the world has ever met. He used to sneak at night into the Real Club de Golf de Pedreña, a really fancy private golf course composed only of members. He would practice his sand shots at the beach skipping school, or would wait for the course to get cleared up of members and get out to play some holes. Nowadays, there is an additional 9 hole course designed by him, and a statue right in front of the golf course, by the harbour, in his memory. Even the main road of the town of Pedreña is named after him, and his crib is appreciated from many spots of the club.
Club house and views to the city of Santander
Apart from its history and tradition, the views from the course towards the Bay of Santander, the Cubas River, the Cantabric Sea and the Picos de Europa mountains are also breathtaking.
The 14th green
The views from the 6th tee of the 9 hole course designed by Seve
The course was founded on the 29th of december of 1928 and designed by Harry S. Colt. Lawyer and secretary of the Sunningdale Golf Club, who also designed Wenworth in Pine Valley and Detroit Country Club in the United States of America. Back in Europe, designed Le Tourquet in France and gave a new touch to Muirfield, raising it to the top. Time after, Colt got associated with Lister MacKenzie, working together for the design of Cypress Point, Augusta National and Royal Melbourne in Australia becoming one of the best designers in the world.
Views to the Cubas River through the tres of the 11th green
Pedreña is par 70 and has a total distance of 2828 meters long. With only one par 5 in the front nice and two in the back, equals both rounds with par 35. There are many amateur tournaments hosted here as well as profesional events (specially from the Women’s Santander Tour, Men’s Gambito Tour or even European Tour events). Even when they have a big field, they are able to fit many players thanks to the flexibility that the staff shows, by making two tees as starting points. (Instead of starting from the 10th hole, they usually make the players start on the 15th tee since the back nine starts at a further point away from the club house).
The front nine are a little bit more challenging, specially the second hole – par 3, the third hole – par 4 with a really bumpy green with crazy breaks protected by a deep bunker, and the dogleg right of the fourth hole and an uphill green with a big break from left to right that makes this par four a challenge for every skilled player. If as a low hándicap player you are able to fire less than two over on this front, you know you have a chance of scoring well in the day since the back nine has more opportunities for birdies with shorter par fives. But never get too confident…
The back nine have stunning views to the River Cubas and to the Bay and City of Santander. Santander is a really special city since it is the only city up north that faces south.
The 14th green has the most amazing views of the course since the players can appreciate the views to the Island of Mouro. This par 4 is reachable with the first shot due to the nice downhill that has from 100 meters in.
The 17th hole also has incredible views, and with the tee up high will make the player feel like firing up a nice one down the middle of the fairway before a litte easy dogleg right. Nice hole to reach the end of the round.
The 18th tee has a three hundred-year-old cave next to it which makes the visit really peculiar.
The club owns the best cuisine up north. Their veggies and fish is just outstanding. Their club sándwich has three layers of bread and together with a Mahou beer, will make the end of the round a real pleasure. Out of the main dishes I recommend:
-Calamares en su tinta with rice (Black calamary)
-Merluza a la romana (Special Fish)
-Tupinamba for dessert. (Because… who does not enjoy sweet? It is a dish that I have only seen served here).
Written by: Fátima González Carriles
November 30, 2017