The Real Automóvil Club de España sports club (RACE) is situated on the outskirts of Madrid, in the foothills of Sierra Norte, where a large campus boasts an 18-hole golf course and a 9-hole practice layout, twenty-four tennis courts (eight of them floodlit), four swimming pools (one indoor), twelve padel courts, a football pitch, a basketball court, a hockey field and one of Europe’s best horse riding rings.
As if all that sporting activity wasn’t enough, the Jarama motor racing circuit sits to the south of the property, first opening for business in 1967, which was the same year that the Javier Arana-designed 18-hole course debuted. The former home of the Spanish Grand Prix, with the race held here on nine occasions between 1968 and 1981, the Jarama track remains an iconic motor racing venue.
The Marquis of Jura Real sold six hundred hectares of the Pasadilla property to RACE in the early 1960s, with the club intending to build houses as a means to funding the development of a major country club and motor racing circuit. Designer Arana drew up plans for two 18-hole layouts, though he eventually staked out twenty-seven holes, eighteen of which were actually built, despite a reputed last minute bid by architect John Harris to take over the project.
The following edited extract is from “The golf courses of Javier Arana” by Alfonso Erhardt Ybarra and is reproduced here with kind permission by the author:
Originally, the layout stood in the middle of the countryside, within beautiful rolling open woodland – known as dehesa – adorned by scattered holm oaks and giving a sense of immense spaciousness. Many of the holes were visible from the upper vantage points of the course and the Guadarrama mountain range provided an enveloping scenic backdrop. Since it first opened, the routing has remained unchanged, but the character of the place has changed through the gradual disappearance of the holm oaks on the fairways and their edges.
RACE possessed another valuable strategic trait, which has been eroded by the progress of watering techniques: the effect of fairway tilt after the drive has hit the ground. Maintenance in the 1960s was far more primitive than it is now. Fairways were far less watered, which made them much firmer and faster, so the folds of the ground amplified the bounce and roll of the ball. Arana used the rolling terrain to lay a number of holes on hillsides tilting left, favouring a fade from the tee. Curiously, this preference for a specific shape of shot is not present in other Arana designs.
The greens are not particularly complicated in shape, and exhibit the tiers that Arana was so fond of. The main difficulty offered by the greens at RACE is that twelve of them are perched higher than the fairway and only the pin is visible. The gradients are not particularly severe but approach shots are afflicted by the additional uncertainty that surrounds an elevated target. In keeping with the Arana style, sand traps are generally large, but around the greens they have lost their sand faces, which makes them less visible from afar and so undermines their forbidding aspect.
In general, it would be true to assert that the RACE golf course is less subtle than other Arana designs, particularly when compared to El Saler, which he was creating at the same time. However, the course exhibits all of Javier’s hallmarks: par 72, dogleg holes, fairways defended by trees rather than sand traps, a par three at the 17th, two mid-length par threes and two long par threes. Even today RACE holds undisputed appeal, particularly for long hitters who can enjoy what by contemporary standards are unusually wide fairways.
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