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Real Club de Golf de Las Palmas is Spain’s oldest golf club, having been established by English traders back in 1891. The ever-expanding urban sprawl of Las Palmas forced the club to move to its present location in the mid-1950s, where Philip Mackenzie Ross set out the club’s new 18-hole course.
Situated alongside the Caldera de Bandama volcanic crater – which, in strict geological terms, is actually a maar and not a caldera – the course boasts fabulous views of central Gran Canaria and the northwest coastline of the island.
It’s a relatively short track which is characterised by narrow fairways, deep ravines and small greens. A round here starts by skirting along and around the old crater before the fairways head into the hills to the west then return back down to the clubhouse for the closing stretch.
Many of the putting surfaces are raised and, whilst not overly protected by bunkers, they present a real challenge to golfers who must fly their approach shot high then try to hold the green. As for the driving range, it’s one of the quirkiest anywhere, with practice shots blasted down into the old crater!
This is the oldest Golf Club in Spain having been formed in 1891, and relocated to its present site in the 1950s when Philip Mackenzie Ross, who also designed Maspalomas on the Island, set to work. Locally known as ‘Bandama’ because this extinct volcano lies adjacent to the Course, Royal Las Palmas is a totally different golfing experience to the other golf courses in Gran Canaria.
At over 500 metres above sea level, maximum use is made of the small amount of golfing land available in this hilly region in the north of the Island, above the capital city of Las Palmas. Rainfall is more plentiful than in the dry south, the course is lush and more like England in the spring-time and the setting and 360 degree views is simply astonishing.
And as for the course. It’s condition was ragged in places but the greens are good, and the 18 holes offer stacks of variety and are never dull. After a gentle opener from a raised tee, I liked the second which bent into a gentle dogleg towards a green with an infinity sea view, the uphill par5 9th back to the clubhouse, the beautiful par3 at 10, the long downhill par4 on the edge of the property which followed, and the 18th which was very similar to the 9th hole. I will never forget the views out to sea or of the surrounding mountains from our lofty perch up high.
Sophisticated this golf course is not, but Real Las Palmas is typified by its beautiful rambling clubhouse and established feel. It has been played by 8 former ‘Major’ winners and an additional 20 Ryder Cup players according to a board in the reception area. The history, fun and ambience of ‘Bandama’ makes this a not to be missed day-out for the keen golfer.
The serene feeling you get strolling around Real Las Palmas is a far cry from the explosive origins of the land on which is sits. Perched on the edge of the Bandama Crater, this golf course has some great views - especially on the approach to the 2nd green, which appears to drop off into the sky.
The club is the oldest in Spain - and as such is formal, but friendly. You are required to drop your bag at reception, to then pick it up again at the first tee. On your way to the locker room you walk past the board of honorary and bona fide members and see most of the Spanish greats from the last few decades, including current stars Emma and Rafa Cabrera Bello, who grew up this course. The clubhouse, perched at the highpoint of the course, overlooks many of the holes, and is a great place to relax after the round. A true members club, I found them to be friendly to me as a single player and let me play through as soon as I was behind them, thus had no complaints with pace of play.
As for the course, I think it’s fair to say that the best was made of the land available. Like many courses of its time, it will be seen by many as a bit short for modern equipment, but the small greens - usually protected by bunkers, means it certainly retains a challenge. My highlights were the aforementioned 2nd, as well as the 4th, 10th and 11th - more for the views around the holes, rather than for the layouts of the holes themselves.
Compared to the rest of the courses on the island, this is a very different experience. The north, especially at this altitude, is significantly more verdant in contrast to the rocky resort courses on the South, and if it weren't for the views and palm trees, doesn't feel to different to my native England. Personally, I prefer the courses in the South, but if you are considering coming North, then it's worth throwing the clubs in the bag and driving up to Bandama. If it's good enough to produce two tour pros, it's good enough for me.
It takes a wee bit of effort to get to Real Las Palmas – or Bandama as it’s known locally – and, to prove the point, a local taxi driver taking one of the guys I was playing with got lost on his way from the airport to the clubhouse!
Most of the other golf facilities on Gran Canaria are located half an hour away on the south side of the island but its’s well worth the 45-minute journey north to play here on a day’s excursion for the main tourist traps.
To be honest, I thought the club might be a little stuffy, perhaps a little overly proud of its status as the oldest golf club in Spain (established in 1891) but any such thoughts were dispelled the moment I walked through the front door – talk about being made to feel like a member for the day!
Real Las Palmas has to be one of the most hospitable, down-to-earth clubs I have ever had the pleasure to visit and a large part of that was down to Leif Svensson, the manager of the adjacent hotel, who seems to use the clubhouse for conducting most of his front of house business.
Make sure to ask for Leif if you get to play here as he’ll keep you entertained for quite a while with his stories of money matches he’s played down the years, especially when he first started out and they were his main source of income – he’s quite a character and one of the most interesting I’ve ever come across on my golfing travels.
The club moved to this site in 1957, with Philip Mackenzie Ross laying out the club’s new course next to the spectacular Caldera de Bandama volcanic crater. Rafael Cabrera Bello is the club’s most famous member, having learned to play the game here in the early 1990s but his sister Emma shouldn’t be forgotten as she’s also been an LET professional player since 2008.
It’s a compact little course, measuring 5,636 metres from the regular markers, with only one par five on the outward half and a couple of three-shotters on the other nine. The short par four 1st hole sets the tone for the round, played from an elevated tee across a gully to a sand-protected green on the other side.
You’ll rarely find a flat lie as the fairways are routed across tumbling terrain and holes sometimes play uphill, sometimes downhill or even across the slopes. Looking at the scorecard, you might frown at the number of holes that seem to be laid out in parallel but they’re been set out to efficiently fit the contours and are nicely separated by a variety of trees.
The toughest hole at Real Las Palmas is easily the par four 14th, rated stroke index 1, which doglegs left and down from the tee before heading up a severe incline to the green. That’s a difficult hole to challenge the best of players but ordinary golfers might have a harder task selecting their favourite hole because there are lots to choose from.
I really liked the four short holes, especially the uphill 3rd, played along the southern edge of the property to a wonderful offset green that’s guarded by long cigar-shaped bunkers at the front and rear of the putting surface. The longest par three at the 15th is a bit trickier, with a hidden bunker to the left of the green catching many who can’t see it off the tee.
Summing up the playing experience at Real Las Palmas: Highly recommended.