It is very rare to find a golf course on the Spanish Costa del Sol that was constructed more than 50 years ago and even rarer, that after five decades, it still provides a stern test to even the best golfers. Both are true of the Real Club de Golf Sotogrande.
Back in 1964, Sotogrande was a largely uninhabited area just north of Gibraltar, with only a few pockets of population located in a few country estates. An American citizen, Joseph McMicking, who lived in the Philippines, visited the area and could see the land's great potential, with its excellent weather, wonderful mix of countryside and proximity to the stunning coastline. In that same year he initiated what is now regarded as one of the best developed residential and tourism areas in Europe and its first golf course: Real Club de Golf Sotogrande.
Opened in 1964, the course was designed by Robert Trent Jones. It was his first European course, and it is a credit to the man and his design that the par 72, 6,224-metre layout is still enthralling players after all these years. Sotogrande is a private members' club, which maintains an air of calm and restrained sophistication, whilst at the same time providing a warm welcome to visitors. The clubhouse is well designed and elegant, the food and drink excellent and well presented, and the changing rooms large with showers to die for.
Between 1998 and 2001, Sotogrande was used for European Tour Qualifying Finals and its class, quality and reputation are recognised globally. In Sotogrande's 30th year, it was awarded royal status. The challenge that awaits every golfer at Sotogrande was well summed up by the designer, Trent Jones, when he once described a golf course as a battleground: players attack the course and it is the architect's obligation to defend it. This he has achieved wonderfully at this Spanish masterpiece.
Every hole requires the player to plan his attack with care and execute the shots successfully to escape the many strategically placed bunkers and water hazards. The fairways appear wide and the semi-rough is Augusta-like in its appearance, but stray from the short stuff and the wonderful cork, eucalyptus, pine, oak and palm trees – which line almost every fairway – will make life and making par very difficult. Only when the ball drops into the hole will the golfer be able to relax. The putting surfaces are expertly shaped and contoured and they are all wonderfully maintained, making them fast and true all year round.
Holes to look out for include the 4th, a wonderfully difficult 202-metre par three with a wickedly sloping green. The 7th is a cracking par four measuring 381 metres with a narrow green and water guarding the right side so it's a tough proposition. Holes 12 to 14 and 16 to 18 are all tough, featuring well-placed water hazards. It's quite a finishing stretch.
To help the golfer at Sotogrande, always remember that most of the greens are elevated and that a lot of the slopes in the fairways are very subtle but not insignificant, so make sure to take enough club for the distance, and then take one more.
The course underwent a massive upgrade in 2015-16 which was completed by Roger Rulewich and David Fleury in two stages to allow members the use of one nine at all times. Putting surfaces had grown by up to 40% of their original size over time so green shapes were fully recovered, with sub air systems installed to ensure their optimum performance. Fairways and tees were also reconstructed, using 41,000 kilometres of drainage, 71,000 tonnes of sand and 37 hectares of Bermuda grass.
I am a massive fan of this golf course. I have played it twice now and the first time I didn’t realise how good it was, but, the second time, I realised what an amazing course it is. There was never any question about the experience of coming here. The clubhouse oozes tradition with famous golfer’s names jumping out at you on the competition boards.
The flow and ease of making your way from the car to the first tee is exceptionally well presented and the staff are well organised and helpful, although it would be foolish to get to the first tee quickly without making use of the warm-up facilities, as the driving range is class and the chipping and pitching area is amongst the best I’ve seen in Europe. The course is almost 60 years old at the time of writing this (opened in 1964) and was restored in 2016. Reading the history books, you’ll find out it was in RTJ’s top 5 of the 500 courses he designed.
Now the important part, the course itself… If you don’t know what to expect it can seem like quite an American style of design compared to other Spanish courses in the area. Then when you consider this course was built before many of the American and Floridian courses you appreciate it possibly set the standard and ideas for many that followed. There is a fair amount of water and plenty of tactically placed bunkers throughout. This creates definition and character for every hole, each different from the last. The plot of land used here is incredibly undulating with elevation changes on most of the holes, but never does this seem too extreme to make the holes fair and enjoyable. To play well here you need to be able to judge the flight and distance and also how the ball will react when it lands. The 2nd hole is a great example of this, as the 3rd shot into the par 5 is fraught with danger, anything long is dead and anything short left and your ball will be running down a steep bank and you'll be facing an inevitable bogey at best!
When we played the second time we were paired with long-term club members who told me the original architect's drawings were made in yards, but when they sent the designs from the US the Spanish course designers made the fairway measurements in meters, which is why the fairways are generous. Whether this is true or not, I’m not sure, but it would make sense as the course is generous off the tee and the demand is on the approach shot on most holes. I could walk through some of these holes but it would be a long read given the drama and the detail I could add. What I can say is that the course doesn’t really peak or petter out, it’s consistently good and varied throughout. RCG Sotogrande will find the faults in your game and will allow you to play to your strengths in places. I can see why this is such a popular members club as you would always look forward to coming here for a game, especially given 99% of the time it will be in the sunshine!
With several friends praising Sotogrande as one of the best courses in Spain, it was great to finally tee off on this magnificent golf course. Aware that the golf course is located in an area surrounded by houses, the first thing that struck me was how isolated the large part of the golf course was to the surroundings.
Although condition is not something I prioritize when reviewing a golf course, it fascinated me what can be created if you invest hundreds of millions. The condition was simply unbelievable. It is probably only the neighboring track that can measure up in Europe.
Sotogrande is a golf course that is both playable and challenging for all categories of golfers where the first nine holes are isolated from each other while meandering among trees in a naturally undulated terrain. The first nine are also the course's strong cards where the long par 3 4th hole with a raised green surround of trees stands out. I was also very fond of the green area on short par 4 5th. The seventh hole is considered the course's signature hole and it is indeed an awesome and fun golf dog leg left hole with a tee shot to a wide fairway followed by a relatively steep approach shot down to a green guarded by a pond and some bunkers. Some might compare the approach to the 11th hole at Augusta, here with the pond on the right side.
Although the holes are attractively separated from each other on the front nine, it would be interesting to see the trees cleared out in the combined area around the third and fifteenth green and the fourth and sixteenth tees. I believe it would create an even better overview of the course and its grandeur.
The second nine is different in character by being less undulated and bringing the neighboring houses visible. Several holes are also played around two larger ponds and the vegetation is also somewhat different including large palm trees. (Speaking of trees, the backdrop behind the 9th green is incomparably cool). The last nine holes are generally weaker and reduce the overall rating. It is starting off on 10th where a longer tee shot to the left is likely to end up in a private garden. I also have an issue with the position of the green on the par 5 12th hole. Unless you are a very long hitter it is either impossible or not worth the risk to get on green in two. As a result, the second shot is quite anonymous.
I also experienced the par 3s quite similar in character, both in length and green structure with an elevated green and a bunker that guards the front of each green both to the right and left, even if water is in play for both of the par 3s on the second. In total, I calculated that 15 greens are raised or having an uphill approach.
That being said, Sotogrande is simply a very good golf course with wide strategic fairways, big mighty greens with a mint condition that very few courses in Europe can offer. I understand my friends' appreciation of this golf course. A visit not to be missed if you are in region.
The mountains looked down in the distance, the palm trees stood as tall as in Beverly Hills and the turtle appeared to nod his head in appreciation before diving into the lake alongside the 18th.
To say that Real Club de Golf Sotogrande has a wow factor is probably the greatest understatement of our travels so far.
Within 100 yards of the beach and set on one of the most exclusive tracts of land on the planet, R.C.G.S. is a sumptuous destination to play our wonderful game.
From the moment we arrived in the car park, we knew we were somewhere very special.
And we enjoyed it all the more for avoiding a buggy and having a proper walk with a push-trolley, supplied at the caddy-master hut along with complimentary balls on a superbly laid-out range.
RCGS is the oldest club in these parts, designed by Robert Trent Jones to coincide with the development of the estate back in 1964.
It was updated five years ago and its huge number of bunkers, keen use of water and elevated greens mean every golfer has to be on their mettle to score well.
The first sets a tone – a par-four which can be reached but where water awaits to the right with sand threatening to gobble under-hit approaches.
However, in common with all of the holes, the fairways are wide and course management will be rewarded.
The greens are also slick but I found them easier to read than La Reserva (my most memorable moment was a monster putt from off the rear of the fifth into the hole).
The early holes are impressive but after the 7th jaws really begin to drop. This is a relatively short downhill right-to-left dogleg with a water feature to the right of a green which is surrounded by bunkers.
Not only is the hole picturesque in itself but the view of the mountains of the Sierra Blanca makes it doubly captivating.
The eighth is a mighty tricky par-three ascending pretty much all of its 190 yards. Incredibly, Mrs W’s decent tee shot skimmed the bunker in front of the green and ran down a path to the right never to be seen again. It summed up her day.
Speed of play is clearly a big deal in this part of the world. There are dire warnings about completing a round in four hours and ten minutes on Real Sotogrande’s website, on the course and from the starter.
At the halfway hut, players are given a friendly instruction to return to the tee even with coffee and cake in hand.
I get the need to hurry things along but there is a difference between good pace and rushing and we felt we didn’t even have time to weigh up putts before we were charging off to the next tee.
Real Sotogrande actually felt like a place that needed serenity rather than darting around.
The second nine is arguably the most visually pleasing I have encountered on my travels so far.
The bending tenth allows more views of the mountains from its elevated tee and is bordered by some magnificent properties.
From the 12th, the water at Real Sotogrande becomes the dominant feature.
This par-five has a wide enough fairway to make the opening two shots comfortable but then turns so that an approach to the flag demands avoidance of the lake and a bunker.
I opted for the chicken’s way out on the left-hand side but the narrowness of the putting surface meant I overshot.
The par-three 13th is truly memorable with water in front to right and all the way around the rear. If the ball doesn’t sink to the depths, it may find its way into the sand which protects the left of the green.
The drive on the par-five 14th has to carry the lake but even if that is successful it then winds up to a green situated on a plateau. It is a belting hole.
The only blind shot on the course is the second to the long 15th which drifts uphill before a dip and another rise into a green defended by four bunkers.
Then we are back to another stretch of water for holes reminiscent of the 12th and 13th.
The 16th is a par-four which has plenty of room off the tee but demands accuracy to avoid trouble with the second and the 17th is another par-three with water in front, and right.
The home hole is another beauty and is where we passed a sunbathing turtle at the banks of the lake before ascending to a green in front of the wonderful 1960s-style clubhouse.
It was appropriate that my second, a meatily struck fairway wood, should find sand. It was probably the tenth trap I had found so by this time I was pretty adept at extricating myself.
But, regardless of my travails, I was exhilarated because Real Sotogrande delivered in every aspect.
As we tucked into our post-match grub overlooking the course, I couldn’t help wondering where could have been better for a mid-November round. Its condition was perfect and its staff were top-notch.
No wonder it is in Spain’s top three.
There’s an understated elegance about Real Sotogrande that’s evident from the moment you arrive at the clubhouse. Even the small scorecard you are given at the starter’s hut is rather plain and unfussy, providing the requisite information needed in terms of yardages, stoke indices and local rules, along with a club logo on the front – but there’s no photo, sponsorship logos or any other “clutter” that doesn’t need to be there!
It was my second time playing here in three years and this time was as enjoyable as the previous visit, even though it was even earlier in the season than in 2017. I get the feeling near-perfect conditioning is what happens here 365 days a year, regardless of weather or any other outside influences. It also helps when you get away first in a 2-ball just after sunrise as you can pretty much set your own pace and get round without undue delay.
Both par threes on the front nine at #4 and #8 are sensational short holes, with raised greens demanding a precise tee shot to large putting surfaces. Likewise, the two doglegged par fives at #2 and #6 are brilliantly bunkered three-shot holes that won’t yield too many birdies as they’re long, tough holes. Once again, the downhill 7th was my favourite hole on the outward half, the water hazard to the front right of the green hinting of further aquatic exploits to come on the back nine.
There are no returning nines at Real Sotogrande so the inward half begins at the furthest point from the clubhouse, swooping downhill then sharply right and up to the green. The sequence of holes from #12 to #14 then #16 to #18 follows a somewhat similar pattern, with the first (very wide) fairway in either trio leading to a green that’s threatened by water to the front right side. These holes are followed by a par three (at #13 and #17) where water again comes into play around the green, before the next hole is played to a heavily sand-protected elevated green.
There can be little doubt about the scale and the quality of the golf product at Real Sotogrande – and to think that a large proportion of the recent infrastructure investment can’t actually be seen as it’s underground in the network of drainage and irrigation pipes that help to keep the layout in top condition. Then again, I suppose that’s what separates the good from the great and this course most definitely falls into the latter category.
I came back to Real Sotogrande more than 6 years after my second visit as I had played it 2012 & 2013. The course went on an entire renovation with some small redesigns on greens and they re did completely the short par 3 course which is one of the best features of the Club.
The invite to play come by the GM and included playing 18 holes with spanish bomber Alvaro Quiros which was a great motivation. Instead of the driving range I used the short course to warm up and I can say it might be the best decision of the day. The course was restored and improved during the renovation project and it is excellent, for sure a must play after the main 18 and lunch to gamble with friends. 2 short par 4s and seven par 3s with a wide range of yardages from 70yds to 180yds on hole 9th.
And then then main round with Alvaro where we played a fun match but the best part was listening to all he had to say about the modern era, the courses, yardage, club fitting, the ball, physical training, his best friends on Tour and a lot more. Only that was well worth the round!
And then the resoration made Real Sotogrande a much more better course and for sure amust play in a trip to Andalucía. I had never played in August, when most of the Madrid Members are there, and the course was in pristine shape, greens rolling perfect and fairways were carpets. Course has not changed that much but the quality has gone higher than ever. And sharing it with a Tour Pro, can’t ask for more.
This was my first time back to Sotogrande since the 2001 European Tour School. From what I remember it was a fine course with fast undulating greens…..and that it was freezing! The view from the clubhouse down the first fairway whets the appetite with its open fairway this hole is a nice introduction to the course. I believe the strength in Sotogrande comes from hole 2 through to hole 7 especially holes 3,5 and 7. The third is a great short par 4 doglegging from right to left to an elevated green which slopes from left to right. Hole 5 starts with a semi blind tee shot which leaves the player a short to mid iron to an angled green. I really like the way this green sits and club selection is vital for successful outcome. In my opinion hole 7 is the best on Sotogrande. If you manage to get your tee shot in play from the elevated tee you are left with a perilous approach to a long thin green which is flanked by water on the right and bunkers on the left! Hole 11 (Pictured) is cracking short par four to a raised green which is a recurring theme throughout Sotogrande. The course then disappoints a little for the next three holes giving more of a Floridian feel to the holes. Holes 15 - 18 are decent enough but do not quite reach the heights of the front 9. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed my re visit to Sotogrande and with its variety of holes and generous fairways golfers of all levels will enjoy their game here.
Didn't realize it was 9 years since I came here first. My opinion this time around is even better. What a classy place! Really understated and not at all "in your face" as I found in Finca Cortesin. Greens are exceptionnal. The whole course rather flat for the area (compared to silly slopes in Finca for example). A real members club that truly deserves its status. Favorite hole was number 7.
As it was the first European design of Robert Trent Jones back in the mid-1960s, Sotogrande enjoys an undeniable architectural significance. The course is laid out on a massive scale, with fairways routed in an old-fashioned out and back style and water in play at most of the holes on the back nine – indeed, there’s more than a hint of Florida on these palm-fringed holes which occupy rather uninspiring, flatter terrain.
The recurring raised green theme with bunkers either side of the putting surface might wear you down after a while, especially if you find yourself in the greenside sand too often, because recovery shots from these hazards to greens stimping around the 12 mark certainly test your short game to the very limits.
The downhill par four 7th is probably the best hole on the front nine, the approach shot played downhill to a green that’s protected by a pond all along its right side, with bunkers in front and to the left of the putting surface. Trees also circle the back left portion of the greensite, making this one of the most photogenic holes on the card (pictured here).
The short par four 11th was my favourite on the back nine, playing sharply uphill to a back to front tilted green, before the routing drops holes down to level ground at the 12th, where water then dominates on half a dozen of the remaining holes, bringing a cape tee shot (at the 14th) and peninsula greens (at the 13th and 17th) right into play.
There’s no doubt the recent multi-million-euro renovation of this course has breathed new life into a layout that should now be fit for purpose for at least another fifty years. With nearby Valderrama also undergoing a recent Kyle Phillips upgrade and a second course planned for that particular venue, these are exciting times for golf facilities in this upmarket part of the Costa del Sol.