Everybody has heard about Valderrama “the Augusta of Europe” but its success is really down to Jaime Ortiz-Patino and a few of his golfing mates. In 1985, the industrialist billionaire bought what was then a fairly average course. He then spent an absolute fortune on it and now it’s one of the best courses in the world.
In 1975 Robert Trent Jones first laid out the course, which was originally known as Los Aves. It is located prominently on a hill above the old Andalucian village of Sotogrande. The layout remained relatively anonymous until 1985 when Jamie and his mates recalled Trent Jones to subtly reshape Valderrama and the club has not looked back since.
Many golfers will be familiar with Valderrama from TV coverage. The club has hosted a plethora of championships, including the Volvo Masters and the legendary 1997 Ryder Cup, which saw a narrow one point European victory under the captaincy of none other than Seve Ballesteros.
The closing holes are always described as tough with a capital “T” but if you choose your tee sensibly from the off, it’s an eminently playable course for golfers of most abilities (the maximum handicap allowed at Valderrama is 24 for men 32 for ladies). The 17th hole is naturally the most memorable. It’s called Los Gabiones and was once just a long par five until the water was installed just in front of the green. Now it’s a question of shall we lay up or should we go for it?
Despite the fact that Valderrama is an elite private members club, visitors can still obtain the key to the first tee. It’s certainly not the cheapest green fee in Europe but, because Valderrama is never overplayed, it’s always in tip-top condition. Valderrama is also completely in tune with nature. Apart from Loch Lomond, it’s is the only other European golf club to be awarded full Audubon status (Audubon's mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems). Play Valderrama and prepare to be impressed… very impressed.
Jaime Ortiz-Patino, the owner and honorary president at Valderrama, died in a hospital in Marbella in January 2013. The legendary figure played a key role in bringing the 1997 Ryder Cup to Spain. “Valderrama is his masterpiece, his legacy,” commented Jose-Maria Olazabal. “He wanted to make it a very special place, and he did it. He put Valderrama and that part of Andalucia on the map.”
In June 2014, Ortiz-Patino would have been extremely proud. A few days before his abdication, His Majesty King Juan Carlos of Spain, granted Valderrama the Royal title. Club de golf Valderrama was duly renamed to Real Club Valderrama. Four years later, the club completed an extensive renovation programme which has completely transformed the course.
Arguably the most famous course on the continent, I'd wanted to get onto Valderrama for some time. I'd played Real Sotogrande and the nearby San Roque, and last year eventually got round to playing the most famous course in Spain. Given people will look at this as an experience rather than just a round, I thought I'd give some views of the club before going onto the golf course. As everyone knows, it is expensive, and when you drive up to the club you immediately get a sense as to why. People working everywhere, immaculately presented and excellent service. The course was quiet, as was the club generally, which allowed us to take our time and hit some balls before going out. As you'd expect the practice area was perfect, albeit a little unnatural given you hit down a big hill. The clubhouse is lovely, though perhaps lacking some of the charm of the nearby San Roque. Food good, and spending time sat on the balcony allows you to soak up the atmosphere and get excited about the day ahead. To the course...
It hits you on the first tee that the course is tight, with cork trees in abundance on either side of the fairway. This doesn't make the course a chore, as it's all quite open under the canopies and whilst you may hit out a few times, you're unlikely to be in real trouble other than 4 or 5 holes. It's in perfect condition, the closest you're likely to get to Augusta in Europe. The design is good, if a little over engineered at points (the tree in the middle of the 2nd fairway is frustrating). There's more undulation than I'd anticipated, with holes playing up and down hill, and some great elevation changes throughout. The course makes you think, but off the tees we played off you can plot your way around without needing to slash driver too frequently. Off the tee it's tight but somehow feels forgiving, but it's the green complexes that are where you need to score. Like Pebble, the greens feel tiny, and are often surrounded by high cork trees, narrowing the angle of attack to many of them. On five or six occasions I hit a greenside tree before dropping into the many bunkers that seem to circle every putting surface. The small greens makes your short game tricky too, often playing from think, heavy grass and needing to stop the ball on a dime. The course flows nicely, and it's fantastic visually. A few of the holes stick with you, but my sense is that the overall experience is better than the sum of its parts.
It is worth playing once, though given the price of the green fee I'd struggle to justify returning. Perhaps that has slightly soured the experience...
All in all a great day, a really enjoyable golf course and an experience I am glad that I bought.
Yes, this is one of the best golf courses in Europe. Yes, Ryder Cup was here. Yes, Volvo Masters an Spanish Open were played here. And it is Members Club - and staff will make sure, you as a visitor will know it. Your 400€ fee will help them to keep it private. Add 60€ for buggy (actually, I would prefer a trolley here) and 60€ for mandatory forecaddie (nice local guy, happy to give him a tip), and the question is - is it value for money? I am not sure. Despite the course maintenance is Top, the practice area is just ok (practice tees very dry and rough, full of sand) and for visitors with limited access only to 45” prior to tee time. Regarding course design, sorry to say that, but with the exemption of 17. hole, most of the other holes are about the same: narrow landing area guarded by cork trees, and dogleg to another small green guarded by another cork trees. At the best, a cork tree in the middle of the fairway just in the dogleg, demanding precise wood or 4-iron to have a shot into the green. Everybody admires Valderrama, but for me it is a bit monotone layout. Check-marked on my bucket list, but just that.
Playing Valderrama on a warm September morning feels like a step away from heaven (if indeed there is a Heaven).
From the moment you arrive you feel as if you are in a golfing paradise bubble. Service is exceptional, course conditioning the best I've ever seen, fairways like some courses greens, greens like something I'm unlikely to see again.
The course is difficult but manageable, hit your tee shots in the right section of the fairway & you will have a good day. miss the landing zone or fairway & you are struggling to make bogey.
Would I play again, I'd play it everyday for the rest of my life. until next time, thanks Valderrama, you are beautiful.
2 years ago I played it for the last time in the middle of the renovation project redoing some minor details in greens, some new tees and reconstruction of all the bunkers with new drainages. And I had never played it in summer, when most of the Madrid members are there. And this is one of the highlights.
Early in the morning I teeid off with GM Javier in a fun fast twosome game where at each step he was showing the changes, updates and modifications the course went through in the last couple of ears. I feel this is even more valuable than just playing the course.
As I have already played it and also wrote a couple of reviews, I feel the most important thing is to show how the restoration has changed how the course plays. Par 3 3rd has a different angled tee which gives you more alternatives of where to place the pin and the angle of the tee shot.
Green 11th has been a very deep improvement, it used to be a flat straight green with the shape of a zero and now it has been widened, sloped and theere are some new very good pin positions for championship events.
Bunkers are way better, more firm but with the feel you can shape perfectly well your shots.
Course was in perfect, and when I say perfect I mean it, shape and in a sunny and little windy day we experienced a fantastic golf round. Course is arguably the best in Continental Europe and with no doubt Top 100 in the world. It is always a great experience to play it and a nice reward to putt for eagle and make birdie on 17th.
The course is perfect!!! It is a must to play... what a chance i had....
It's hard. The condition is perfect all year round. Practise facilities are tour standard (And you can watch Álvaro Quirós smash the ball out of the range most days). It has great history with the Ryder Cup being there, what more could you want from one of the top courses in the world.
Just bear in mind it's tough, so if you don't mind the golfing equivalent of S&M and you are lucky enough to play it, i'd play here every week of my life if i could. Not a blade of grass is out of place and I love it.
After my first visit to Valderrama back in 2008 and five more rounds since then, I think my latest in March 2019 gave me the total satisfaction that I had always wanted here. When we talk about courses at the very top-end, I think we are entitled to be ultra-observant and that is what I have always done when playing here.
The issues for me were, if you hit into the tree-line off of the fairways there was little chance to advance your ball forward as the low branches were too thick – the chip out sideways a familiar shot at Valderrama. This has seriously changed now with a pruning program across the course that now allows a chance to play in the direction of the green. There has also been plenty of trees that have been removed around the course, previously some were in places that were too penal and affected decent shots to the greens. The third hole (par-3) has been updated and I think this makes it so much more interesting – it is a simple change with the tee now raised so now you can see the bottom of the pin from the tee.
An improvement also comes at the familiar par-5 17th – observations that the slope at the front of the green was too steep were voiced by many – this has been attended to and although still defined is less unfair than previously.
Other subtle changes at Valderrama have been to take buggy paths out of view from the tees – a cosmetic change but enhances the views when playing your opening shots.
Leaving Valderrama this time, I had a huge smile on my face – yes, the experience off course was as special as ever but now it is clear that opinions have been listened too and more importantly, acted upon. Difficult to find fault now.
Its been 8 years since I last visited Valderrama and to be honest although I enjoyed the challenge I found the course more tricky than difficult. The main frustration was that at times you could hit the fairway only to find your route to the green obstructed by over hanging cork trees. If you did veer offline back then even a route back to the fairway would be virtually impossible. But I am delighted to report that under the stewardship of their GM Javier Reviriego a number of these issues have been addressed.
Trees that previously blocked approach shots have been removed which makes Valderrama more playable from the short grass. The biggest improvement though comes from cleanliness of the offline areas where nearly all the trees have either been pruned or removed giving the player options either to pitch out or try the hero shot towards the green….this gives Valderrama a fun factor which I am not sure was the case from my past visit.
As you would expect the course was immaculate with fast greens, perfect bunkers and tightly mown fairways and approaches. Valderrama has a number of great holes but for me 2, 4, 10, 11 and 17 are the standout holes. The course has a variety of doglegs (both left and right) which test your course management from the tee and elevation changes to the greens which test your distance control.
If I had one minor criticism it is that I would like to see more run off areas around the green instead of rough. The greens complexes lend themselves to a variety of short game options but instead the player tends to reach for the lob wedge unless they come up short on the tightly mown approaches.
I have been fortunate to have played around 40 of the world top 100 and although I am no expert it would be difficult to imagine 100 courses better than Valderrama.
A Robert Trent Jones course, it was originally a real estate play in the mid-1970s. Fortunately, the new owner, Jaime Ortiz-Patino, had grander visions, so more land was acquired and Jones was brought back in the mid-1980s. The most distinguishable attribute of Valderrama are the 2000 plus cork trees. Valderrama is a barkie paradise with one drawback; have you ever heard a golf ball hit cork? The unmistakable barkie sound that we are so used to is muffled poing. I had lots of poing opportunities.
Jones takes the hard par easy bogey to another level here by utilizing his bunker in the sky approach, i.e. overhanging trees. As an example, the first hole, it is an S shaped hole and to have a clear shot at the green the tee shot must be on the left hand side of the fairway. Even then the green is well guarded by trees with the best approach a high right to left trajectory. I took my double on the first hole and humbly moved onto the second hole, called El Arbol. The second hole is about 390 yards but there are multiple trees crossing the fairway, about 125 yards in front of the green. My caddy, Jaime, told me to aim at the cork tree in the middle of the fairway. Unfortunately, I hit it straight. To have a chance your drive must be left. If not, then you face the dilemma of going over or trying to hit a punch below. I ended up trying both, as I did not get my seven iron up enough and where the ball came to rest I had no choice but to hit a low punch.
A common theme at Valderrama is to favor the left hand side of the fairway on your drives. If you are a slicer, I would suggest getting a bottle of sangria because you will have a really tough time.
The par 5 fourth hole is my favorite hole. It is called La Cascada. It has been recognized by many publications as one of the top 500 golf holes in the world. Jones himself once described it as, “It’s probably the best of all of my par 5’s and in my opinion one of the truly great par 5’s in the world.” A straight tee shot is a must and the safest spot for your second shot is the right side. This brings in all the trouble. If you can hit it far enough with a draw, this will afford you the best position from which to attack the pin. I was lucky when I played because the pin was up. If it is the back you have to contend with water right, a bunker left and an overhanging tree on the left side as well.
One of the strengths of Valderrama is the short par fours. This is not a grip and rip it course. While not a real long course by today’s standards, it is the subtleties and nuances that make the big differences. The shortest par 4 the 8th is called El Bunker. No surprise, but you must shape your tee shot to the left side to have an unobstructed view to the green, but the front third of the green is hugged by a ginormous bunker. Oh, and don’t forget the overhanging trees.
My caddy, Jamie, warned me about the difficulty of El Muro, the ninth hole. It is long but a good drive and a good five wood set up my par. I asked why it was called the wall and nobody knew; perhaps that was the difficult part. Jamie also told that me that I would love the tenth hole. What a &%U&^*&$#^&(* crock. It is a dogleg right with a lake on the elbow. As with many of the tee boxes here, you find yourself hitting out of a chute, knowing you have to get the ball up quickly and the best landing area is on the left hand side. I failed this test miserably, hit the trees on the right and it was an epic battle to secure a triple bogey. My caddy convinced me to hit a mulligan off the tee, I hit it well and it did end up in the middle of the fairway. Even if this had been my first drive, I had not reached the corner and while only 150 yards out it was still blocked out by a cork tree with no choice but to try to hit a big sweeping fade.
The 11th, is called Un Sueno, which means dream. It is a very manageable par 5 but it has the best view on the course which includes the Mediterranean Sea, the Rock of Gibraltar and the Serriana de Ronda Mountains. The 13th hole is called Sin Bunker. One of my foursome was an English retiree. He made the stereotypical ugly American look good as he wore a striped shirt, plaid shorts and white knee socks. What really topped off this ensemble was the little bit of leg flesh that you could see was whiter than his white socks! When we got to the green he said, “Where is the Sin Bunker?” I replied, “There isn’t one.” He was confused and said, “I expected it to be like the Hell Bunker. I was going to compare them but I don’t see one at all. Is it a joke?” I then tried to explain that ‘sin” in Spanish means without and is pronounced almost like “seen.” Shades of Abbott and Costello.
The par 5 17th is a great risk/ reward hole that many of you may remember from the 1997 Ryder Cup. Of course, for me, I did not have to worry about the risk on my second shot, but I did on my third. The pin was on the front and Jamie suggested that I do not make the same mistake that the rest of the foursome had made. Fortunately, I was able to steer my wedge onto the green, where a dry ball is a happy ball, and made par. Another interesting aspect of this hole was that the look and feel was completely different from the rest of the course. Seventeen seemed much more wide open. You really had to hit a bad shot to bring the trees into play.
The 18th is a tough finishing hole, once again out of a chute and you need to hit it at least 225 to get to the corner to have a shot at par. Needless to say, I did not and I limped in with another triple.
As you can probably tell, I am a fan of Valderrama. It’s not long, but definitely tricky. This is a shot maker’s course. It reminded me of Suhalee and Harbour Town with narrow tree lined fairways that force you to try to shape your shots. Key word “try.” It can be somewhat demoralizing to hit a good drive, find yourself in the fairway and be blocked out and being forced to hit a screaming hook, power fade, knockdown or hit and hope.
I had highest expactations playing Valderrama. The Club and the course met these expectations. May be that the conditions were not 10 out of 10 (were 9 / 10; driving range not in best conditions and greens not running 12 on a stimpmeter (i was glad about this fact)) the holes (every single hole) are absolutely memorable. A side effect of the high greenfee price is that the course is not crowded...we enjoyed it a lot...definitely one of the best courses in Europe