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.
Real Valderrama is an amazing place, you know this right upon your arrival. I think the range is the best I've seen, right in front of the club house. Everything is manicured and in place. This club is Royal and it feels Royal.
I've only played one round here so far but want to go back soon. It's a difficult course and I'm not sure I broke 100 that day. But it was the experience that counts. The greens are quite small so make sure you're dialled in with your irons. I don't think you need to be long, but you better be straight.
The setting is magical and the views wonderful. It's a real pleasure to play a round here but also check out Sotogrande down the road. I would probably play Sotogrande as my every day course and Valderrama once a month. But yeah, one can dream. If you have the chance, play here.
My only regret, if that’s the right word, after playing here is that I didn’t get to see the course before the start of the 5-year renovation that began in 2012. Now that the drainage and irrigation systems have been replaced, and the more visual aspects of cart paths, tees, greens and bunkers have been upgraded, it would have been great to be able to compare the old with the new. Still, I’m grateful to have finally got to visit the latest European course to make it into our World Top 100.
Head greenkeeper Adolfo Ramos made the time to speak to me and my playing partner before, during and after our round, describing the main changes that have been made in recent times to return the course to its pre-eminent position at the top of the Spanish rankings. It’s obvious no expense has been spared in renovating the infrastructure, with on course conditions that easily match the near-perfect environment in and around the clubhouse.
Out on the course, poa annua has been banished from the property. Agrostis bent now rules on both the tees and greens – which are linked by Bermuda grass fairways – and many hundreds of cork trees have either been removed or pruned to improve grass quality in shaded areas and enhance the playing experience. From what I’d read in the past, I expected a far greater degree of arboreal interference but playing corridors were generally wider than I’d anticipated.
The bunkering is sublime, which is not unexpected if you look at the other work Kyle Phillips has been involved with in Spain and other European countries in the last few years. Beautifully proportioned, they’re always presented as an optical treat, either off the tee in the fairway or as intimidating greenside defences. Putting surfaces were a little less contoured than I’d imagined but when they’re rolling at double digits on the stimpmeter then they can’t afford to be too wild.
Favourite holes for me on the front nine included the only par five on the outward half, the par five 4th (which plays to a fabulous raised green with a gorgeous little pond protecting the front right side of the putting surface) and the short par four 8th, where a huge bunker defends the front of the green (and trees do encroach very close in a semi-circle around the elevated putting surface).
The back nine begins with a tremendous par four that veers right and up to a benched green which slopes from back to front. The par threes at #12 and #15 are also pretty special short holes but the iconic par five 17th is probably the one that most players will remember best as they relive the moment when Europe retained the Ryder Cup in 1997 (Bernard Langer beating Brad Faxon 2&1). It’s been softened a bit since then but it’s still a brilliant hole.
At least one forecaddie accompanies every group and Matteo, the young man assigned to us, was really helpful, especially when deciding the correct line off at holes such as #11 and #16 which require a blind tee shot. After a quick lunch of soup and sandwiches in the spike bar, it was time to head off for an afternoon engagement, back to the reality of the outside world. At least, for one morning, I’d been privileged to experience what a recent reviewer described as “a step away from heaven”…
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.