Not as Tough as Pine Valley or Royal County Down,not as picturesque as Turnberry or Kingsbarns, nor does it possess the traditions of Muirfield or Merion, but there is just something magical about Valderrama. For it includes a certain element of each of the above categories without being overbearing.
Similar to Crump at Pine Valley or Fownes at Oakmont Patino has devoted a huge portion of his life towards Valderrama and what exists today is a true monument of his endeavours. He has strived to make Valderrama as sought after a golf course as the hallowed grounds of the above mentioned venues and immediately as you arrive at the Clubhouse and gaze down the hill onto the pristine practice grounds,one of the best I have encountered, it becomes apparent that he has achieved all his dreams and more.
I had been told for years about the attention to detail at Valderrama and its exemplary conditioning, but having been fortunate enough to have played some of the world's best tracks I did not expect it to be anything more impressive than I had seen before, however as soon as I reached the opening fairway I realised this was a place like no other. A couple of days before I played there had been extremely heavy rain, but if you had been unaware you would even had known it had rained, no wonder it received such high praise for its drainage after the Ryder Cup.
Comparisons with Augusta National are continuously drawn and although having not played the latter yet, given what I have seen these are easy to make given the conditioning,lack of any very penal rough and extremely slick greens. But after walking off the 18th and reflecting on the round I felt a more layout related comparison could be drawn with Pine Valley. For I believe they both possess the greatest blend/mix of holes I have encountered. Both have incredible long par 4's, tremendous par fives and 4 enchanting par 3's. But that is where that comparison ends, for however penal PV is, Valderrama is emmanently playable.
Trent Jones's moniker of "Hard par,easy bogey" is best illustrated here. I played Valderrama recently with my 14 h/cap father and he commented how much he enjoyed it in comparison to other Championship venues as he felt he could score around it, whereas I played from the tips and felt that it would be an extremely tough track to make birdies around under tournament conditions. One need only look at the scoring at the Volvo Masters down through the years as evidence of this.
The routing of the course is sheer genius with exceptional use made of the Cork trees, which Trent Jones refers to as his "bunker in the sky". Bomb and gouge is certainly not the order of the day around here and plenty of the 7500 yard obsessed "so called golf architects" would do very well to take into practice what has been created here. Positional play is very much the order of the day and the golfer who mindlessly steps out and reaches for the driver, looking merely at the length of the hole will find himself on the back foot sooner rather than later.
Many people are aware of the strength and features of holes like 4,,17 and 18 from tv coverage and enough has been written about these in glossy magazines, and there is a reason for this there are all tremendous design pieces of architecture. But it was the lesser known holes which really grabbed my attention. The 12th with its devilishly sloping green and dramatic fall off is right up there with the best one of one short holes. The 8th is an outstanding short par 4, that gets tougher the closer you drive to the green and its front to back slope propels only the sweetest strike. The second shot on ten is inviting but at the same time strikes fear into the player, even with a short iron in hand, the views from the 11th green is breathtaking. 13 and 14 are two tremendous par 4's one bunkerless the other littered with Muirfield styled traps, while 16 played into the "poniente" wind might just be one of the toughest par 4's in Europe.
Valderrama is a special place, as I said above it may not possess the defining traits which give other more fabled venues their noteriety but the place has just a little bit of them all which helps to make it what it is. If this golf course was located in the North East of America, I genuinely believe it would receive even more attention (but the all too heavily weighted American world rankings is a topic for discussion on another day). The charm of Valderrama is that it makes you want to play it over and over.....Hogan once said this is the sign of a good course, and who could disagree with Mr Hogan!
Date: January 02, 2011