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.
The course cannot be better: some of the best US features under RTJ Sr´s design plus a lot of charm and tradition only featured in the UK, so a really perfect combination. The course is in pristine shape, greens run a speed of 12 feet and every detail is where it has to be. Almost all tee shots are really tough, so there you have the clue to score (plus a hot putter, which I didn´t have!). Some holes are really astonishing (2,4,5,7,10,17).
We decided to walk the course and couldn´t have been a better idea. I really enjoyed the walk, the details, the history, everything. We played a fourball match and we tied! My game was not the best (scored 82 from Championship tees) but all the same I will always be grateful for being allowed to play a piece of history. Hole 4 is said to be one of his best designs by RTJ, I can assure you he is completely right!!!!
I have not played enough golf in the States to compare it with the best in the US but forget the best in mainland Europe - Valderrama is without question the best course In the whole Europe. When I finally pass please insure that part of me is left in that perfect spot at the top of the hill behind the 11th green – but don’t let it be yet as I still have more golf to play!
Want more details - here you are. Every hole has a strategical merit to it, every hole is fair and true (more on this later), every hole is at least a VERY GOOD golf hole and some are perfect (no.4, 17 to name a couple). Risk and reward - you have it here, accuracy on every shot - check up. - conditioning of the course. Great. The tee-boxes and rough are just good but the fairways are better than greens at most resorts and the greens are flat out perfect (more on that later).
The first thing you'll notice is that there are no divots on the fairways. Every flight is accompanied by a group of staffers who are repairing all the damage after each and every shot. The surface of the fairway looks so thick that it is unbelievable, like one meter thick. The fringes are like greens, running at about 8 on the stimpmeter, well, seriously. The greens are at about good 10-10,5. - the course is FAIR and TRUE. The fairest course I have ever played - if you make an excellent shot you will be golden, that is you'll have the best position for your next shot, if you hit a good shot - you'll have a good position for your next shot, if you hit an OK shot - your position will be OK, the bad shot will provide you with a bad lie and bad position and the very bad one - figure it out yourself. And this simple rule always works on Valderrama no matter what.
The greens are also FAIR and TRUE- they look flat and have only minor slopes and breaks but they all work. While during my visit the greens were not that lightning quick and were pretty receptive in fact, they were still a big challenge in the best sense of word. Make a good putt and you'll be there, make a bad one and you're missing. All in all, Valderrama is an outstanding golf facility and every true lover of the game should come here and enjoy it.
PS.: Some guys like to speak about "other golf courses" which are almost the same as Valderrama but way cheaper. They also say that Valderrama is not all that different from a course X or Y. Do not listen to those fellows. Comparing the course like Valderrama to ANY ordinary course and talking about minor differences is like comparing a Bentley or Rolls Royce to Hyundai stating that they are pretty similar because they both have four wheels. Golf is all about those peculiarities and tiny things and if you can not understand this and appreciate the outstanding beauty of Valderrama you better choose another sport. If a course is among world's best it is there for a good reason.
The greens are superb, supremely difficult. That they’re so little meant I was always missing them and pitching from around them. And those pitches, given the speed and sometimes slope of them, are about as much fun as you can ever hope to have. The putting surfaces have to be attacked from the correct angle; or at my playing level they have to be missed on the correct side.
I suspect that to play this course more is to understand it and love it more. That said, one visit is enough to leave a significant impression. I know my playing partner left a significant impression. Unused to these things, he stood up on the practise ground and tried to take the top ball off of the pyramid. The shame… For all its grandeur though, it’s a happy place to spend some time. Like lots of the best clubs it’s quite easy going. As Jeff Bezos (or similar US billionaire) might stroll around the clubhouse at Loch Lomond or Skibo in his jeans, so you can feel fairly relaxed behind the security gates here, unlike maybe Muirfield (can I say that?). ANGLOSCOT
Furthermore, Valderrama, while pleasant, doesn't have the wow factor that some other courses, eg Loch Lomond, RCD, Kingsbarns, have, and for some, this is an important consideration. Many of the holes, while in great condition, do look like nothing special, and only by playing them a few times will the true nature of the challenge be revealed.
If I'd only been round it once I don't know if I would have rated it a 6. It's like Muirfield, Carnoustie or Troon in that respect. It's not hard to find people who find those courses disappointing yet to me they're comfortably Scotland's best tests of golf. People seek different things from golf, so no course is going to please everyone.