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.
Everyone who has played here would agree the conditioning of the course is beyond reproach. I have not played on greens that are consistently as quick, frankly they are terrifying. The course has the smallest greens on tour and the surrounding rough is very tough. This coupled with the sloping on the greens, the tight driving lines created by the subtle dog-legs and tree-lined fairways and its length, make this the most unremittingly difficult inland course I have or I am likely to play. 20 points stableford with full allowance is a hell of a good round here. What I need is a solid week playing this course to exorcise the demons, with Dr Bob Rotella on my bag... Tim Gorman
Valderrama is a bit like the "The Emperor's New Clothes", the golfing media seem to rate this as either the best (or second best) course in Continental Europe in fear of being considered stupid and unfit for their job. For those who like, and perhaps follow the Robert Trent Jones Trail, then I am sure they will love the experience and laud it. Personally I am pleased to have played here but there are better courses on mainland Europe and better courses even on the Costa del Sol. Let’s get the positives out of the way before I mention a few of the negatives... the greens were fabulous and putted well and so they should… no more than 50 people usually play the course on any given day. The course is fair and not tricked up (apart from the odd tree in the middle of the fairway) but the majority of holes are only slightly above average and there are at least a couple of weak holes, especially some of the par threes. Sure the 17th is an interesting hole and has seen some action (as has the 18th at the Belfry) but it's out of character with the rest of the course. Frankly there are too few great holes in my humble view. By all means, cough up the €275 per round to play here but don’t expect to play a truly great golf course and perhaps you won’t come away feeling as disappointed as I did.