The oldest course in the Marbella area, Rio Real was built on a compact site back in 1965 when Javier Arana laid out an 18-hole course on the banks of the Real River where it enters the Mediterranean Sea. The valley location was fairly secluded when it was first chosen to site the course but, over time, housing has encroached all around and the noise from the number of vehicles that now use the adjacent main road can be quite distracting on several of the holes.
Still, Rio Real is a classic old Costa del Sol course that retains a fair amount of its original charm and its pine and palm tree-lined fairways play to slightly elevated, well-bunkered green sites, often crossing the river en route to the hole. The trees on the property have matured into fine specimens but a number now present more of a hazard than originally intended, screening, as they do, the best line of play in some instances.
One of the more memorable holes on the card is the par four 4th, doglegging left from the background sound of the traffic on the tee to the crashing of waves on the seafront, with the green located right on the coastline. Another fine long par four awaits at the 8th, a wonderful hole that veers left from an elevated tee position and ends with a downhill approach to a small green that's benched into the hillside.
The following edited extract is from “The golf courses of Javier Arana” by Alfonso Erhardt Ybarra and is reproduced here with kind permission from the author:
The Rio Real golf course was designed as an annex to the Los Monteros hotel, a development built east of Marbella in the late 1950s by the Salamanca-born businessman Ignacio Coca. After it first opened in 1962, the hotel had established itself as one of the grandest destinations for high-end tourists on the Costa del Sol, a magnet for film stars, aristocrats and other figures who dragged the paparazzi in their wake.
Despite the developers’ deep pockets, however, the plot selected for the site was not ideal. Though the terrain was gentle, only thirty hectares were available and a further fifteen were needed for a proper golf course to be built on it. The back and forth between Arana and the developers continued until work finally began in October 1963, after Javier extracted permission to build several holes along an elevated stretch of the property that had originally been allocated to residential use.
As with some of Arana’s other designs, the routing is perhaps the highlight of the Rio Real course. Those who witnessed the construction work attested to the endless hours Javier spent examining the site to solve the puzzle of fitting eighteen holes into this small 45-hectare plot and achieving a design that met the standards expected of him.
The result is a tightly compact layout where fourteen holes are sited on a long flat tract flanked by the river Real and bounded at one end by the beach. The remaining four holes are located on higher, sloping ground on an adjoining hill; besides providing variety to a flat course, they offer wonderful views of the Mediterranean.
In contrast to other designs of Arana’s, the Rio Real greens today are small, regularly shaped and almost wholly lacking internal contours. On a course that otherwise displays all of Arana’s hallmarks, this is perhaps the least exciting feature. The high point at Rio Real is its excellent set of long par fours (4th, 5th, 8th and 15th), some of which are among the best that Arana ever designed. All four holes are entirely different from one another despite the scorecard stating similar lengths.
If you would like to find out more or purchase “The golf courses of Javier Arana” then click the link.
Having played Rio real 4 years ago I was very excited to be playing it again. We had a bad experience with slow play last time and was hoping not to encounter this again.
I arrived at the course straight from the airport and received a great welcome. Had a great lunch, enjoyed the driving range which is great value and waited for fellow members of my tour to arrive. The service from the pro shop and starters was excellent. Much better than previous time.
The course was in excellent condition and greens very true. The course is very playable with some great holes. There are some bad holes (10,11,6) but the rest are very good indeed. Course may not be the best in the costa del sol, but certainly considering price, service and the course itself, must rank as one of the best. For me and my group, we preferred playing courses like Rio real and Santana rather than places like San roque.
Overall Rio real ranks very highly. Only negative this time again was slow play due to too many groups teeing off within a short period and starting us off the 10th. I always like to play the course in it’s intended format so this was a shame.
A nice course that welcomes you from the very start, it has a good variety of holes and having played it a few times now you can see how well the designer worked with the land available.
Unlike most courses in this part of the world there is not an enormous elevation change on the course , but still hilly enough to keep it interesting, well worth a visit
I fell in love with this little beauty during my recent trip to Marbella. She played hard to get (it took me three attempts over three days to get out on the course – long story involved there) but it was worth waiting to play, believe me.
It’s not just the Rio Real course that seduced me because the clubhouse (which is precariously perched on the side of a hill) is also a very attractive amenity that complements the 18-hole layout which is built around it.
I chose to visit here as it’s one of three Javier Arana designs located in the Marbella area and I’d already been to the other two at Aloha and Guadalmina – Aloha was wonderful but Guadalmina disappointed so I was keen to see how Rio Real compared.
It’s built on a tight site so every single square foot of space is precious, not to be wasted, and you see this right away at the opening two holes where elevated tee shots are played across the river onto fairways running along the other side.
The shallow, Biarritz green at the par three 3rd sits just behind the river on the opposite bank, maximizing the land available. After visiting the coast at the next two holes on the other side of the A7, a unique-looking par three has somehow been shoehorned into the hillside between the river and an apartment building that now looms over the greensite.
The best three holes on the front nine then follow (the brilliant par four 8th sandwiched between a couple of terrific par fives) and they rise up to higher ground before falling back down to the floor of the valley next to the river.
A couple of quirky par fours start the back nine: the 10th climbing steadily uphill then doglegging 90 degrees right to the green, followed by a plunging tee shot at the 11th, which also veers sharply right, back across the river, to the target.
I wasn’t enamoured with the short par three 12th, which is laid out beside what looks to be a recently extended irrigation lake and there’s an awkward walk around this new water hazard to the tee box for the following hole, a doglegged par five where the tee box now appears misaligned to the tree-lined fairway.
The par three 14th is squeezed into the hillside on the west side of the valley (directly opposite the aforementioned 6th on the other side of the river) before the final four holes run back and forth along the floodplain of the river, with the 18th sliding right and up towards the home green.
The only slightly disheartening aspect of the Rio Real course is the lack of contour in the greens, which are relatively bland. It would also be nice if Arana’s trademark par three 17th was still in place but this was lost some time ago due to safety considerations, replaced by the rather unsatisfactory 12th.
Still, these are minor quibbles about a charming little track that ticked just about every box for me. It might be holiday golf that’s on offer here and it may not be the most challenging course you’ve ever played but if you want to guarantee walking off the 18th with a smile on your face then this place will do exactly that for you.
Despite being one of the oldest courses on the costa this has become a favourite. Conditioning for January was little short of miraculous given a bucket load of rain overnight while we were there. In fact there was less than 2 puddles anywhere on the course and the greens were superb. Not a huge test given the resort course rough but some very pretty looking holes to take in. Nothing too threatening other than the silly par 3 on the back nine with huge drop to the left. In fact they were repositioning the 12th to go over the large lake which should be fun when finished and will also make the 13th a much tougher par 5.
I played Rio Real for the first time today and was pleasantly surprised by how good the course is (particularly having subsequently read the reviews on this website). The course is compact, but not horrendously narrow (which is an annoying feature of a lot of Marbella area golf courses) and there are some fantastic holes (holes 4, 7, 8, 10, 11 really stick In the mind). The designer has made great use of the space and this is a real test of shot selection and discipline - on a few holes ( eg 1 and 2) v tempting to use driver when clearly not a sensible club!
For the price €66 with buggy in September, this course is far better than the likes of La Quinta, Santa Clara, Los Arqueros, and if not keen to spend £££ on green fees for the likes of Aloha, Las Brisas and Finca Cortesin, this is a v good option.