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.
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October 11, 2010