First opened for play in 2004, the course at Rioja Alta Golf Club is laid out in the northern hills of Spain, next to the villages of Cirueña and Ciriñuela, in the famous Rioja wine-producing region.
Situated an hour’s drive to the east of Burgos, the historic capital of Castile, the course was designed by Enrique Saenger, with the architect setting out the eighteen holes across a rather serene, gently undulating landscape.
Fairways are set between two natural fault lines, the Barranco de Vaidiau and the Barranco de Puente del Obispo, with ponds or wetland areas coming into play at half a dozen holes, one on the front nine and five on the back nine.A dense woodland area separates the opening and closing three fairways from the remainder of the course, where four man-made water features provide substantial aquatic challenges.
The uphill 6th is the toughest hole on the front nine, rising steadily to a two-tiered green that slopes from back to front, and the 17th is a memorable hole on the home run, played downhill to a large, rectangular green with a fabulous mountain backdrop.
The 18-hole layout at Rioja Alta is one of three good courses located close to the city of Logroño. If you were visiting the area with your clubs in tow then you’d really want to play them all over a couple of day (though I don’t know if the three facilities have an arrangement that allows you to pay one discounted greenfee that gains you access to a round on all three courses).
One of the more unique sights you’ll ever see from a teebox on a golf course is the little clusters of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, routed just a few hundred metres to the north of the 4th hole, which is a really decent downhill par three played to a heavily sand-protected raised green.
The following two holes are also very good: the left doglegged 5th bending gently to a shallow raised green that’s set out in two distinct levels and the uphill 6th playing every centimetre of its 361-metre length from the regular tees to a back to front sloping green.
On the back nine, the early holes are played out on a higher level and the artificial ponds that predominate in that section of the course really didn’t fill me with any great joy, I’m afraid, though things improve dramatically after walking back down from the plateau area to play the last three holes.
I’m surprised that Rioja Alta currently occupies a position in the Spanish Top 100 when neither Logroño or Sojuela get a look in at the moment. If this course truly deserves to be quoted as one of the best in the country then at least one of the other two should also be held in the same esteem.
Rioja Alta is an ondulated par-72 parkland course. There is a nice variation in holes and maintenance is really good.
The first six holes are beautiful, surrounded by a lot of trees (the woods along the edges of the fairways are dense, so a ball off the fairway is often lost), with an amazing 3rd hole par 5. Then, holes 7-13 are more open (but not easier, as there are many water hazards). The 14 th hole is a challenging handicap 1 par 4. The last 4 holes go back into the woods again, concluding next to the clubhouse, where lunch at the restaurant is really good.
Finally, I want to highlight the politness and courtesy of Rioja Alta staff and management; they cared about every need and detail.
In conclusion, Rioja Alta golf course is great: challenging, with fast and difficult greens, a manteinance close to perfection and an excelent quality-price relation. Without doubt, one of the best golf courses in northern Spain.