In 1704 the British invaded Gibraltar, a rocky isthmus at the very tip of Southern Spain. The locals declined the invaders' offer to stay in the colony and fled a short distance up the coastline to a small hill where a chapel stood, dedicated to Saint Roque. Here they settled. The town has now grown into a beautiful Andalucian centre for the region of Saint Roque.
Close by, are three of Europe's finest courses - Valderrama, Sotogrande and San Roque. The San Roque Club lies nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Bermeja Mountains, which eventually peter out into the Mediterranean. The Old course is set in a 340-acre estate where there was once a luxury hotel and spa (formerly the summer residence of the Domecq sherry dynasty) which has since closed.
Dave Thomas and Tony Jacklin designed the Old course and it opened for play in 1990 at an alleged cost of one million dollars per hole. It remained pretty much unaltered until Seve Ballesteros made changes to the bunkering. The Old was joined by the Perry Dye-designed New Course in 2003.
From day one, San Roque was heralded as a great test of golf, even for the best players. Measuring 6,494 metres, this par 72 layout has been used on many occasions for professional tournaments and it's now the winter home of the European PGA Tour School.
Situated in the foothills of the Sierra Bermeja, the course is undulating rather than outright hilly - but don't let that fool you – there are a number of elevation changes which mean you have to make careful club selection. The front nine holes wind their way through mature forests of cork oak, making the fairways feel narrower and adding greater weight to accurate driving. The new bunkers and carefully sited water hazards add to the need for strong, accurate, positive ball striking. Additionally, the wonderful views of the mountains further inland must not distract the golfer. In mild contrast, the back nine is less undulating and does not have the forests of cork oak, but deep ravines and carefully placed hazards keep the golfer thinking.
The player's work is not over once the greens are reached as they are true, superbly contoured, always fast, and on a few holes, generous in size, making for a potentially long and testing first putt. The most memorable hole on the course must be the 5th. Not a tough hole in itself but the drive is to a narrow fairway with out of bounds all down the right hand side. The 6th (SI 1) is a long par four played towards a large lake and then up a steep slope to a difficult green, and the 9th is a cracking par five. We also like the 11th, 12th and 18th, which are superbly designed and tough too, where water plays a major part at some point.
The Old course closed at the end of 2019 to allow for the complete renovation of the layout. Construction work was then carried out the following year by Atlantic Golf and Southwest Greens, with the Better Billy Bunker system installed in all the sand hazards. Tees and greens were rebuilt with bent grass, Bermuda grass was used on the fairways, and the two nines were reversed.
In addition, a new clubhouse and driving range buildings were created, along with an academy practice area, in what was a major investment by the club.
Since i played the first time when was junior back in 1988 , the San Roque Old has been one of my favorites courses in Spain.
Is true that had some really hard years in the past, but with the new investments, the new management and the total renovation, is a must to be back in the top 10 of Spain.
The new ClubHouse, the new order of the holes, the maintenance, the service ...all make you have a great experience.
If you are coming to Sotogrande area or Costa del Sol, the San Roque "new" Old Course is a must.
They have made amazing improvements to provide all type of golfers an awesome experience.
I have played the Old Course at San Roque about ten times in its 30 year history and was looking forward to seeing its new look following a significant makeover in 2020 and 2021. And I was not disappointed.
The rough has been replaced by bark chippings which gives a much tidier appearance, the green complexes are mainly simplified with fewer bunkers and more run-off areas (clearly a new design fashion), and the greens although larger are much more difficult. They and the teeing areas have been seeded with ‘bent’ grass and ‘Bermuda’ is now the grass of the fairways. The overall effect is quite remarkable as the Old Course has been brought up to date and is now a seriously good test of one’s game.
The two nines have been changed around, which now gives a tough start to the round, although improvements at the new 3rd where water has been replaced by a raised green and a much more difficult approach shot, and the downhill dogleg at 4 which has been tidied up considerably, has not made it any easier. Other good moves were to replace the bubbling stream at 2 by fairway and similarly the lake on the left at 9. However the new green at the long 8th which is now a confusing mound looks as though two elephants are buried underneath and is to my mind just too clever.
I liked the new back nine with the tidied up 10th a massive step forward but the best changes are left to later in the round. The par five at 14 now plays from a tee driven back about 50 yards making the drive the most difficult on the course to a narrow fairway with trees on the left and a left to right sloping fairway leading to a lost ball if the drive is not hit left enough or contains a hint of slice. The green at 14 is mercifully now at the same level as the fairway, a par five here is a worthy score. 15 sees the long downhill par four former stoke index one hole now a sumptuous challenge with the stream crossing the fairway at about 300 yards now removed. But in my view the best is left to last. 17 is now a straight par five offering the best challenges of a risk and reward hole, whereas 18 has been shortened to a long par four with an undulating green testing the nerves of those protecting a score or in a tight match-play finish.
The Old Course is once again a great test of golf and will I am sure soon start climbing the rankings as word gets around and people come to play here and thoroughly enjoy the unique and fascinating challenge.
I am lucky to be a member at San Roque and play here all the time. The Old Course is now in fantastic condition after a major renovation by Turfgrass and Atlantic. The new ownership, spearheaded at the Club by Stephen Dundas, has taken this course to new heights and in coming years I am sure it will be rated a '5' rather than a '4.5'. The trees have been cut back to restore the natural vistas of this area and the well bunkered green complexes are now much tougher. Taking one extra club for your approach shot is often a good idea! A state of the art irrigation system ensures good playability all year round all the practice facilities are also very impressive. Hole 8 is probably the most challenging hole and the lake around the green on this par now wraps around the entirety of the right side of the narrow green. The routing is the same as the original Dave Thomas design. The Poniente and Levante winds provide a great deal of variety and present different challenges - it's like having 'two courses in one'!
What a joy it was to be back at San Roque and play the historic old course and experience the upgrade just a few weeks after the reopening and there is no little renovation that has been carried out consistently for the better.
The previous first nine holes are now the last nine and vice versa, something that has created a much routing.
The biggest change is on and around the greens, where large green areas have been created and now offer several interesting and fun pin positions including run off areas. With the front of the greens unprotected by bunkers it’s possible to roll the ball on the green, which contributes to the game becoming so much more fun for all categories of golfers without making it easier for the better players.
The next big step in the right direction is the removing of several of the earlier unnecessarily punishing water obstacles and bunkers have been removed around the landing areas that earlier also punished well-hit tee shots.
The wide fairways are framed with large sloping areas consisting of bark. I hope indeed that they are able to keep these areas in the same condition after the big downpours that occur even in this Area a few times a year.
Despite the upgrade, the now first nine holes remain the weak cards on the course with 5 of 9 holes with more or less identical sharp dog leg left where the tee shots for the longer hitters takes place over wooden corridors and on single holes such as the fourth even can end up out of bounds, which is a shame on an otherwise really good hole with probably the best green area on the entire course. The repetitive design of the first nine also results in an inconsistent and unbalanced routing.
A hole that has become really fun to play on the first nine is the eighth hole par 5 which invites the long hitters to try to reach the green in two with an approach to a large and interesting green with severe runoffs.
The last 9 holes are after the upgrade strong offers high-placed tee areas without involving unnecessary climbing. It also feels as if almost every hole lay in front of you in an appetizing way. By removing some unnecessary bunkers and water obstacles and opening up of fairways, more strategic options have evolved.
With the reverse routing, the finishing hole has also become so much stronger. Where, above all, it feels like the approach shot is to an infinity ogreen right next to the awesome clubhouse, even though the green when you get closer is in fact a short distance away.
San Roque Old is well worth a visit for most categories of golfers and even if it is not part of the review of the golf course, the atmosphere at San Roque is probably the nicest on the entire Sun Coast where the clubhouse and the environment around it in itself is worth a visit.
Before reviewing the Old Course at San Roque I’d like to briefly describe the venue, as the recent investment has created a very high-end experience that gives a visitor a glowing feeling before even venturing to the first tee. San Roque is now in the hands of a Russian Billionaire and he is clearly happy to invest in the courses and clubhouse. The experience is incredibly premium and the welcome from the staff gets you off on the right footing, as the bag drop near the driving range and the pro shop being next to the entrance all flow seamlessly, giving a stress-free experience to the first time visitor. The range and practice area are all brand new, and, although the choice of artificial grass for the range and chipping area is unusual and possibly not to everyone’s taste, the artificial hitting area is of high quality and it’s certainly worthwhile allowing an extra half an hour for a pre-round warm-up if you have the time. This was my first visit to San Roque so I had not experienced the previous design of the Old Course, which I have heard was much tougher and almost unrecognisable to the new layout. The 2019/2020 renovations included the removal of several lakes, clearing the undergrowth, and the addition of many new tee boxes. The new layout seems to be designed primarily to make the course playable for all and, although by no means easy, it takes away the unpleasantness of golf, such as regularly losing balls in water and searching in bushes for inaccurate shots, resulting in a good pace of play. The rough areas have been replaced with dark wood mulch, which creates a stark contrast between fairways and rough. There are multiple benefits to the mulch, some of which are environmental as less labor and resource is required in the upkeep. The fact you will nearly always find your ball is certainly a good thing, and full shots are generally playable, especially if you take time to clear the bark around your ball, but any delicate shots, such as a chip or pitch, are incredibly difficult as making contact with the ball isn’t guaranteed, even with a clean strike, making the punishment for a wide miss from the fairway or green very penal. In terms of the visual impact, the clearing of bushes and shrubbery does look a little sparse at times, particularly between the 7th and 8th hole where there seems to be more bark than grass. Whether the club will decide to break this up with some foliage in the future remains to be seen as this is still all so new. From the tee, the course is generous and most of the long holes entice you to reach for the driver. The fairways are wide and relatively firm, with a number of well-placed bunkers giving options for safe play or for a more direct line and shorter shot to the green, making risk/reward a key component for scoring well. The green complexes are stunning with almost every hole having severe run-offs and many false fronts. The putting surfaces are up with the best in the area, running true and fast with multiple options for pin placements. The run-off areas are incredibly well maintained and mown almost as tightly as the greens, giving the option to putt or chip. In many cases, you can be excused for not knowing if you’re on the green or the approach areas, which run faster than the greens on most courses! Although I would describe this as a second-shot course, given how hard it is to hit the green and stay there, the position and length of the drive is also key as you will struggle to stay on the putting surface if hitting anything longer than a mid-iron in on most holes. The par-five 8th hole is a prime example of this, as although reachable in two the phrase ‘upturned saucepan’ couldn’t be more accurate. Combine this with water short and to the right of the green, this hole makes a lay-up to a wedge distance a sensible option. The four par 3’s offer great variety throughout, each with its own challenge and playing in different directions, bringing the wind into play and testing the ability to control ball flight. The fifth played into the wind up to a raised green with a valley between the green and tee box. Anything short or with too much spin will be severely punished. The two loops of nine are quite different with the front 9 feeling slightly more open and the back nine tighter with more noticeable elevation changes. The Old course seems to save the best till last, as you head for home from the 15th with a sequence of par four, three, five, four, presenting a superb mix of holes to close out the round and making for a great match-play finale. The 17th is an excellent par 5, both strategically and visually. A good tee shot down the middle needs a draw to avoid the right-hand fairway bunker and the second shot to a raised green is surrounded by bunkers. You’ll need to hit long and straight if you’re to give yourself a putt for eagle! As with many great finishing holes, the 18th green is directly in front of the stunning clubhouse. At 400 meters or 440 yards from the back tee, a par here is no mean feat. On our visit, my 13-year-old son and I played match play and he managed a rare birdie to win 2 up. I’m not sure he’ll forget this experience for a while as we both enjoyed everything about our visit to San Roque. I can see the Old Course climbing in the Spanish rankings with the new designs and renovations and I’m sure the player reviews will be far more positive in the future.
Some years ago Turnberry used the term “Reborn” to present the new Ailsa Course and I feel it was a very good word to show what has been done. I feel a similar word could be used for the San Roque Old Course and Club House. After some years of miscare new investment came to the Club and both House and Old Course were fully renovated with very good taste. The Club House is back to where it should have never left with the adding of a very good practice facility. Some don’t like the artificial grass there but they need to understand playability and maintenance costs so I feel it looks very good.
I first and once played the course back in 2009 when it was still in good condition but in the past years it had suffered and it was begging for a renovation which finally came in the past 2 years, having been ready in December 2020 but delayed due to some storms that made some damage in a healthy new course. It still needs one full summer of growth and maturity but I really like as a played what they have done. The course is way more playable off the tee, greens offer bigger challenge with some tough pin positions and maintenance standard has gone way up the scale.
There have been some layout changes which I feel suit very good:
- Both 9 loops were rotated now starting at the dogleg left par 5 as front 9.
- The m2 of sand have been decreased by around 33%.
- Rough was replaced by triturated wood. The contrast looks very nice, hope during rainy season it is not so tough to keep ok.
- Former 17th and now 8th was added a lake on the right side which makes it going in 2 a lot tougher.
- Former 18th has been reduced in water and only has a lake on the right side of the green, a most forgiving tee shot.
- Former 8th was lengthened to a short uphill par 5 where a right side cross bunker makes you need to take risks to avoid it and have the chance of getting home in 2.
- Former 9th and now 18th was shortened to a par 4 and one of my playing partners was not happy with the change. I feel it is not bad and that you need a very precise approach shot to avoid landing in 3 putt zone.
- Lake on former 6th and now 15th was taken away, with the OB right the challenge is enough.
- All 18 greens were redesigned and now there are very different alternatives for course set up.
My only black spot goes for the right side of former 13th and now 4th where you can cut the corner with the tee shot. The right side is OB and in my opinion should be red stakes as a big part of it is not visible from the tee box and getting there and finding it out is not great and one penalty stroke is enough punishment. But the hole is one of my favorite to play.
This is about the changes and “Reborn” suits quite well. Give it one more summer, but the Club is already doing a great job in the service level upgrade with crew always ready to help, marshalls on course taking care of details and pace of play and the 19th Hole being again great.
Played on a recent trip & was underwhelmed by the facilities & the condition of the course. I'm told they are renovating the course & installing fairway irrigation, this would make a massive difference as the design is very good, but let down by the poor maintenance.