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.
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.
At eighteen years of age, you’d hardly be considered an old age pensioner, and it’s fair to say that San Roque Old actually feels rather new. The modern feel to this resort course is not a problem in itself, but don’t come here expecting to find anything traditional. With wide fairways, big greens, multiple tees and shortish rough, this course is set up for a pleasant day’s golf in pretty surroundings. The condition was excellent when we played here last week and our round was entertaining and enjoyable, perhaps as a result of our scores being the best posted all week. This is not to say that this is an easy course as I’m sure it could be toughened up for tournament play, but it was flatteringly presented and provided some welcome respite from the extreme brutality of Monte Mayor and the serious challenge of Finca Cortesin. For my money, this is the second best course at San Roque and that’s simply because some of the par threes on the Old are relatively weak in comparison to those excellent one shotters on the New. Nevertheless, San Roque represents a must-play experience and it would seem churlish to come here and only play one course.