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 $1million per hole. It remained pretty much unchanged until Seve Ballesteros made changes to the bunkering.
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.
To support the superb nature of this wonderful course, San Roque has excellent practice facilities, a Seve Ballesteros golf academy, a four star hotel and the 2003 Perry Dye-designed New Course… what a facility.