Pamplona, located in the north east corner of Spain, near the French border, is famous throughout the world for its “running of the bulls” during the annual San Fermin festival. Not so widely known (except to the more discerning Spanish golfer, of course) is the fact that two very good golf courses – Castillo de Gorraiz and Ulzama – are situated just to the north of the city.
With an inaugural nine holes laid out by Javier Arana in 1966 and a further nine holes added by Fransisco Lόpez-Segalés twenty-three years later, Ulzama lies in the Navarrese valley of the same name, within an old oak forest. The hilly terrain here is such that blind shots are an inevitable feature on the course, with trees framing every single hole on the card.
One of the more memorable holes on the front nine is the 330-yard, short par four, 4th where water protects the front right of the green. Arana’s back nine is considered to be tougher than the outward half, and it features a couple of testing par threes at the 210-metre 12th and 185-metre 15th. The putting surface of the latter, in particular, is cunningly protected by three bunkers, all of them positioned to give the illusion that the green is smaller and closer than it really is.
Ulzama has been largely overlooked when it comes to hosting national or international competitions. In 2004, however, the course was chosen as the venue for the 13th edition of the International European Ladies’ Amateur Championships and this prestigious event was won by local woman Carlota Ciganda, who would go on to reclaim the title four years later. Carlota turned professional in 2012, winning Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and the Order of Merit in her inaugural season on the Ladies European tour.
Arana finally visited Pamplona in May 1964 to mark out the course with pegs and start the forest clearance work. Although eighteen holes had been laid out, the club intended to build only nine of them for the time being and wait for the popularity of the sport to become entrenched before completing the course. These first nine holes were inaugurated in the summer of 1966: as usual, Javier chose not to attend the festivities.
Right up until 1989 the club continued to function just with the nine holes built by Javier (the back nine today). In that year, the course was finally completed with a further nine holes designed by Fransisco Lόpez-Segalés (the front nine). Notwithstanding the time elapsed since Arana created the original layout, the routing of the new holes faithfully follows Javier’s design of 1964, demonstrating how, even twenty five years later, his ideas retain their original strength and appeal.
The gentler slopes at Ulzama were used for several purposes: impairing visibility for the approach shot (10th, 11th), narrowing the effective width of the fairway with a steep camber (13th) and placing greens atop two small raised mounds (14th and 16th). All the greens are large and relatively flat. Their defence, however, is their placement – almost all of them are elevated, the apron being flanked on either side by large sand traps.
None of the par fours on the course is particularly long or short, all falling within the range 350-370 metres. Yet the apparent monotony of yardage is an illusion, because the intelligent use of doglegs and slopes means that some are effectively shorter and others longer than the nominal figure printed on the scorecard, this imparting variety to the course.
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December 17, 2014