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Magnificent Madrid – not your average golf destination

21 November, 2022
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Jim McCann

We feature more than a dozen Madrid courses in our Spanish Top 100 chart but up until very recently few of our core team had actually played any of these top tracks. So, when we received an invitation from the European Golf and Travel Media Association to visit Madrid a few weeks ago, we jumped at the chance to familiarise ourselves with the golf product in and around the capital city.

Organized through the Asociación de Campos de Golf de Madrid, the trip allowed us to sample six of the nineteen golf facilities currently affiliated to that organization. It’s a group of clubs formed in recent years to protect their own interests when dealing with the city authorities on environmental matters and the like but it’s also now a powerful force in promoting the game of golf to the many millions of tourists that arrive annually in the city.

Let’s be honest here, most golfers travelling to Spain will head for the costas or one of the islands in the Canaries or Balearics but, for the more discerning golfer who might like to complement a few rounds of golf with the local culture in one of the world’s leading cities, then a Golf City Break to Madrid is a very attractive proposition, allowing players the chance to play on quality courses and indulge in other non-golfing activities.

La Herreria

The first stop on our itinerary was Real Club de Golf La Herreria, situated close to the Guadarrama Mountain range to the northwest of the city, where the course lies sits next to the magnificent – and physically dominating – Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, constructed in the second half of the 16th century, and reckoned to be the largest Renaissance building in the world.

Here’s a prime example of where you can combine sightseeing with golf at the one location and it’s estimated half a million day-trippers from Madrid come to this UNESCO World Heritage Site annually. A round of golf in the morning then an afternoon browsing the Monastery’s basilica, libraries, galleries and gardens comprises a diverse day out that will live long in the memory.

La Dehesa

The course at Club de Golf La Dehesa lies half an hour’s drive closer to Madrid in Villanueva de la Cañada, with some of the holes laid out on what was a former landfill site in the early 1990s. Today, this Manuel Piñero design offers a contrasting round of golf with an open front nine followed by a more challenging back nine as holes follow the contours of the twisting Aulencia River.

Santander

The 18-hole layout at Golf Santander was next up on our schedule and this Rees Jones-designed course was the highlight of the trip for many in our group of golf journalists. Again, part of the course occupies reclaimed land that was previously used as a rubbish dump so all credit to the owners for their ecological motives to improve the local environment.

Laid out along the southern perimeter of the Santander bank headquarters, the eighteen holes are routed around several irrigation lakes, characterized by wide playing corridors, oversized bunkers and large greens. It’s a championship-standard course that could easily host one of the big Madrid golf events that used to feature regularly on the European professional calendar.

La Moraleja

Day three of our visit began with early morning fog at the Real Club La Moraleja delaying our starting times. La Moraleja is the largest private golf club in Europe, offering members four Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole courses at three different sites. The newer #3 and #4 layouts have been in operation for almost ten years now and they’ll soon be serviced from the same enormous clubhouse which is almost nearing completion.

We played the #3 layout earlier this year – so we know just how good it is – and we were delighted to be told we’d be playing the #4 course when the fog finally lifted. There’s a quite a bit more movement in the land on its back nine but the free-form tees, contoured greens and sculpted bunkers are the most memorable features of a layout that’s really fun to play for ordinary golfers (leaving better players to tackle the more demanding #3 course).

Retamares

The course at Club de Golf Retamares is a José María Olazábal design on the outskirts of Madrid that has staged events on both the Ladies European Tour and men’s Challenge Tour. Despite its professional tournament hosting credentials, it still largely retains the feel of a members’ club so ordinary golfers need not feel intimidated teeing it up here.

Many of the holes are set out on high ground around several man-made lakes and long views of the surrounding plains from fairways on the front nine might remind older players of cinematic moments from the old 1970s movie Man of La Mancha – it really is such an atmospheric place to play golf.

Centro Nacional

The trip finished on Day 4 with a round at Centro Nacional de Golf, headquarters of the Real Federación Española de Golf, where part of the 18-hole course is built on an old landfill site close to Madrid city centre – again, you really have to give credit to the Spanish golf authorities for showing the way when it comes to developing previously unsuitable land for golfing purposes.

The hilly holes on this layout – venue for the Open de España in 2007 and 2018 – grab nearly all the attention here but there’s also a pitch and putt course, two-tier driving range and large practice area to complement the main golfing arena. For golfers who might struggle to gain entry to one of the private clubs in Madrid, Centro Nacional is a great option for them.

The official familiarization trip was over but, as regular browsers will probably realize, this was not the end for us as we tagged on a few more venues to try and gain a further understanding of golf in the city.

Lomas Bosque

The course at Club de Golf Lomas-Bosque lies to the west of Madrid and most of the holes are pleasantly laid out on the floodplain of the Guadarrama River. However, by far the best part of the round is played at the start, with the opening seven holes somehow squeezed into a narrow strip of undulating land that runs alongside the Barranco de la Fuente de la Noria. Designed by Robert Dean Putman and opened for play in the early 1970s, Lomas-Bosque is a good choice for those seeking to get a little further away from the city centre. 

El Encin

Another course that’s a little out of the way on the other side of the city is the Rick Baril-designed layout at El Encin Golf which is positioned not far off the main road to Zaragoza. Inaugurated just over a decade ago, the course quickly made its mark as a tournament venue by staging the Madrid Masters in 2011 but the professionals didn’t seem to like the undulating putting surfaces – which we absolutely loved! Some might argue it’s just as well most courses are built for average golfers and not the very tiny percentage of elite players that front up occasionally to play.

La Finca

The final stopping place in our short tour was the development at La Finca Golf Los Lagos, a new high-end “premium lifestyle centre” which is due to have luxury apartments, restaurants, shops and offices located next to the 18-hole golf course designed by Stirling and Martin. Architect Marco Martin very kindly gave up a morning of his valuable time to show us around the golfing aspects of the project, where nine holes are currently growing in.

An enormous amount of earth has been moved from the northern perimeter to the opposite side of the property, where fairways have been raised way above the level of the Arroyo de Retamares which runs eastwards along the southern boundary. The back nine is now sand capped and shaped and these holes will be grassed next year, with five of the new holes set out on ground where the 9-hole Somosaguas course once existed.

Marco told us he first started work on La Finca 22 years ago and it’s taken this long to get to where they are due to a variety of very complicated reasons – you have to admire his tenacity for sticking with it all this time! All we know now is that we can’t wait to return in 2024 – assuming we receive the necessary invitation, of course – as this place already looks like it will be a very big player on the national golf stage.

Postscript

We stayed at the 4-star Exe Victoria Palace hotel in San Lorenzo de El Escorial (which is an ideal base when playing at La Herreria, La Dehesa and Lomas-Bosque on the western outskirts of Madrid) then in the 5-star URSO Hotel & Spa in downtown Madrid, which is obviously more handily placed for sampling the nightlife.

From the URSO we went to the Mercado de San Miguel (pictured above) which is a gourmet tapas market under cover with stalls selling a wide selection of meats, cheese, baking and other food, along with a variety of different beers and wines. We also visited the Teatro Eslava theatre for an evening of contemporary flamenco, enjoying a tapas dinner as we watched the wonderful OléOlá production (pictured below).

There wasn’t enough time for further sightseeing at the Prado Museum, the Royal Palace and Gardens or even a stadium tour at either the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu or Metropolitano football grounds but they’ll all still be there awaiting when we next return…

If you have any comment to make on the above article then please use the “Write a response” link at the bottom of this page.

Jim McCann

Editor

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