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Six Costa del Sol designs by Robert Trent Jones Snr and Javier Arana

03 April, 2017

We review three Costa del Sol designs by Robert Trent Jones Snr and a trio by Javier Arana

One of a select number of golf media outlets invited to the annual conference of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects in Spain last week, Top 100 Golf Courses took the opportunity to review half a dozen golf courses before and after the main business was conducted at the H10 Andalucía Plaza Hotel, Puerto Banus.

Official visits were arranged to play two Robert Trent Jones Snr courses at Real Sotogrande and Real Las Brisas, both of which feature prominently in our Spanish Top 100 chart, and we decided to add another of the old master’s more recent designs at Los Naranjos to our itinerary.

To compare the works of this world-renowned designer against other local options, we sampled three tracks from the portfolio of the much-respected architect Javier Arana. Unlike Trent Jones, with hundreds of courses to his name, Arana was involved in only thirty-two Spanish projects during a 30-year design career.

Real Sotogrande was first up on the EIGCA playlist, with the architects and industry partners playing a round on the course before the formal business of their yearly get together got underway two days later. Originally laid out by Trent Jones Snr in 1964, the course was totally rebuilt over the past two years by Roger Rulewich and design partner Dave Fluery, with sub air systems installed in all the greens.

The following day, the course at Real Las Brisas was next to come under the scrutiny of the conference delegates. Opened in 1968, this Trent Jones layout has also just undergone an extensive makeover from another of the architect’s former lead designers, Kyle Phillips. Like Sotogrande, this course was also upgraded in two stages, allowing one nine to remain open for play whilst work was carried out.

As the course at Los Naranjos is situated only a kilometre east of Las Brisas, we thought it worth having a look around it while we were close by. This RTJ course functioned under the same management as its near neighbour after debuting in 1977 but that arrangement lasted only a short time before a decision was made to build a separate clubhouse and go it alone in a very competitive Marbella golf market.

The theme of a very informative EIGCA conference was “Spanish Lessons – Golf in Southern Spain” with speakers giving insightful presentations on several Iberian-related topics, including an overview of the Spanish golf industry provided by, details of the renovations at Sotogrande and Las Brisas, the development of the Valderrama and Zagaleta courses, water management and turfgrass selection for southern Europe.

Later, at the President’s Dinner, Ross McMurray of European Golf Design became the 10th President of the EIGCA, pledging to continue the legacy of his predecessor, Tom Mackenzie of Mackenzie & Ebert, by actively promoting the professionalism of members through the implementation of a structured Continuing Professional Development programme, which allows architects to update their skills and knowledge and remain professionally competent.

All the formal business completed, it was now time to call in on a trio of Javier Arana creations before heading for home. The first of these was Aloha, located two kilometres west of Las Brisas, where Arana set out his last 18-hole course before he died in 1975. Venue for last year’s Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España event on the Ladies European Tour, this course is currently undergoing major irrigation work on the back nine holes.

Guadalmina (Sur) lies closer to the coast, indeed two of the greens almost touch the beach where the Guadalmina River enters the Mediterranean Sea. Originally constructed as a 9-holer in 1959, the course had an additional nine holes appended to it by Arana a few years later. Global Golf has since conducted a new millennium remodel of the layout, recontouring greens and adding new bunkers.

The final port of call on our short Arana tour took us to Rio Real, another of the courses that have operated in the Marbella area for more than half a century. Occupying a very compact 105-acre site, most of this delightful course’s fairways are laid out along the narrow valley of the Real River, but there are several holes intelligently routed across higher ground on the east side of the river.

Two of the three Robert Trent Jones Snr designs above are ranked within the Top 100 of our Continental Europe chart, which tells its own story regarding their quality. Such golfing excellence comes at a price, of course – millions of euros have been spent on course improvements at these 50-year old golfing paragons – so expect to pay a significant green fee for the privilege of playing them.

On the other hand, even though the three Arana courses aren’t imbued with the same golfing cachet as their more illustrious counterparts, they each possess an exquisite charm that’s hard to define but tangible, nonetheless. Whilst the top rated RTJ tracks are built to test the best, the Arana layouts are more suited to the average player’s game, scaled to fit players who are looking for a more intimate game of golf.

If you’d like to get in touch with us about our recent Spanish excursion to the Costa del Sol then please do so via the “Respond to this article” link at the top or bottom of this page. We’re delighted to receive feedback whenever we publish short articles like this so if there’s something you’d like to comment on then by all means feel free to contact us.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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