The Links course upgrade at La Hacienda Alcaidesa Links Golf Resort nears completion
It’s not often we get a chance to closely inspect a course that’s closed during serious renovation work – indeed the last time was probably with architect Martin Ebert when the Ailsa at Turnberry underwent a total makeover in 2015 – so we were pleased to be invited a few weeks ago to have a look at a nearly completed major refurbishment project overseen by American architect Kurtis Bowman at La Hacienda Alcaidesa Links Golf Resort in San Roque.
Before branching out on his own in 2016, Kurtis was twenty years with Nicklaus Design, where he worked mainly with senior architect Jim Lipe in the United States of America and Mexico on courses such as Mayacama in California, May River in South Carolina and Cabol del Sol on the Baja California peninsula. All told, he was involved in almost 50 courses while with the Golden Bear’s design company. In 2020, when Kurtis was on site in the Dominican Republic, he was introduced to Javier Illán, president of Millennium Hospitality, which owns La Hacienda Links Golf Resort, and they hit it off immediately.
Javier’s company specializes in the luxury hotel sector in Spain and Portugal and its aim is to put the San Roque property on the map with a multi-million euro investment which will hopefully propel the resort into the realms of the top 36-hole destinations in southern Europe. Already, a new contemporary clubhouse and driving range have opened as part of the initial transformation. Plans are also in place to revitalise the Heathland course but for now the focus is on the Links, with local contractor Acttua given the task of translating Kurtis’s plans into reality on the ground.
The firm has worked on similar major golf infrastructure projects in recent times at places like nearby Las Brisas, Real Sotogrande and Real Valderrama so it’s a company that’s well experienced in top-end golf construction. You just know the finished product is going to be something special – especially when there’s a substantial budget in place! We saw just how well Paco, Acttua’s man on the ground, interacted with Kurt as they showed us around the property and it’s obvious the success of the new Links layout is largely down to the close collaboration of designer and construction manager.
The course is an early 1990s Peter Alliss/Clive Clarke co-design which originally started and finished alongside the beach but the initial opening and closing holes are now the 10th and 11th, with the first four holes now playing down to the coast and the last four holes rising back up to the clubhouse – that means holes 5 to 14 occupy a prime location overlooking the Playa Alcaidesa, next to the Punta Carbonera lighthouse.
The main ground works were carried out between April and October last year, but there are still lots of little things to be done like lining water features and building small bridges. The grow in period has gone well generally but it’ll take a few months of continual summer heat to allow the fairway grasses to flourish. The TifEagle Bermuda greens – most of which allow a running approach – looked in great shape at the end of April and quite a number of bunkers were in the process of having new sand added following a Better Billy Bunker upgrade.
The par five 5th hole (pictured above) is the “signature hole” on the layout, played from a high vantage point looking along the beach towards the Rock of Gibraltar, twelve kilometres away. On a clear day, you’ll also see the coast of Morocco in the distance. Quite a bit of earth was moved to soften the downhill slope of the fairway which then crosses a creek before turning slightly left to a new putting surface that’s been pushed back towards the coastline, forming a double green with the par four 13th. As Kurtis says, “this green is now incredibly dramatic and will be sure to get people talking and burn a hole in golfers’ memories.”
Hole 7 (pictured above), hole 8 and hole 9 (pictured below) cross back and forwards over another intimidating barranca, with the last of these holes improved immeasurably from its previous incarnation. It was the architect’s least favourite and perhaps weakest hole on the layout so he shifted a lot of soil to drastically improve it, cutting on the right and filling on the left, along with moving the green further to the left in the process. Now, when compared to a photograph taken before the work was carried out, it’s an infinitely better hole visually. The par three 12th also plays across the same water course, forming an impressive cluster of adjacent holes which get maximum value from this aquatic feature.
There are plenty of other interesting putting surface-related features to note on the new layout, including the really funky, wildly contoured green on the short par four 4th; the lovely benched green on the right doglegging, uphill par four 14th; and the enormous boomerang-shaped green on the home hole, with a huge bunker at the front separating alternative pin placement areas. It’s certainly a talking point as you head for the clubhouse but it might not be the only thing you’ll want to discuss over a refreshment or two – such as the World War II concrete pillbox located close to the clubhouse behind the 1st tee!
The last words belong to architect Kurt Bowman as he pretty much sums up how we felt after visiting the reimagined Links course at La Hacienda Links Golf Resort :
“There are lots of great golf courses in the Costa del Sol. One thing it was missing was a great oceanfront links golf course. Now this has been added to the mix – along with the five-star hotel, real estate, clubhouse, practice facilities, beach club and halfway house – and elevated the entire development. As great as the other venues nearby are, none of them are set in a location even close to La Hacienda… the Alcaidesa Links will definitely be in the conversation for one of the best courses in Spain and added to the list of must-plays for players touring the Costa del Sol.”
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