Golfing at Sotogrande

SOTOGRANDE in southern Spain offers golfers – and indeed non-golfers – the ideal winter boost at this time of year.

The region’s all-round balmy temperatures of mild winters and long, warm summers has long been a favourite for golf and leisure activities.

Almenara is well-known in European golf circles because it boasts some of the best clubs on the Continent such as Valderrama and Montecastillo of Ryder Cup and Volvo Masters fame.

But perhaps the real jewel in the Sotogrande crown is unique 27-hole Almenara Golf Resort, designed by former Ryder Cup player and renowned local architect Dave Thomas.

The real strength of the Almenara Club is in its versatility. The three contrasting nine-hole courses can be played separately or together – you can enjoy three different 18-hole combinations, all with a par of 72.

Located in the upper part of Sotogrande but still only five minutes from the beach, the three nine-hole loops weave around pine trees, cork oaks and lakes, called Los Pinos, Los Alcornoques and Los Lagos.

Players of all standards will enjoy playing all three courses, but the distinctive Thomas design of well-placed bunkering, tight fairways and several tough water hazards make this a special experience.

Most Read

The course, first opened in 1998 and completed in 2001, now has its own on-site luxury hotel, the NH Almenara Golf Hotel and Spa.

The opening hole on the Los Pinos course is a panoramic par-five from an elevated tee in front of the clubhouse with superb views over the Mediterranean.

It sets the mood for a course that looks benign. However, don’t be fooled. There are lines of pine trees in all directions, out of bounds all the way down the left as well as a large lake. And if the wind is blowing against you the second shot will be played down to a valley from where it is a precise pitch up to a long but narrow green.

The fourth is an eye-catching par-three to an elevated green framed with pine trees. If you overclub the ground runs severely downwards and into a hazard. There is also a large deep, steep-sided bunker on the left.

The eighth is another par-five – a big dog-leg left with out of bounds all the way down the left – while the course ends back in front of the clubhouse with a shortish par-four.

Yet, with two par threes and two par fives the course can be played over and over while still retaining secrets.

Los Alcornoques is the loop that provides the greatest changes of altitude and perhaps the greatest reward for accuracy.

Indeed, the pattern is set with the par-three 200-yard second hole which features a vertiginous plunge down over scrub onto a green which is guarded by a large bunker on either side. There is out of bounds tight on the left and a severe drop away to the right. Needless to say, I finished with a treble bogey six!

Water comes seriously into play in four of the remaining seven holes, particularly the three par-fours of six, seven and eight where straight hitting is the order of the day or else – no golf balls left in the bag.

The round finishes with a 350-yard steep uphill par four with, thankfully, no water in sight. But with out of bounds on the left and several green-side bunkers high concentration levels need to be maintained.

A brief buggy ride leads to the real ‘water’ course, the Los Lagas loop. A series of lakes comes into play at many of the holes – six to be precise – and to score well calls for bravery and plenty of club off the tee.

“Take a few extra balls”, was the advice of one of the caddie masters, Martin O’Hanallon, before I teed it up – and it was sound advice. Indeed, typical is the par-four 420-yard third. The approach to the green is guarded for 110 yards by a close set lake on the right hand side which means approach shots to the small green have to be stunningly accurate. And the same applies to the par-five fourth with water on the right clinging almost the entire length of the hole. After a respite at the fifth – shaped like a boomerang – it’s back to water on the next two holes, both of which involve driving over water to stand any chance of salvaging par. Indeed, the par-three seventh is a real little gem. The tee shot is right in front of a lake to a large green surrouded by trees – and make sure to take enough club.

Just a few minutes drive away from Almenara is the 18-hole La Reserva de Sotogrande golf course, a members club owned by NH Hotels. La Reserva was designed by Cabell Robinson, a European based American, who has a reputation for producing very individual courses that exploit the natural terrain.

The 6,700-metre course, opened in 2003, is surrounded by two valleys and the layout includes four lakes, with water coming into play on six holes. Although the fairways appear generous there are numerous sand traps and accuracy is paramount off the tee.

However, La Reserva is a genuinely enjoyable course with superb views in every direction, including out over the entry to the straits of Gibralter where a seemingly endless convoy of shipping sets off to or arrives from the Atlantic.

And to get that swing loosed up why not try the resort’s golf academy – the only Centre of Excellence in Andalusia. The driving range has its own three-hole mini course designed as a warm up area or a space to perfect individual techniques. Instructors are on hand with a video system which allows players to compare their own swing to that of a top professional. The academy also offers courses for children as well as adults.

Away from the fairways there is much more to enjoy at Almenara. The resort hotel has a total of 148 rooms – standard, superior or deluxe – all with superb views of the greens, gardens and blue waters of the Mediterranean. And there is a 15 per cent discount on special advanced bookings.

The Elysium Spa offers an extensive range of innovative treatments and includes a jacuzzi, sauna, solarium steam bath and indoor swimming pool. In addition to the spa, guests can also enjoy a state of the art gym and fitness centre. There is also an equestrian centre, racquet centre and the Cucurucho Beach club.

In keeping with this unique 27-hole layout golfers can enjoy a drink at the 28th hole – The Veintee Oche. The terrace bar overlooks two of the courses and the sea.

The Gaia restaurant – which boasts a spectacular semi-circular staircase – offers Mediterranean cuisine, including dishes prepared from the freshest local ingredients, while downstairs the Garden Lounge Bar is ideal for that relaxing beer or cocktail.

The historic city of Cadiz – the oldest city in the western world – is on the resort’s doorstep. And be sure to take a tour of the Grand Cadiz Cathedral which houses religious treasures, including paintings and sculptures while the Museo de Cadiz has a wonderful collection of 17th and 18th century art. The Cadiz markets sell local food, wine and flamenco crafts.

Gibraltar is just 15 minutes away – the St Michael’s Cave and the City Under Seige exhibition offer an informative insight into the key events in the Rock’s history – while the more luxurious resorts of Marbella and neighbouring Puerto Banus are just 30 minutes away by car.

o Patrick Mooney travelled to Sotogrande courtesy of Mason Williams PR. www.mason-