My first and only visit to the Marbella area was in the year 2000. I didn’t like it much, that’s why it took such a long time to go there again. In 2000 the service was not good: tee times were booked at the wrong date, e-mails and faxes were left unanswered, etcetera. Also on many occasions courses were overcrowded, leaving up to 3 flights waiting to play the next hole. It looked like a factory.
The experience this time was completely different. Several new clubs have entered the arena, and it seems like they raised the bar to a higher level for everyone. Also, new destinations like Belek in Turkey became popular and clubs in Spain needed to get their act together to be competitive. The one constant factor on this trip was the high level of hospitality and customer service. It was brilliant.
We were lucky and unlucky with the weather the whole twelve days. Lucky because it didn’t rain and the sunny spells were very enjoyable, and unlucky because there was a bit of a chilly wind and with temperatures around 18 or 19°C it wasn’t warm enough to play golf in a T-shirt or to spend time in the outside swimming pool.
Another worry of mine was how the pace of play would be, as it was an issue last time. And in fact, it was very good. Golf courses were not overcrowded, and the times we played as a four-ball (Valderrama and Los Naranjos) the pace of play was good. The other days as a two-ball we hardly ever had to wait, it was very enjoyable.
We stayed at the Westin La Quinta hotel in Benahavis, next to La Quinta Golf. I prefer to stay at a golf hotel if possible, to allow some practice if I want, and it was also well located for the clubs that we were going to visit. Distances varied from 2 km (Los Naranjos, Las Brisas) to 49 km (Valderrama, Real Sotogrande). We had a few minor problems in the room but those were all solved to satisfaction. We even got a voucher for a free lunch or dinner from the manager, which was very nice. One thing that could be improved is the menu for the hotel dinner. The choices were limited, and the options in the clubhouse at the golf courses were better. Still, I would definitely recommend this hotel.
I’m on a mission to play the list of courses from the Top-100 of Continental Europe. To give you an idea of the quality of the golf courses in the Costa del Golf, there were 6 courses of that top-100 that I could play on this trip! I also added some other courses that I hoped would be good. At the end I wasn’t disappointed in any of them, and as I mentioned previously the service was just excellent. The green fee prices are often not low (or very high, depending on your budget), but you do get a lot in return. I would recommend you to play at least some of the list I played, you won’t regret it.
La Zagaleta is the one club from the list you can’t get a green fee, it’s members and guests only. I was very fortunate to get an invite here. There are 2 courses Hidden Trees and Old. Hidden Trees is laid out on a spectacular piece of hilly land and requires a lot of accuracy. Old is more forgiving. Both courses are excellently maintained. Fun to know is that the clubhouse at the Old course used to be the house of once the richest man of the World in the 1980’s Adnan Khashoggi.
Villa Padierna has three 18 holes courses, we played Flamingos and Alferini. Flamingos is a nice and gentle layout, however there are a few tricky holes too. Alferini is another difficult course in a beautiful landscape, where you need to bring your A-game, and luckily I did. Fun to know is that the 2005 US Open winner Michael Campbell from New Zealand has an academy here and you might even meet him there, which I did!
When I was at La Reserva they were preparing the course as it is a venue for the Ladies European Tour. They were working hard to get it in optimal condition. We were warned that this was going on, so I had no problem with it. La Reserva has a great layout and service. I also got the best bag tag of my trip here, which will continue to stay on the bag.
La Quinta consists of 3 loops: A, B and C. I played C twice, A once, and had a look at B. The C course is a very fun layout and A is nice too. I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of this course.
Top course in Europe designed by Robert Trent Jones. Quite a lot of rules and regulations to follow, for example, you can only start practice 40 minutes before tee time, but in fact, they were not so strict. Valderrama might not be spectacular, but it’s a great layout in brilliant condition, the greens were the fastest of the ones I played in ‘the Costa del Golf’.
Rather busy members course where I was happy to get a green fee this time of the year. It was recently restored by Kyle Phillips and of course, he did a good job. Las Brisas is a lovely track with some great bunkering, and more water in play on the back nine.
Finca Cortesin is a Cabell B. Robinson design and in the past, they hosted the Volvo World Matchplay 3 times. Often generous fairways, and again some very good bunkering. I really loved this layout that in my opinion played very fair, and the service is just outstanding.
Los Naranjos is a busy course where we played with a Canadian couple, they were temporary members. It’s another Robert Trent Jones design, and also an enjoyable layout.
Layout in a hilly terrain, where you want to take a buggy. Marbella Club Golf Resort offers some spectacular holes, and some blind shots, but a fair test and I had a nice day here.
Another Robert Trent Jones design, and what a great place this is. Excellent practice facitlities, where Spanish Symetra player Maria Parra is a member, and I can understand that. Lovely layout and is kept in great condition. Real Club Sotogrande is one of my favourite courses.
A few times we went to Marbella for dinner, but it’s a 20-minute drive and there’s a lot of traffic plus it’s hard to find a parking spot. We preferred to go to Puerto Banus, which is smaller and cosier, and easier to park. A few restaurants we really liked were Habana Lounge (paella) and Los Bandidos (steak) where I had some of the best bearnaise sauce ever.
As you can understand from the text above this was mainly a golf holiday. We did save the last day for another activity and did a trip to England from Spain, - Gibraltar - to be more specific. After you park your car before the border and you walk across the border, the first thing you pass is the tarmac of the airport. A bit strange. But Gibraltar is definitely worth a visit.
If you like a wide offer of quality courses that you need to select carefully, with the help of Leadingcourses, then Marbella and Sotogrande really are a good idea for your next golf holiday destination. The excellent service provided is a nice bonus.
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