When the revered Robert Trent Jones opened the classic Real Sotogrande in 1964, it put Andalusia on the map as a golf destination. Its foothold became even stronger the following year, when it hosted the Spanish Open, with Roberto de Vicenzo winning – a year before the Argentinian became the oldest player to win The Open. Its pedigree does not end there thouh, far from it. It held the 1983 Spanish Amateur and a chap by the name of Jose Maria Olazabal was the champion. Four years later Seve Ballesteros – then world number two and at peak charisma – won the Spanish Professional Championship on 1987 here too, a victory achieved while he was the world No.2.
It staged – along with San Roque – Qualifying School for the European Tour on multiple occasions and 30 years after being founded, King Juan Carlos I granted it Royal status.
The tradition and pedigree of one of the continent’s most illustrious names is clear off the course too: an inconspicuous entrance to the club; a low-lying clubhouse of whitewashed stone and stout wood rather than gleaming glass; a cool thatched-roof starter’s hut. This is unambiguously a golfer’s golf club.
Trent Jones had his pick of the land in the area given it was the first course to be built there and he used it predictably well, importing the design philosophy for which he is known into the land between Mediterranean Sea back into the foothills of Sierra Almenara.
Greens that are pushed up to reject all but the most sweetly struck approaches are a hallmark of a parkland course that can still test the best. Off the tee, there are wide fairways to look at – and who doesn’t enjoy stand on the tee and being able to hit it anywhere.
Except you can’t at Sotogrande, because if you hit the ‘wrong’ side of the fairways your approach shots are completely different… so there is a lot of thinking to be done.
You could therefore say that RTJ was ahead of his time in creating the kind of second-shot course that is now so in vogue, because the playing challenge here is largely the second shots into par 4s and even the third shots on par 5. Then, if you don’t leave it on the right spots in the greens – which are notably big – you face the threat of three-putting.
The back nine at Sotogrande is fantastic, with holes around the lake especially good. And the whole feel of the course is terrific, with vegetation typical of the area lining many fairways.
The club undertook a huge renovation programme at the start of this decade to ensure Real Sotogrande remains one of Europe’s elite.