Spain, with its seemingly never-ending coastline and moderate climate that means that golfers can enjoy the courses nearly year-round, has become one of the premier golf destinations worldwide. The recent success of big-name golfers like Jon Rahm and Sergio García has ignited the Spanish golf world in a way not seen since Seve Ballesteros’ glory days.
Most of the golf courses hug the coastline, and for good reason: the scenery there is breathtaking. With such amazing natural landscapes to build golf courses upon, the number of world-class courses in Spain has skyrocketed in recent decades. From inland hillsides to cliffs overhanging the crashing waves of the Alboran Sea, the unique characteristics of Spanish topography have resulted in some of the world’s finest golf holes. Here are five of the best you’ll find:
1. #17, Real Club Valderrama
Valderrama is known as one of the best golf courses anywhere in the world. A Robert Trent Jones design near the Straits of Gibraltar in Spain's Andalusia region, it’s perhaps best known for hosting the closely contested 1997 Ryder Cup, the first held on mainland Europe. While the signature hole is the par 5 fourth, with its small green guarded by a lake on the right side and a giant, prehistoric-looking tree on the left, the 17th is actually a more interesting and dramatic hole. At 490m, #17 is reachable for longer hitters, but it’s an awfully great risk to go for it in two.
Come up short, and your ball trundles down the false front into the waiting pond. Go long and your ball will find one of the large bunkers behind the green, presenting a tough downhill bunker shot with the water treacherously lurking to gobble up mis-hits.
But even if you lay up and decide to play the more traditional manner with a short iron or wedge to the green, the third shot presents similar issues. Players must control their backspin, as high-spinning wedges will find that false front and result in bogey or worse. If you let the water dictate you to take more club, you’ll have a nearly impossible up-and-down from a bunker.
It’s a brilliantly designed hole that creates intense drama in both match and stroke-play events.
2. #18, Las Colinas Golf & Country Club
Las Colinas Golf & Country Club is consistently ranked in Europe’s top 100 courses and Spain’s top 5. This masterpiece from Cabell B. Robinson is set beautifully into its surrounding landscape, with brilliant routing that takes advantages of the dramatic elevation changes and required little earth-moving to create the course. It’s reminiscent of Coore/Crenshaw’s naturalist approach to golf course architecture.
The sprawling par 5 finishing hole is a thrilling way to complete the round. With a steep downhill tee shot, golfers can find their ball flying and rolling out much further than their average tee shot. A well-struck drive that takes advantage of the slope results in a brilliant risk/reward second shot. Long hitters will go for it in two, trying to carve a fade around the lake that guards the right side of the green. But bailing out to the left side leaves you with a difficult, awkward bunker shot. Hit the right approach, though, and you could find yourself ending the day with an eagle. It’s a memorable, top-notch closing hole.
3. #3, Real Golf Club de Sevilla
Real Club Sevilla was designed by Masters champion and Spanish golf legend José María Olazábal and is recognized as one of the finest in the country. Most recently it hosted the 100th playing of the Spanish Open in 2012, won by Francesco Molinari.
The short par 3 third hole is a beautiful, clever hole that can play as a simple pitch shot or a tough approach to a tough pin thanks to its smart green design. The pin position will determine whether it’s a birdie hole or a take-your-par-and-run challenge: front left and you don’t have much to worry about as long as you clear the picturesque pond. But if they nestle the pin on the right side, overly aggressive golfers will find themselves short-sided in a bunker, struggling to salvage a par. More conservative golfers will have long, tough birdie putts over undulations that result in more three-putt bogeys than you’d expect.
It’s a pretty hole, and on the scorecard, it looks like it should be an easy par. In actuality, it’s anything but.
4. #7, Sotogrande
Sotogrande was Robert Trent Jones’ first European course, and he knocked it out of the park. Upon its completion in 1964, it was immediately hailed as one of the continent’s best courses. It’s much older than most Spanish courses, but it still holds up as a stern challenge for all skill levels, especially after a thorough restoration project was completed in 2016.
The 7th hole is a gorgeous, challenging par 4. The elevated tee lays the hole out for you nicely; executing the shots is another story altogether. Getting your ball in the sharply sloping left-to-right fairway is difficult but necessary, as the approach shot to a narrow green is well-guarded by water on the right, bunkers to the left, and trees behind. A par will feel like a birdie to most golfers on this challenging, photogenic hole.
5. #1, Río Real Golf Marbella
The Río Real course makes great use of the titular river that runs through the course thanks to legendary Spanish golf architect Javier Arana’s brilliant design. It’s a beautiful, old-school golf course with majestic, mature trees lining the fairways and the river in play on numerous holes.
But it’s the opening hole that’s the real stunner. The river is in view but just a short carry off the tee. The real trick for shorter hitters is avoiding the 100-year-old carob tree in the middle of the fairway. Bombers will see the short length of the hole and think that they can start the round off with an easy birdie, but that tree lingers waiting to knock a low draw right out of the sky. The fairway and run-up slope left-to-right, funnelling offline balls into difficult bunker shots and turning an easy birdie into a frustrating bogey or worse.
A well-designed short par 4 is one of the greatest achievements in golf course design, and Río Real makes a huge impact by starting your round off with a fine example of one.