Beachfront golf in Marbella: Real Club de Golf Guadalmina

Planning a golf trip to Marbella is rather difficult. Not because there is a lack of appropriate opportunities to swing a club, it’s rather the opposite! The Costa del Sol in the south of Spain offers not less than 70 golf courses along a coast line of roughly 300 kilometers. And especially the region in and around Marbella offers so many courses that it’s tricky to pick THE right one.

After our tour through Andalusia it was Marbella being the last stop on our itinerary. Sure thing we wanted to end the journey with a nice and memorizable round of golf in the sunshine.

There are so many great golf courses to be found in this region that it’s really difficult to find the one that’s just right for you. I investigated so much in preparation for the tour that I was seriously confused about where to play eventually. Long story short, I decided to play the Real Club de Golf Guadalmina. This club offers two courses whereas the south course stands out and offers nicer scenery and architecture, at least in theory. Also it was very close to our hotel and I got a good rate.

A word and a blow, instead of checking in the hotel I immeadiately drove to the club house which sits in the middle of a… well, dated residential area with a supermarket-like car park. Entering the club house, it was nobody there to greet or guide you, all lockers and bathrooms were locked and apparently reserved for members who know the numeric code to enter. The waiters in the downstairs bar weren’t really helpful either so I had to ask my way through the facilities. I’m not saying I was shocked, but I had hoped for another kind of start to this round.

Finally I found the person at the counter to pay my green fee, bought the obligatory club logo ball souvenir and left the building. It took me a while to understand that in order to get to the first tee of the south course you need to leave the premises, cross the car park, pass the weird shops and bars to the side of it and then walk for a couple of minutes on a public street through a residential area to then get to what was the first tee. Seriously, I haven’t expected this – in any shape or form. Again, not that I was shocked but this course received so many so positive reviews from all over the place… I was dissapointed, I guess that’s the word.

Next dissapointment was just around the corner: on the first tee there were like 20 people waiting to tee off! I had a tee time in ten minutes and all these folks were about to start their round just now. Apparently there was a double booking for some slots and so I had to wait until all 38 French golf tourists in their fourballs were ready to go and I had my turn finally. That was roughly one hour later.

I had a nice chat with the starter and it wasn’t really his fault but the whole situation was kind of stupid. Especially because I played on my own and was obviously stuck in huge traffic right from the start. As the North Course was closed that week for maintenance I had no chance but wait, play slow and be patient. I told everybody “I’m in no rush” which was true but I had no idea how horrible the next hours turned out to be.

When I finally teed off I decided to play two balls, an advice the starter gave me. It didn’t really help. When I finished hole 1, I realized that there were three groups on the next hole – a par 3!

So I couldn’t help it and had to wait. I practiced putting a good 10 minutes on the first hole until I finally teed off myself. It was quite a busy spot of the course with a busy street to the left and the highway behind the hole. I tried to forget all that once I putted for a par and tried to move on.

Next hole 3rd was a dogleg left with villas to both sides. I had to wait for some minutes before I absolutely bombed my drive to split the fairway. So I was standing there in the middle of the hole, waiting for the French to move on while the group behind me closed up and waited for me to clear the fairway. I wanted to scream that it’s not my fault but I had more chances to let them know later.

When I finished hole 3 I realized that the group in front of me not even had teed off the 4th yet. Oh boy, it got slower and slower, that was for sure. I went over and had a little chit-chat with the French folks and finally couldn’t do anything else than let them go play and wait.

That was the time when the Spanish couple arrived in their cart and realized that I was still waiting there. They were members of the club and seemed very nice, although pretty annoyed about the slow play too. We decided to play together and talked a lot. It turned out that they just months ago moved from Madrid to Marbella because the quality of life supposedly is so much better in Marbella. They said they literally live on the golf course and play here at least 4 times a week. They just take their golf cart from the underground parking and head to the course. Wow, what a lifestyle: Living in a nice house or apartment with sea views right next to a golf course which you get to play a couple of times per week. I was jealous. Pretty jealous.

The path between the 4th green and 5th tee box went under the big motor highway, the autovia. So to set the scene, imagine a nice golf course with a 6-way highway cutting right through it – that’s what you have there. Really a pity. Apart from that the course was rather nice.

We played the 5th, again with a lot of waiting, when we decided that all this absolutely doesn’t make sense at all and totally ruined our mood already. To avoid that we headed for the 15th as it seemed there wasn’t somebody playing the back nine at that time. With the 15, 16, 17 and 18 I finished nine holes in total (the not so pretty ones) in almost 4 hours!

What a pathetic round of golf!

I was disappointed with the area where the course was located, a little bit with the course facilities, with the noise, the slow play and that I just was able to see half of the course. Needless to say that it wasn’t possible to get a refund at the reception.

A golf day to forget.

The first Ballesteros Design I played: Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club

The prefix “Real” stands for “Royal” in Spanish. That’s the case for Real Madrid and also Real Golf de Valderrama. And also for Real Novo Sancti Petri Golf Club.

The latter surprises a little bit because there is very little royal flair in the Urbanization Novo Sancti Petri, south of Cadiz. It’s a rather nice holiday residential area with dozens of hotels and uncounted weekend and holiday apartments. The big asset of Sancti Petri is the beautiful stretch of beach, long, wide and white along the Costa de la Luz.

The coast in general is famous for travelers and sun seekers, but indeed this part of the region is beautiful and offers a lot to recreational or regular guests.

We stayed at one of the best hotels the coast has to offer and enjoyed some days by the pool, strolling the beach, enjoying the sun, the wine, the tapas and the southern Spanish lifestyle.

Of course golf was on the agenda too. As little as Novo Sancti Petri is, it offers quite a variety of golf courses. I decided to go for the most prestigious club, which alone offers two championship courses plus a short a pitch & putt course, and also went to play the apparent better course, the “Mar y Pinos” (Sea and Pines), or “A” as they call it themselves.

I paid a very reasonable green fee, ordered a cart (because I walked at least 12km every day during the week before) and off I went. The signage turned out to be somewhat improvable but eventually I managed to find everything I needed to.

The driving range features a lot of possibilities to warm up and is home to the Jack Nicklaus Golf Academy, just in case your swing needs some urgent adjusting.

On tee 1 I was grouped together with a German couple, both in their 50s, he played golf, she only took pictures and used the first nine as a nice walk. She didn’t really talk much but he was very nice and we chatted along quite nicely. Turned out that he’s coming for 20 years and just started to find back to his game.

The course was built in 1990, designed by nobody less that Severiano Ballesteros. I’m not a big expert on course design and definitely wouldn’t recognise Seve’s handwriting but I have to say that the overall layout and architectural course design was not more than ‘good’. Saying it was ‘mediocre’ wouldn’t do justice, but it’s clearly not the biggest asset this club has to offer – or reason to get awarded with the prefix “Real” to the club name.

Hole 1 is a very straight hole, an easy one for the start. With a good tee shot you can reach the green next to a small lake which forms a water hazard for a number of the following holes. For the second you have to drive the ball over water towards a normal-width fairway, surrounded by holiday villas to the left.

After 3 and 4, two rather unspectacular dogleg-left par-4s you get to the next par-4 dogleg-left. This time your second shot has to travel over water to a smaller green. Which didn’t work out in my first attempt I have to say.

Hole 6 is without a doubt one of the more spectacular ones. It’s an uphill tee shot with a second into the green which sits right on top of the beach with beautiful views along the coast. Very pretty indeed.

Hole 7 is a rather long over-water par-3 and is followed by an intersting par-5 and a dull par-3 to finish the first nine.

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Today's highlight: golf at Novo Sancti Petri

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I totally screwed up the 10th (God knows why) and really enjoyed playing the following holes; long par-5s, interesting par-4s and short par-3s. All in all I preferred the back nine, both in quality of the design, the absence of holiday homes right next to the fairway and water hazards and frankly because I played really good golf there. I think it’s just a mood issue. The more birdie chances you have (and eventually make) the better you like the holes.

So after all, I enjoyed playing this course. There are of course some things that didn’t go well: The staff was friendly but not very helpful with orientation, the caddie master wasn’t helpful at all, the carts were neither equipped with water, towels, tees nor with a GPS system and as I forgot my GPS watch at home, there was a lot of guess work involved.

Would I recommend the course to others? Yes if you are in the neighbourhood, no if you would need to travel just for this.

Golficiency Rating: 5/10

Spontaneous Andalusian Golf Break

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What to do when you realise you have so many holidays left for the year? No question, you find some great ideas where to spend them. As summer started to turn ugly in Central Europe we decided to head to South Spain, enjoy the sun, the culture, the history, the tapas, the vino, the flamenco, the hospitality, the picturesque ancient towns and the golf. And no doubt – they have plenty of all.

Starting from Malaga, we had on our itenerary penciled in for Nerja, Granada, Cordoba, Sevilla, Jerez, Cadiz, Sancti Petri, Vejer de la Frontera, Gibraltar, Ronda and Marbella. Basically every single corner of Andalusia.

Everybody knows that golfing is easy in South Spain as they have plenty of courses, both at the Costa de la Luz or the Costa del Sol (aka Costa del Golf). The problem is even to decide which one to play as due to the sheer amount of possibilities you are seriously overwhelmed and need either expert advice or a lot of reading. I did both and had an initial list of courses to take into account.

Pretty early in the process I ruled out three courses, not because I changed my mind but because I figured I won’t spend that much money on golf. Don’t get me wrong, I’d absolutely love to play these but for somebody who has to work hard for his lifestyle, the requested green fees are totally out of this world:

  • Real Club Valderrama (Best course in Continental Europe since 1988), Robert Trent Jones design
  • Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, Robert Trent Jones design
  • Finca Cortesin Golf Resort, Cabell Robinson design

And also, as we planned a road trip through all of Andalusia we didn’t want to spend too much time in the Sotogrande region anyway – because there are much nicer places to see and visit.

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So we decided to change plans and put down these four courses as the ones to play:

  • Real Club de Golf Sevilla, José Maria Olazábal design
  • Montecastillo Golf Club, Jerez, Jack Nicklaus design
  • Novo Sancti Petri Golf, Severiano Ballesteros design
  • Real Club de Golf Guadalmina, Marbella, Javier Arana design

One thing I can tell you now as we already arrived back home, we didn’t fully make it through this list unfortunately. But the other thing I’d like to report; golfing in the south of Spain is pretty amazing! And the whole region of Andalusia is so rich in culture, history and lifestyle that golf became a fairly peripheral matter quickly.

Do yourself a favour, book a trip and find out for yourself what an amazing piece of land this is.

Keep checking back at golficiency.com for the course reviews of the Andalusia trip.

Photo credits: Westin La Quinta Resort, Marbella