I suppose I know every hole here like an old friend. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, it was first known as Los Aves, and in1985, when the course owner, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, rechristened the course as Valderrama, he gave the architect carte blanche to redesign and refine it.
There are many memorable holes winding through the trees, valleys and hillsides around Valderrama. There are thousands of olive, pine and native Andalusian cork trees throughout the course. Som e Ryder Cup players got to know these trees better than the others, but, well, that is part of golf.
The par-five fourth hole has a little waterfall and lake around the green--a very original design. The twelfth hole, a very long par three, runs downhill from an elevated tee and is especially tough if the wind is blowing.
Before the Ryder Cup in 1997, I redesigned the long par-five seventeenth, and it has a number of technical elements that I think make it one of the most strategically challenging holes in the world. In front of the green, I created a lake and added a large bunker set into the steep hillside at the back of the green. The design added drama and impact to the hole, as the Ryder Cup record proves.
Almost beside Valderrama is San Roque, a rather long, well-designed course by Dave Thomas and Tony Jacklin. The course, which now hosts the qualifying-school tournament of the European PGA, has views of the Andalusian mountains to the north and the Mediterranean to the southwest. If you can somehow not look at the mountains and the trees, the course feels very American, with large bunkers lining the wide fairways. The holes cut through groves of cork and oak, with lakes coming into play on holes six, eleven, twelve and eighteen.
The final hole is one of the best. It is a dogleg par four, with a lake all down the left side. There is a little sculptured island in the water covered with beautiful flowers. The tight tee shot needs to be followed by a second shot over a stream to a green guarded by water on the right.
Along San Roque's waterfront, near the Strait of Gibraltar, lies Alcaidesa, a short but tricky links-style course designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark, with stunning views of the Rock.
Near the coast and down from the hills is the thirty-five-year-old Sotogrande, the first course in Europe designed by Robert Trent Jones. There is virtually no rough here--only the matu re palm, cork, eucalyptus and pine trees define the routes to the greens. Water is a danger throughout most of the back nine, and t he well-placed bunkers around the greens make the player think carefully about how to play each individual hole. I like this course very much. And it's a favorite among many Spanish players.