Finca Cortesin Feature Review
The region of Andalucia in Spain is famed for being one of, if not the, best place in Europe to play golf. Valderrama - the stand-out golf course in mainland Europe - Sotogrande - the host of a new European Tour event this April - and Finca Cortesin - host of three Volvo World Match Play Championships between 2010 and 2013 - are all situated within a 20-mile radius, with a host of other esteemed courses peppered throughout the same region adding to its considerable allure.
This February, I left Gatwick airport at 6.30am and was standing on the first tee at the fabulous Finca Cortesin just four hours later. The first thing to note about Finca is the superb amenities and practice facilities, epitomised by an expansive downhill driving range in the shadow of the majestic clubhouse. The views across the hilly terrain and the Mediterranean in the background are beautiful.
Finca Cortesin is not for the faint-hearted, but no matter how many strokes you take to negotiate its 18 challenging holes, you can't help but feel that you have played one of the best courses in Europe. Like so many courses in Spain, you will have to use a buggy - the heat and the distance between greens and tees ensure that. And you will find that the emphasis is on accuracy from the tee - just as it should be. It's an immaculate layout, featuring some of the best greens you will ever experience. But be prepared to lose a few golf balls.
You have to be on your game right from the start at Finca, with the long par-4 first followed by a 200-yard par 3 that demands a long carry over shrubbery. Anyone picking up four points over the first couple of holes will pick up at least one shot on the field. The holes don't get any easier, but the third and fourth are the best on the front nine.
The third isn't the longest in the world, but it's one of the best par 5s I've ever played - a product of its beauty, strategic challenge and green complex. The fairway is the widest on the course, and the ideal drive should be positioned on the left centre. A lake starts some 250 yards short of the green and runs all the way up the left of the hole, with the fairway's right-to-left camber and the intimidating body of water making lay-ups extremely challenging. There is more room out to the right than you might think, but the further right you go, the more difficult the approach. The gap between the edge of the water and the greenside bunker is no more than 10 yards wide and the green is firm, so holding the putting surface is a real challenge, as is the sand shot back towards water if you go right.
Water is also a prominent feature on the shot par-4 fourth. It's only 350 yards, but a lake occupies the left side of a hole that swings round in a crescent shape. The tee sits way back amid the shrubbery, perched on the hillside, presenting a visually appealing drive or long iron. The tendency is to bail out right to avoid water, and even if you hold your nerve and find the fairway, a diagonal pitch over water awaits to a back right to front left-sloping green that tilts towards the pond.
After a long par 3 and the difficult uphill par-4 seventh, you come to the par-5 eighth - a hole that sits on the side of a hill and demands a left to right ball flight from the tee before moving considerably uphill - and the par-4 ninth, which plays towards the clubhouse and offers beautiful views out to the left.
The back nine is similar in character to the front nine, with severe slopes, quick greens, changes of elevation and bush-lined fairways. The outstanding holes are the 13th and 14th, two great short par-4s that demand strategy and positioning. On the 13th, drives are hit from an elevated tee to a fairway bordered on the left by out of bounds, which encroaches around the 250-yard mark. A ditch dissects the fairway at 280 yards, giving the bigger hitter a dilemma when the 13th plays downwind. The green is beautifully secluded and framed by towering trees, creating a real enclave. It's a gem of a hole and my favourite on the back nine.
It's followed by another short par 4, and big hitters can drive into the sand fronting the green with their Sunday best. The prudent play is to take an iron, though, although numerous bunkers litter the fairway and undulations often push the ball into sand. From the ideal spot, you'll have a semi-blind second to an elevated green surrounded on all sides by steep, expertly crafted bunkers, shaved run-off areas and pockets of rough.
Overall, you can't dispute the five-star feel of the resort, which extends from the changing rooms to the course and everything in between. The condition of the course is exemplary, the views are stunning, the variation in elevation provides some brilliant holes and the designers have done an amazing job fashioning 18 holes out of such an inhospitable piece of terrain. Overall, I'd give Finca Cortesin a rating of 8/10.
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