Destination Guide Almenara Hotel and Golf Club
FOR golfers, Sotogrande is a bit like being a child again and being let loose in your favourite toy shop and being told you can have anything you want. The choice of golf courses is overwhelming and, of course, there is the added bonus of the setting, on the shores of the magnificent Mediterranean Sea.
The choice is bewildering, so let's help you by recommending a golfbreaks.com trip to the area, staying at the luxury four-star Almenara hotel and spa, which features a Dave Thomas-designed 27-hole layout. As time goes by, Thomas has become increasingly recognised as one of the finest designers of his or any other generation. We will return to that anon.
The Almenara hotel is situated in Sotogrande, within easy reach of Malaga, Jerez and even Gibraltar airports, and is just 30 minutes from Marbella. It is located in the unique surroundings of Sotogrande overlooking the Mediterranean and surrounded by some of the best golf courses in Europe.
Located in the heart of the Almenara golf course, the hotel has 145 rooms, all with views of the Med, the golf course or the hotel's splendid gardens.
The spa is just the job if you want to ease away the aches, pains and stresses and strains of everyday life. It offers a host of treatments guaranteed to recharge your batteries and leave you feeling like a million dollars. The Almenara has two restaurants serving superb food in glorious, relaxed surroundings, as well as an informal bar, The Pentagram.
Sotogrande is a bustling resort that hosts holidaymakers from all over Europe. No matter what you are looking for, you will find it in here. There are dozens of designer shops, plenty of souvenir and gift shops, restaurants and bars, a magnificent marina filled with craft worth millions of pounds and, for the more energetic among you, some very noisy and active nightlife. Speaking of nightlife, if you really want to relive your youth, you might want to take a trip to Puerto Banus. A word of advice though - ensure you have some sort of hangover medication with you if you opt for a night of excess at Puerto Banus.
There is a terrific choice of golf courses:
Almenara Golf Club
The Oaks, 3,330 yards, The Lakes, 3,319 yards, The Pine Trees, 3,425 yards
The course, designed by Dave Thomas, has 27 holes in total, with fairways roaming through a magnificent landscape. The courses are The Oaks, The Lakes and The Pine Trees. The holes are designed around two huge lakes surrounded by pine and cork trees. There are plenty of narrow fairways and thick bushes waiting to swallow up wayward drives and approach shots. Many of the greens are long but narrow, meaning that anything hit slightly right or left will miss the putting surface. You need to be patient to play well here, and you might struggle the first time you play the course. It is one of those layouts that needs to be played a few times before you learn the no-go areas - and there are plenty of them. The rough is not terribly thick, but that might be just as well because it is difficult enough as it stands. The first fairway at The Oaks, for instance, has a huge slope from left to right, which means you are certain to be playing your approach from the rough. The second is a par three with a huge green - put your tee shot in the wrong place and you are three-putting for sure. You getting the picture? Strategy. It is all about strategy, and position. A great course.
La Reserva Golf Course, 7,350 yards, par 72
It only opened in 2003, but already La Reserva features in most lists of the best 100 courses in Europe. It was designed by Cabell B. Robinson and is one heck of a challenge. It is a monster from the championship tees but, fortunately, there are plenty of tee options. However, no matter what tee you play from, the greens are fast - and we do mean FAST. They are always in magnificent condition and are as true as you will find anywhere. Hopefully, when you play there the pin positions will be friendly enough. It is located within a luxury estate and when you play there you can't help but take in the views of the surrounding mountains, all the way down to the sea. The opening hole is gentle enough - a par four with fairway bunkers right and left and an approach to a narrow green. But there are bushes on either side of the fairway, and if you miss the short grass you may find the hole is not as straightforward as you thought. And so it goes on - holes that look fairly simple when you stand on the tee but turn out to be brutes if you miss the fairway. The 17th is the signature hole - and the hardest on the course. It measures 474 yards, with sand and a lake running all the way down the right and a series of bunkers on the left. The ideal drive is to the right side of the fairway, as close to the sand as you dare. If you go too far left you will be blocked out by a tree in front of the green, and it doesn't help that the putting surface slopes from left to right. In other words, you need to hit a draw.
Valderrama Golf Course, 6,990 yards, par 71
Possibly the most famous (or infamous) golf course in the whole of Spain, and widely regarded as the best in mainland Europe. It has hosted many BIG tournaments, included the season-ending Volvo Masters from 1988 until 2008, but nothing bigger than the 1997 Ryder Cup when Europe,captained by the legendary Seve Ballesteros, beat the United States as the rain battered down. Seve, sadly no longer with us, wanted to play every shot for every European player. During the event he would famously call Miguel Angel Jimenez, his vice-captain, at three in the morning and summon him to his room to talk tactics. Seve is everywhere at Valderrama, and it is impossible to play here without thinking about him. There are many,many memorable holes on this fabulous golf course. The fourth hole, La Cascada, is regarded as the signature hole - a par five played to a two-tiered green, with a pond to the right. But the most famous is surely the 17th, It is a par five measuring 535 yards, but only the most foolhardy would go for the green in two. There is water along the left-hand side and green, which slops steeply from back to front, is guarded by a large lake. Put too much spin on your approach and it will roll all the way back into the water. Hit it too hard and you will finish in a bunker at the back of the green and face a treacherous downhill shot with the water waiting again.
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