Golfing in Europe – Sotogrande, Spain

Golf has assuredly inspired more quotes, one-liners and witticisms than any other game, with every tee junkie from duffer to pro good for a line. For example, check out former U.S. president Bill Clinton declaration on the gentleman’s sport: “The great thing about this game is that the bad days are wonderful.” Perhaps the ex-statesman was in Sotogrande, Spain when he uttered this line; indeed, a less than wonderful day in this golf Eden is unfathomable. On the other hand, the sight of these five grounds’ worth of greenery might leave even ol’ Dollar Bill speechless.

Sotogrande is one of the largest such golf complexes in Europe, made of up five courses spread over 2000 hectares in Cadiz province. NH Hoteles is majority owner in the grounds, controlling over three-quarters of shares and dividing concentration of Sotogrande’s heavy tourist trade into the golf sector and tourist services.

This jewel in the European golf crown can trace its origin back to 1962, with the opening of the eponymous Sotogrande club. In response to the snowballing popularity of the club, Sotogrande citizens decided formation of a private club was in order and thus Valderrama was created in 1976. Once dubbed “Andalusia’s answer to Augusta,” Valderrama receives the most international attention, with such events as the Volvo Masters, the Ryder Cup and the World Golf Championships (1999-2000) to cement its well-earned reputation. Joining this pair are the grounds of Real Club de Golf Sotogrande; the public club La Reserva, which opened last year to great fanfare; and the Almenara hotel.

The Almenara is now the proud owner of the 2003 Johansen award for “Best Hotel & Spa in Europe,” bestowed by CondÃ?© Nast, and the Autonomous Regional Government of Andalusia has declared Almenara a “Center of Excellence.” Ten minutes’ drive from Puerto Sotogrande, Almenara is made up of individual villas which a choice of views, creating a decision among some combination of mountains, the Mediterranean, the hotel’s lush gardens and, of course, the course. Amenities are impressive: two swimming pools, tennis courts, an equestrian center (all the better to take advantage of the nearby eleven-court polo pitch), Elysium health club, and a salon. And should golf widows still remain unsatisfied, Puerto Sotogrande has more to occupy time, with ferry trips to Africa and Gibraltar. Golf aside, there just might be enough at Almenara to do without teeing off once.

What’s that? Bite my tongue? All right, then, the course. According to management, Almenara promises twenty-seven holes to make “a challenge for even the best golfers with winding fairways and deep bunkers.” It is “a golf course for thinkers, requiring planning to maximize drive.” Almenara boasts its own golf academy, and for guests offers indoor and outdoor practice facilities, an area for practicing chipping, bunker shots and putting, and video analysis screens. For rubberneckers (or those dreaming the pros will give tips), touring golfers populate the club come the Volvo Masters and Volvo Masters Amateur, the former on Sotogrande grounds, the latter on Almenara; the competition runs 28-31 October in 2006.

“You’re only here for a short visit,” once proclaimed the late great Walter Hagen, in a rare moment of seemingly calm introspection. “Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” For the addicts (we know you’re out there in droves), this is an apt metaphor for life, to which golf is so often said to be equivalent. Perhaps the Hagen was in Sotogrande when he uttered the line, another quote from a legend. Or maybe he simply played the course with an expert’s appreciation.

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