Play away: Valderrama

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SOME OF THE more recent European Ryder Cup venues have not fared too well. The Belfry in Warwickshire was sold for a knockdown price to a US consortium in 2012 by its owner who was in prison at the time whilst there have been more than occasional distress signals emanating from the K Club which has seen heavy losses as the Irish property market collapsed.

However, in the Costa del Sol is a club that has firmly bucked the trend, remaining resolutely upmarket since opening in 1985. It is Valderrama, arguably the finest course in Continental Europe.

From the moment we drive through the big double gates we sense we are somewhere special as there is an atmosphere one gets at all the great courses. Muirfield has it, as does Royal County Down and Augusta.

Everything here positively reeks of quality and style and although this is first and foremost a members’ club visitors can play between noon and 2.00 pm and have access to clubhouse facilities and practice range. Everyone in the long low level, pink-stuccoed clubhouse is welcoming and helpful.

The Robert Trent Jones jnr. course is scrupulously fair, in sensational condition, with tee boxes manicured like bowling greens, and ferociously difficult. Placement from the tee is crucial but irrespective of our score after completing 18 holes we will have enjoyed one of the great experiences of world golf.

Being on the fairway is often simply not good enough as we may well be blocked in our path to the short stuff by one of the many ancient and gnarled cork trees that line the fairways. And the rough may not be long but it is fiendishly tough.

There is not a weak hole on the course but two par fives are quite sensational. First up is the signature hole 4th, playing 533 yards off the white tees. It is uphill with a narrow entry into the first landing area before we try to thread the eye of the needle by hitting our long second just far enough right to avoid being blocked out by trees on the left.

And then we have a waterfall to navigate. Yes that is correct, a waterfall on the right hand side of a long, narrow green that slopes steeply uphill. If the flag is on the bottom and our ball is at the top, three putts is a pretty good result.

The 17th is shorter at 497 yards yet, as those who can recall the TV action from the 1997 Ryder Cup will appreciate, certainly no easier.

Another tight drive into the prevailing wind is only the start before we turn right and realise that that the stream runs along the left hand side sweeps inwards before bowing out into a small lake in front of a green that runs down towards it.

Clear the water and there are bunkers out back and, as Tiger Woods discovered in the Ryder Cup it is still possible to find the water even when one is putting.

For members and golfing tourists alike the good news is that the club is continuing to invest heavily in the course with a €3m programme of maintenance and enhancement programme that will see Valderrama remain in the peak of condition for many years to come; and very much at the forefront of the world’s finest golf courses.

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