When thinking of golf, we usually celebrate the stars that have risen to the top of the game and become legends of the sport, but almost as magical are the creative geniuses who design the hallowed courses where dreams are made and broken.


If you think the design and laying out of a golf course is a straightforward matter, think again, for it involves far more than simply covering a section of land with grass and creating an 18-hole parcours. To be a successful golf course designer requires not only an intimate knowledge of the game, but also an understanding of the dynamics that make golf exciting and challenging, a flair for design and knowledge of the technical side of the field – which involves the flow and drainage of the land, wind and climatic conditions, different types of grass, trees and other planted species, as well as how and where to add bunkers and water features.

When all the above are brought together and you also take into account construction and maintenance budgets, it adds up to quite a matrix of elements that a course designer has to bear in mind. For this reason, it is a highly specialised field in which only a few manage to distinguish themselves and become legendary in their own right—and its perhaps not surprising that the majority of top golf course creators are either ex-professional players or trained agronomists and architects. It is from within these ranks that the very best have created halcyon park landscapes in Spain that are not only beautiful, soothing stretches of manmade nature, but also the stage for golfing greatness.

Robert Trent Jones: The Course Architect

Though born in England, Robert Trent Jones is regarded as an American because he was still a young child when his parents emigrated to the USA. Working his way up from caddie to golf professional, he became intimately familiar with the game before studying course design at Cornell University in New York state.

There he designed a nine-hole course for the college, the first of a long list of illustrious designs that covered the globe, from the USA to Europe and far beyond. Trent Jones famously gave shape to the 11th and 16th holes at the Augusta National Golf Club, a putting green at the White House and a one-hole course at Camp David.

A prolific course engineer, he gave shape to much of the Costa del Golf, creating legendary courses at the Real Club de Las Brisas in Nueva Andalucía (original 1968 course), the inimitable Real Club de Golf Sotogrande (1964), and one of his greatest masterpieces, the Real Club Valderrama, also in Sotogrande.

Here he was commissioned by another colourful figure, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, to reshape the course, a process which ultimately culminated in Valderrama hosting the 1997 Ryder Cup – an event that has gone down in the annals of the game as legendary in its own right. Not surprisingly, Robert Trent Jones was the role model who the likes of Cabell Robinson based their careers upon.

Cabell Robinson: Inspired by legends

Cabell Robinson would also play a prominent role in converting the Costa del Sol in southern Spain into the ‘Costa del Golf’, as well as designing the Praia d’El Rey Golf & Country Club near Lisbon.

The American followed in the footsteps of his illustrious compatriot when he brought international flair and competition standard design to Spain, in the form of the Las Colinas Golf & Country Club on the Costa Blanca. The forested hills overlooking the course also create an intimate, secluded feeling of being surrounded by nature, a detail that Robinson enhanced by dotting the course with a series of beautiful, if challenging, lakes.

Cabell Robinson naturally also found his way down to the Costa del Sol, where he was responsible for creating the championship course of the Finca Cortesín Golf Club, which was tested among others during the Volvo World Match Play. His intention had been to design a course in which “no hole has less than championship quality,” and he succeeded, endowing Finca Cortesín with one of the finest competition courses in the region.

Another of his notable designs is the original course at the La Reserva Club de Golf, in Sotogrande, where Cabell Robinson worked to establish a beautifully undulating venue that catches the special light and views of the area.

Jack Nicklaus & Gary Player: Player Designers

The 1970s and 80s saw the proliferation of former and indeed active legendary players such as Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus taking to course design. Their long careers as champions had given them all the on-the-course experience one could wish for, but they matched this with an innate understanding of the aesthetic and technical facets of golf course design, leading both to create now iconic layouts which have earned them a name among the legends of this most specialised and noble of fields.

Welshman Dave Thomas became famous both for his game and design, bringing his skills to the West Course at La Manga, where his manicured creation lies in splendour amid nature, and the rolling cork-oaked hills of the San Roque Golf Course in Sotogrande. The legendary South African, Gary Player, is known for all the right reasons. A stylish and graceful champion, he is also a down-to-earth philanthropist whose foundation helps underprivileged children have a better chance in life.

As gifted a designer as he was a player, ‘the Black Knight’ created the much-loved course at the El Paraiso Golf Club, one among many designed by one of the most legendary golfers of all time. Jack Nicklaus is another name that belongs in the all-time hall of fame, and like his South African counterpart, the American ace is famous for both his playing career and the wonderful golf courses he has created around the world, including Montecastillo Golf near Jerez – which hosted the Volvo Masters Andalucía five times on its rolling Andalusian terrain.

Another Spanish creation is Saurines de La Torre Golf, a prime course within the Polaris World development in the Murcia region, and one of six in this part of the country that bear the now famous Jack Nicklaus guarantee of creative design.

Javier Arana: Spanish Design

The international elite of golf design may have built many courses across the length and breadth of Spain, but interestingly there is also a Spaniard among their ranks, who has been just as prolific both here and abroad. Javier Arana is sometimes called the ‘unsung hero of Spanish golf’, having created iconic courses such as the Campo de Golf El Saler near Valencia and our own Club de Golf Aloha, Guadalmina Sur and Río Real Golf.

At one with the Spanish scenery he worked in, his courses reflect this unity with their surroundings to become idealised versions of the natural landscape. In so doing, he was perhaps best qualified of all to bring sport and paradise together under Spanish skies. Manuel Piñero, one of Spain’s finest and most successful golfers, is also famous for the three loops of nine holes he designed at La Quinta Golf & Country Club in Marbella, which offer players multi-combinations of challenging circuits to play.


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