Discover the golfing gems in the heart of Spain

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Spain has always been a popular destination for UK-based golfers looking for some Winter golf. However, as Danny Lockwood discovered, there is more to golf in Spain than the popular coastal resorts.
Posted on
January 26, 2023
by
The Editorial Team in
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Imagine a golf break in Spain and the odds are overwhelming that you’ll immediately conjure up a Costa. Indeed, the del Sol version has 70 or so courses bejewelling its beach communities and inland spurs, the biggest concentration in Europe, enjoying one of the best climates into the bargain.

Maybe Murcia floats your boat, the home to La Manga boasting of being Spain’s warmest region with 300 days of sunshine a year. In truth, all along the Mediterranean eastern coast, there’s no end of choice for golf tourists not entirely entranced by the cultural ‘delights’ of boozy young stag and hen-party resorts.

Time to pause then and consider what is probably – no definitely – Spain’s best-kept golfing secret, which is somewhat belatedly being unveiled to the wider world.

Madrid is one of the world’s great cities, located like a bulls-eye in the very heart of the country. You may find poolside comfort at a hotel, but it’s a very, very long hike to the nearest beach sun-lounger. What is far closer at hand however, is a wealth of golf clubs, courses and indeed complexes, which bring a whole new catalogue of ‘must-play’ locations into the public eye.

The Madrid Golf Courses Association comprises 19 courses – and counting – in the greater Madrid area, and the newly-energised group has paired with the city’s tourist chiefs to actively promote the region to Europe’s large community of golf tourists.

One thing is for sure – Madrid is no beachside Benidorm, Lloret de Mar or even Marbella-type offering, once the golf clubs have been safely put away for the day. It is a buzzing, vibrant, family-friendly and very walkable cultural delight.

The 19 golf clubs in and around Madrid
The 19 golf clubs in and around Madrid

 

The street tapas bars are home every evening to locals and visitors who converse and drink and eat and watch the world go by. A must-visit from our trip was the Mercado San Miguel – St Michael’s Market – a hubbub of shoulder-to-shoulder stalls displaying every possible local delicacy and variety of drink, with ample seating at bars and by windows. Buy your cerveza or vino at one outlet and wander around, leaving it elsewhere. This community market is an utter delight, adjacent to the buzzing ‘Plaza Major’.

If the golf clubs are getting a day’s rest, then the city is renowned for its parks and museums, the Prado being one of the world’s most famous, while the Royal Palace was built on a scale to rival Versailles in France. And with the world famous Bernabeu stadium being on one of the main roads into the city centre, football fans might even catch a Real Madrid home game.

The city apart, Madrid’s renewed focus on its strengths as a golf destination stand alone on their merits. There is a wide range of clubs and courses, almost all within 30 minutes of the city centre and offering a diverse range of challenges. Certainly La Moraleja and Santander stand tall alongside any of the other highly rated Spanish courses that trip more readily from golf experts’ tongues. While eminently playable for all levels of golfer, they can stretch their legs to provide worthy tests for the very best.

A Madrid Selection

 

La Herrería

Of all the golf courses in the greater Madrid area that deserve considering for an overnight visit, Real Club de Golf La Herrería would be a top contender.

The club and course was formed in the late 1960s by architect Antonio Gomez. The first thing to mention however is that the entire rolling, woodland layout, is overlooked by a rather older edifice, the Monastery del Escorial, built in the mid-16th century by King Philip II and a literally stunning Royal site, the largest renaissance building in the world. In addition Escorial is a charming and welcoming town in its own right, 28 miles from the city centre.

The golf course is on the south east side of the Guadarrama Mountain range, at the foot of Monte Abantos, a somewhat hilly but by no means overpowering course with some picturesque elevated tees.

The front-9 is more eye-catching than the back-9, but many golf aficionados consider the 18th, a 381-yard par four, to be one of the best finishing holes in Spain. ‘La Parrilla’ (The Grill), is a dogleg left where par is challenged by the small, two-tiered green protected by a tree on the left, bunker on the right and out of bounds at the back.

La Herreria Golf Club near Madrid
La Herreria Golf Club

 

La Dehesa

A design of long-time Spanish tour pro Manuel Piñero, La Dehesa is a family run sports facility where golf is the main, but not only recreation on offer and it is a high quality facility to the north-west of the city.

The course itself is a good test, running alongside a river and within a nature reserve. Indeed, civilisation feels some way off when winding around the fairways. The front-9 is a very attractive start and if anything the challenge increases as you make your way towards home.

You will encounter a few blind shots while seven of the 18-holes are protected by water hazards. One particular feature is the quality of the large, undulating but perfectly kept greens, with an average size of 600 square metres.

La Dehesa Golf Club near Madrid
La Dehesa Golf Club

 

Golf Santander

It is 1984, you run a large, multi-national bank and you’re building a virtual private city for its headquarters, just 10 minutes from the centre of your home country’s capital. The building for thousands of staff done, what do you do next? Well apart from 5-a-side pitches, tennis courts, gyms and swimming pools, you build an 18-hole championship course in front of your executive office window, of course!

Ecologically, Rees Jones was assisted by Seve Ballesteros in converting parts of an old rubbish dump into a stunning, American-style stadium course. It is a traditional 18-hole loop with numerous water hazards to navigate, pristine fairways, clever bunkering and devilish greens. At 7,500 yards from the back pegs – but with an abundance of tee choices – Santander offers something for literally every golfer.

It is a long way from what you will expect of a Spanish golf course, but an absolute top quality delight nonetheless. Golf Santander was run as a private facility for long enough but has now opened up to fee-paying golfers. Just be sure to bring ID for the armed guards at the security entrance. Well, it is a bank after all!

Madrid golfing gems - Golf Santander near Madrid
Golf Santander

 

Real Club La Moraleja

The big names like Valderrama, PGA Catalunya and Finca Cortesin aside, one golf club that really deserves a visit is Madrid’s own La Moraleja.

When reading that it has 6,000 members – thousand, not hundred – a potential visitor could be forgiven for imagining the wait for tee times. But the Jack Nickalus-designed La Moraleja is a golf club like few others. Since Nicklaus came to deliver his first continental design in 1975 he has returned three times. The stunning, huge new clubhouse due to be delivered in the coming months, will sit overlooking all four of the outstanding layouts.

We ended up playing course 4, owing to being delayed by an unlikely morning Madrid fog, but a buggy ride around the Nicklaus Signature No.3 revealed an outstanding, tour-quality challenge that would be worth any wait.

Real Club La Moraleja near Madrid
Real Club La Moraleja

 

Club de Golf Retamares

Retamares is a 1993 creation of Spanish legend José María Olazábal and lays to the north-east of the city, 15 minutes beyond the airport and perched on the edge of the stunning Sierra de Madrid. Its views are worth the visit alone, quite besides a quirky but fun 18-hole challenge.

Retamares is a sport centre and conference location quite besides its top-class golf facilities, both the course and practice area, and it has previously hosted both Ladies European and Challenge Tour events. It also has 28 private accommodation suites for guests wanting to make their visit a special occasion.

Out on the course it makes the very best of eight crystal-clear lakes and some tricky changes in elevation. But however your game goes on the day, don’t forget to pause long enough to take in those breathtaking views of the high central Spanish plain.

Madrid golfing gems - Club De Golf Retamares near Madrid
Club De Golf Retamares

 

Centro Nacional

Not many capital cities have a major golf operation located a driver and three-wood from the heart of the buzzing central district. The Spanish Golf Federation’s ‘home’ club lies surrounded by high-rise buildings and is a Dave Thomas design, created to bring a links-like experience to a location about as far from links as is imaginable.

Apart from the challenge out on many of the up-and-back fairways (listen out for shouts of ‘fore!’) Centro Nacional is quite clearly a family-oriented centre of golfing excellence for all ages.

The huge, horse-shoed, twin-deck driving range sees every bay packed with the latest technology, while on late afternoons and weekends young golfers and their parents are much in abundance, either playing or enjoying the fabulous catering facilities, overlooking a terrific landscape.

Local hero Jon Rahm grew up playing this course and was the worthy winner when it hosted the 2018 Spanish Open. It’s not difficult to see why Spain produces so many excellent young talents.

Centro Nacional Golf Club
Centro Nacional Golf Club
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