Real Club de Golf Sotogrande review: An immaculate set-up providing the perfect challenge

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Real Club de Golf Sotogrande has garnered quite a reputation since its inception in 1964, and it’s safe to say that it doesn't disappoint.
Posted on
June 10, 2024
by
Jack Lumb in ,
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

There are some golf courses you can play once in your life, and some are necessary to play multiple times. Real Club de Golf Sotogrande is the latter.

Opened in 1964 and situated on the spectacular Andalusian coast, the Robert Trent Jones-designed course seems stuck in time — or at least that’s how it feels.

And to be clear, I mean that in the best possible way. From the moment you arrive, you get an overwhelming feeling of being somewhere… special, as though you were seeing the course from the perspective of those who played it fifty years before you.

The 18th green at Real Club de Sotogrande with the clubhouse in the background
The 18th green set against Real Club de Golf Sotogrande's clubhouse

The all-white clubhouse comprises a sophisticated blend of modernist principles and traditional Andalusian elements, creating a luxurious yet homely environment that seamlessly blends with its natural surroundings.

Though simplistic, it creates a timeless impression that perfectly encapsulates the essence of Real Club de Golf Sotogrande.

It is a course that doesn’t require grandiose, for its design, location and immaculate condition speak enough for itself.

From the clubhouse balcony, you look down the barrel of the first hole. A 432-yard par four with water running tight down the right side of the fairway and two bunkers tactically placed on the left to catch any wayward drives.

The opening hole of a course should set the tone for the round. It should be a tee shot that you simply cannot wait to hit, regardless of the hazards you may very well find your ball heading towards. It should excite you, and motivate you to play your best golf. And that’s exactly what Real Club de Golf Sotogrande achieves.

A view down the 1st hole at Real Club de Golf Sotogrande
The opening hole as seen from the clubhouse balcony

After sending my first drive down the centre-left of the fairway, I caught my approach heavy and found myself short right of the green.

It was from here I quickly realised, that although the greens carried an allure, they would be treacherous to any shot that was not carefully considered and executed.

Unsure as to how much they would bite, I opened the clubface slightly and tentatively pitched the ball 30 feet short of the pin, hoping to at least let the ball run gently down towards the hole.

Did it bite? Yes. Did it still run out? Yes. Did I completely miss the left-to-right slope seemingly hidden from my eyes? You bet I did.

I watched as my ball continued to make its way right of the pin as if it were Bilbo Baggins heading on another adventure. When it finally came to a halt, I found myself pin-high with a 12-foot uphill putt for par.

After holing the putt and walking off with a tidy four and what turned out to be a pretty solid up and down, it became apparent that the course would eat me up with any lapse in concentration.

And, for the rest of the front nine, this couldn’t have been more true.

Holes one to nine are a genuine challenge to golfers of any ability. This may have been amplified by the blustery conditions on the day, but the Robert Trent Jones design is set up to test every shot a golfer has in the bag.

It’s not the course to pull a driver out on each hole, regardless of the length — hindsight is a wonderful thing. The set-up on the front nine is designed to favour target golf rather than length, which is quite the task considering it measures 3,459 yards off the backs.

A perfect example of this is the 7th. A dogleg-left par four measuring 416 yards off the back tees. The raised tee box reduces the length somewhat, however, a fairway bunker sits on the corner 281 yards (220 yards off the whites) down the right-hand side, bang in line with your target off the tee.

A view of the approach into the 7th hole
A view of the approach into the 7th

A driver would be too much when taking into account the downward gradient and the reward is not great enough to risk taking it over the left side.

So what are you left with? A driving iron, rescue or three wood. Now, it’s not necessarily the longest hole, and you should only really be left with a low to mid iron into the green. But, there’s a kicker.

The green is tight, very tight. Probably only around ten yards wide at its narrowest section, it runs 36 yards in length with a greenside bunker short right, middle left and back left.

On the right side is a large pond that sits so close to the green that there would be a genuine fear of de-greening your putt into the water.

So where do you miss? Usually, the bunkers are a good shout — your ball is dry and a sand save is still on the cards. However, if you hit the greenside bunkers left, you’re playing straight back toward the water with next to no green to work with and a finite landing zone to pull off something special.

A view of the approach into the 7th green at Real Club de Golf Sotogrande
No room for error around the 7th green

The truth is, there isn’t much in the way of a good miss on the 7th green unless you come up short left or in the front right bunker.

Or you could do what I did and airmail the water altogether by playing too much club and blocking it 30 yards right and 40 yards long of the green — it’s probably safe to say that no one else played their third shot from where I was that day.

For me, the 7th epitomises the front nine. It’s lengthy, but not out of reach. The fairway can be hit, but only with the right club and a good swing. And the approach? The approach will require a commitment to the shot because if you’re second-guessing before pulling the trigger, you’ll have a job on your hands to make up and down.

Following nine holes of tree-lined fairways and tricky tee shots, the back nine opens up.

The majority of holes on the back are played around the three main lakes on the course, transporting you to a Floridian beach club-like run of holes, with imposing lakes and towering palm trees set against the clear blue sky.

A view down the 12th fairway
The par 5 12th runs tight to the water.

It’s a stark contrast to the delicate touch required on the front. Measuring a couple of hundred yards longer, the terrain is flatter, with slightly wider fairways and less variation off the tee.

It proves a little more getable in terms of scoring, so long as you can avoid the water that comes into play on five of the nine holes coming in.

But, compared to the fiddly holes on the front, holes 10 to 18 provide a more relaxed, scenic finish to the round.

The driver can come out of the bag with a little extra confidence and, so long as you’re striking it well, you can attack the pins more.

One of the standout holes coming in is the incredibly scenic par-3 17th. Measuring 168 yards, the tee shot takes you directly over the water and onto a somewhat island green.

Three bunkers surround green on the left, back and right sides, while the water sits close surrounding all but the left side.

A view of the par 3 17th over the water
The 17th requires a 157-yard carry over the water from the back tees.

On the day, the wind was two-clubs into, adding an extra element of consideration to the shot.

Sitting one-over-par on the back and feeling good, I stepped up and blocked my 6 iron — yes, another block — straight into the water on the right.

Taking a drop 125 yards back, I played my third to 12 feet before holing out for what can only be described as “a good bogey”.

It was a perfect example of how quickly the back nine can blemish the scorecard. It’ll draw you in and build your confidence, but if you get complacent, it’ll send you to your bag for another ball with your tail between your legs.

All-in-all, Real Club de Golf Sotogrande provides a terrifically enjoyable challenge. The favourable Andalusian weather helps to maintain its pristine condition year-round and the wickedly-smart design of Robert Trent Jones demands your very best golf.

You can play it once, but it won’t be enough. To grasp the nuances, intricate set-up and complex greens would most certainly require a return visit.

But to enjoy it, well, you only have to turn up.

***

For more information or to book a tee time, you can visit Real Club de Golf Sotogrande's website here.

About Jack Lumb

Jack is the editor of Golf Today. Having spent ten years playing competitively at a high amateur level and five years at county, he has carried his knowledge of the game into the world of journalism. He once set the course record at his home club, only for it to be beaten a month later.

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