Life's a beach...
by Richard Simmons
Since its origins in the 1960s Sotogrande has earned a reputation not only for its world-class golf but its “low-key” – yet illustrious – lifestyle elements that appeal to the discerning traveller. And now, with the unveiling of La Reserva's innovative Beach Club, golfers can at last look forward to relaxing in a sand trap....
Sotogrande – for golfers familiar with this iconic luxury playground in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, the name simply oozes nostalgia. Officially opened in 1964, the original Robert Trent Jones layout – the famed architect's first design in Europe – blazed a trail for the new-fangled concept of an all-inclusive golfing “resort”, while the brilliance of his craft produced a course that quickly established the reputation of Sotogrande as a true golfer's paradise.
In its original format the Real Club de Golf Sotogrande was the centrepiece of a bold development of a luxury residential urbanisation located in this choice enclave in the south of Spain, a few miles from Gibraltar, 30 minutes or so west of Marbella. And it was the express wish of Joseph McMicking – the true pioneer behind the over-arching masterplan – that Trent Jones hand-picked the real estate upon which to create his vision...and no expense was spared: Sotogrande would be the first course on this side of the Atlantic to be seeded with Bermuda 419 and, notably, the first to boast a fully automatic irrigation system.
Such was the quality of the design and unrivalled conditioning of the layout, Sotogrande quickly earned a reputation as a player's course, and in 1966 the club would stage the Spanish Open Championship – won by none other than Argentina's Roberto de Vicenzo (who would in 1967, at the age of 44, go on to become the oldest winner of the Open Championship in the modern era, achieved at Hoylake). In 1970 the Sherry Cup was created, considered to this day to be one of the most prestigious titles in amateur golf, and the list of great champions to have graced the emerald fairways reads like a ‘Who's Who' of the game – Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Rory McIlroy prominent among those to list victory at Sotogrande on their C.V.
Trent Jones would go on to design or remodel more than 500 courses – including Baltusrol, Spyglass Hill and Hazeltine – and yet in 1988 he listed Sotogrande among his top-five “all-time” favourites. And there can be no doubt that the heritage of the course he created inspired the reputation Sotogrande has since enjoyed (and capitalised on) as Andalusia's largest privately owned premium leisure and real-estate development. Conceived as “Sotogrande New” in 1974, again to the designs of Trent Jones, the development's second course would ultimately come to be recognised as Valderrama, consistently rated the top course in mainland Europe. Two became three in 2003 with the opening of La Reserva, a Cabell B Robinson design that enjoys spectacular panoramic views from the hills above Valderrama – a course that has established itself as a “must-play” experience on the Costa del Sol.
Today, Sotogrande is a sporting paradise in an area spanning 20 square kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea to the foothills of the Sierra Almenara. And with the opening of The Beach, guests at La Reserva Club truly have the run of a quite spectacular array of amenities including Europe's first full sandy bottom fresh water fixture complemented by an elegant beach club & restaurant, and a large man-made water sports lagoon. To accompany the sandy pool, which weaves its way through elegant loungers and palm trees, the Beach Club provides full waiter service from its beachfront restaurant, which suits a wide range of gastronomic preferences whilst retaining its Andalusian fingerprint. Naturally.
“The Beach will act as a focal point for our residents, members and guests – a place to unwind and enjoy the beautiful surroundings,” commented Marc Topiol, Sotogrande's CEO. “Our vision was literally to bring the beach to the hills of Sotogrande and provide a unique environment where families can truly relax and create special memories in a secure and sophisticated setting.”
That box has certainly been ticked. Surveying the beautifully landscaped park and walking paths surrounding the sparkling man-made lagoon, with views over the rolling fairways of La Reserva to the cobalt-shades of the Mediterranean beyond, Trent Jones himself would have been hard-pressed to improve the canvas.