What are the best golf courses in Spain? The Golf World Top 100 panel ranks and rates them.
Continuing our countdown of the best golf courses in Spain, we head into the top 10 and reveal our No.1. Head over to our ‘How we did it‘ for more information on exactly how we went about judging these extraordinary courses.
And, once you’ve enjoyed this ranking, please do take a look at some of our others – from the best courses in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Europe and the USA, to GB&I’s best links, the most fun courses to play and the finest resorts in Europe and the World has to offer, we’ve got it covered.
Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor
10. Finca Cortesin
Design 32.2 Setting 12.5 Presentation 9.5 Playability 7.4 Memorability 12.4 Consistency 8.2 Total 82.2
This Cabell Robinson design entered a competitive market when it opened in 2007, given its neighbours. But it has made its mark, and with brand-new greens is one of Europe’s best-conditioned courses. Laid out among significantly rolling hills, it has a notable lack of residential development.
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Design 32.2 Setting 12.1 Presentation 9.1 Playability 7.6 Memorability 12.5 Consistency 8.8 Total 82.3
Son Gual is very much championship in set-up, with all 66 bunkers coming into play for every level of golfer, whichever set of tees you choose. There’s a nice variety of holes, changing from tight par 4s between expanses of olive trees and fairway traps to genuine birdie chances on downhill par 5s.
8. La Moraleja (No. 3)
Design 32.1 Setting 12.5 Memorability 12.8 Playability 8.8 Consistency 8.8 Presentation 8.8 Total 83.8
This is the leading course at Spain’s leading club, which was given the royal title in 2018. A classic parkland course that can stretch over 7,500 yards off the back tees, No.3 manages to be long and tough enough to test elite players, but be able to also provide a pleasant round for higher handicappers.
7. Puerta de Hierro (Arriba)
Design 34.9 Setting 12.0 Presentation 8.4 Playability 8.4 Memorability 12.5 Consistency 8.7 Total 84.9
The premier course at this high-calibre club, whose names translates as ‘The Iron Gates’. Fabulous routing, great par 3s and an excellent set of greens among an undulating property 10 minutes away from Madrid’s city centre. Outstanding maintenance at an enduring classic.
Design 35.0 Setting 12.6 Memorability 12.9 Playability 7.9 Consistency 8.7 Presentation 7.9 Total 85.0
Yes, the fact that Seve grew up here makes us warm to Pedrena but, trust us, this is a very fine course in its own right. It was designed by Harry Colt, for a start, and despite changes down the years this seaside course still has bags of pedigree and appeal. The par 3s shine and the views are fabulous. We can see why Seve never left…
Design 35.3 Setting 12.5 Memorability 12.8 Playability 8.1 Consistency 8.3 Presentation 8.0 Total 85.0
A top-five slot for a clifftop design on the outskirts of Bilbao that deserves more credit than it receives. Brilliant, compact routing by Javier Arana (a member there), which flows really well, makes it a perennial favourite. Intriguing green complexes and a very tough set of par 5s.
4. Real Sotogrande
Design 35.5 Setting 12.1 Memorability 12.2 Playability 7.9 Consistency 9.0 Presentation 8.6 Total 85.3
Its birth back in 1964 is the moment this corner of Spain got a foothold in golf. A year later, the Robert Trent Jones course held the Spanish Open. Refurbished in the last decade, expect pushed-up greens in the classic RTJ style that require players to fly their ball all the way onto the putting surface.
3. PGA Catalunya
Design 35.1 Setting 12.2 Memorability 12.9 Playability 7.9 Consistency 8.9 Presentation 8.4 Total 85.4
The best Ryder Cup venue that never was? Very possibly. The Stadium course was slated for the 2022 matches, but just missed out. It would have been a fine host. Frequently dramatic and always challenging, the mix of holes sees thrilling drives on the odd holes and terrific approaches on the evens.
2. El Saler
Design 36.6 Setting 14.2 Memorability 13.9 Playability 8.9 Consistency 8.6 Presentation 7.3 Total 89.5
Javier Arana is Spain’s foremost architect and this is the course regarded as his stand-out piece of work. For lovers of Golden Age architecture it is heavenly, with a set of green complexes likely to have design connoisseurs salivating hole after hole. It also enjoys an attractive setting; being laid out next to the sea means the front nine boasts some of the most exhilarating holes in Spanish golf.
It is not a links that British and Irish golfers would expect, because of the turf, but you can anticipate sea views and Mediterranean breezes. Indeed a third of the course is played to, from or alongside the sea – with the quartet of holes that end the front nine especially aesthetically pleasing.
The 5th plays over the brow of a hill to reveal a classic seaside scene and after the 6th in the opposite direction, the 7th brings you back to the sea with one of El Saler’s stand-out moments. The 8th plays alongside the noise and smell of the waves on a terrific hole that ends with a green enclosed by dunes.
The rest weaves among mature trees and while the second half is less dramatic (and the mature trees would benefit from significant pruning), Arana’s design touches keep things interesting. El Saler has often been criticised for its conditioning and while it is good if not amazing, it doesn’t worry us too much.
Design 36.0 Setting 14.4 Memorability 14.4 Playability 8.7 Consistency 8.3 Presentation 8.5 Total 90.3
Real Club Valderrama is arguably the most coveted course in continental Europe. It has been Golf World’s No.1 in mainland Europe on numerous occasions and is our emphatic choice as our first No.1 in Spain. It retains an aura and allure very few possess. A game here is one to anticipate immensely, then savour intensely.
Its stature is down to the zeal and finance of Jaime Ortiz-Patino, the Bolivian industrialist acquiring the humble Los Aves in 1985 and engaging Robert Trent Jones to revise it.
Within three years, and with a new name, Valderrama hosted the first of its Volvo Masters and secured an enduring reputation for its flawless conditioning. Patino secured the Ryder Cup in 1997 – of course he did – and his course was established as a bucket-list destination.
Patino died in 2013, but his course remains a special experience. While Valderrama is unquestionably demanding, it can be negotiated with enjoyment off white tees of 6,500 yards.
That said, there is only one par 5 on the front nine, and two coming in, and only three par 4s are over 400 yards. It is consistently testing in line with RTJ’s ‘Hard par, easy bogey’ motto. Yet ‘doubles’ are easy to run up too, for the greens and their surrounds make it very easy to take four when you had two in mind.
Chipping is made difficult due to the deep-pile carpet of ‘first cut’ rough mixed with aprons that are so tightly mown they make even sure-handed chippers sweat. The greens are as slick as you might imagine, so fail to detect the subtle borrows and your ball is carried wickedly wide of the hole. And then there are the infamous cork oaks. There are as many as 5,000 of them, narrowing your target to legendary small degrees of forgiveness. They are everywhere; lining fairways, in the fairways, in bunkers, and in your mind.
You must adapt to survive. Valderrama necessitates finesse not force; position and precision; imagination over perspiration. Programme your mind accordingly and it can be sweet-talked into mutual agreement, if not quite submission. Trying to achieve this equilibrium is one of Europe’s greatest golf experiences – and certainly Spain’s No.1.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Bertram is the Golf World Top 100 Editor.
He was born and brought up in Dumfriesshire and has been a sports journalist since 1996, initially as a junior writer with National Club Golfer magazine.
Chris then spent four years writing about football and rugby union for the Press Association but returned to be Editor and then Publisher of NCG before joining Golf World and Today’s Golfer as Senior Production Editor.
He has been freelance since 2010 and when he is not playing and writing about the world’s finest golf courses, he works for BBC Sport.
A keen all-round sportsman, Chris plays off 11 – which could be a little better if it wasn’t for hilariously poor lag putting which has to be seen to be believed.