Sotogrande’s Golf Legacy: Tracing the Rich History of Golf in this Iconic Destination
The History of Golf in Sotogrande goes back to the early 1960’s. Sotogrande had been started in 1969 by Colonel Joe McMicking, ex- US Army and entrepreneur in the USA and the Philippines.
The History of Golf 1960s
Joe was to immediately bring in his friend, the great American golf architect, Robert Trent Jones (later Sir Robert Trent Jones) to lay out a very fine golf course. Joe named the course Sotogrande, thus becoming Club de Golf Sotogrande, sometimes referred to as the old course. Years later it was given a royal title by the king of Spain to be formally called: “Real Club de Golf Sotogrande”.
History was made and it was to be the beginning of a great golfing story!
Joe started selling large plots for the building of individually-designed houses. The name Sotogrande became a byword for quality and a fashionable address for the international set.
The first great course was up and running. A course that was to be the central focal point for future families in Sotogrande. A wonderful 18 holes and a spectacular 9 hole course. Tennis and paddle courts, croquet lawns and a large pool. Designed for families to enjoy the best of sport in Sotogrande. I should also add a first class restaurant with wonderful staff.
For Joe one course would not be enough and by the early 1970s he was designing a second course. This course was to be situated on the other side of the coastal highway. Like the Old course it was to be also designed by Robert Trent Jones, who by now was considered the world’s greatest living Golf architect. Las Aves golf course was born and was intended as a lure to attract real -estate buyers for plots around the course and more importantly open up the upper side of the Sotogrande estate. It was run more of a golfing facility than as a club, although it had a delightful clubhouse in the Andalusian style.
However, of great interest to the residents the golf pro was to be the world famous Henry Cotton. He had been exiled by a revolution in Portugal in 1975. How lucky were we to have such such an illustrious pro! ( Indeed he was my first ever Golf teacher, who made us hit old car tyres as this would strengthen our wrist’s! It was quite a sight to see famous Sotogrande’s bashing away at old car tyres.
Following Henry Cotton was Tony Jacklin! History was being made already!
In the 1980s Sotogrande was to see further great changes in golf. The first was in 1982 with the design of a nine hole course in the village of Guadiaro. This was to be one of the best municipal golf courses in Spain. And of course, designed by the famous Sir Robert Trent Jones. La Cañada Club de Golf was born!
I believe the building of this course was a stroke of genius by Joe. Remember Spain had recently become a young democracy and the dictatorship was over in 1975. Joe recognised the need to heal relationships between the wealthy residents of Sotogrande and the workforce in Guadiaro. The golf course was the cement that was to bind the two peoples together and form what has always been a happy relationship!
In 1990 the second 9 holes were added by Dave Thomas, architect of the famous Belfry In Birmingham and of course Almenara and San Roque club. Today La Cañada is a first class 18 hole municipal course, enjoyed by us all and especially by the young golfers of the area. The club has outstanding teachers, who have produced some great golfers. Alvaro Quiros being one the clubs great prodigies.
The second great event of the 1980s was to be the purchase of Las Aves by the Bolivian tin magnate (El Rey de estaño) Jaime Ortiz-Patiño and an illustrious group of investors, amongst them Joe McMicking, Enrique Zobel, Paul Jeanty, Sir Philip Oppenheimer, Helmut Maucher, Rainer Gut and Kiko Bemberg. All world famous businessmen from South Africa, Switzerland, Belgium, Argentina and the Philippines.
The foundation of the great club was in the making and at the helm our friend Sir Robert Tent Jones with Jimmy Patiño. They were to great the world famous Valderrama Golf Club. They were to introduce to Sotogrande the greatest international golf competitions: The Volvo Master’s, The American Express World championship and in 1997 the most famous of all; The Ryder Cup.
Now, the Real Club de Golf Valderrama and still hosting good competitions, is very much a private member’s club. However, the illustrious shadows of Joe and Jimmy will, for me, be ever present and fondly remembered. They put Sotogrande golf on the world map.
In the 1990s Sotogrande SA decided to open up a large area called Almenara for the development of luxury real-estate. Like Joe McMicking in the past they decided the best way to lure the buyers up to this new area of Sotogrande was by the building of a new golf course and hotel.
In 1998 Almenara Club de Golf was born. The architect was to be our friend Dave Thomas.
27 golf holes in three loops of 9. This was to open up golf to guests of the new Hotel Almenara now SO Sotogrande. Also acted as a very good pay and play for those who were not sure of which course to be a member of or just passing through the resort.
The next leap forward also coincided with the launching of a new 500 hectares of land: La Reserva.
In 2002 we launched La Reserva and we were determined to create large plots for large villas. This, again, would need a lure! The lure was to another first class 18 hole Golf course.
We immediately sought the help of the man who had been hands-on in the reformation of Las Aves to the world famous Real Club de Golf Valderrama.
Whilst Sir Robert Trent Jones had been the mastermind his designer Cabell Robinson had been the man on the ground. Indeed, I would say Cabell made his name on the hallowed turf of Valderrama.
In 2004 La Reserva Golf club was inaugurated and was to prove a splendid 18 hole course with a majestic clubhouse and golfing facilities. Again various important golfing tournaments have been held here including the all womens golfing championship.
La Reserva has been the last course to be built within the Sotogrande estate. We had thoughts of building another 18 hole course adjacent to La Reserva with the great Gary Player!
However, by 2009 the world entered into a serious recession and there was no appetite for another 18 hole course.
My belief was that one day we would need another course, however sadly this is no longer possible! Perhaps those in charge today did not have the same vision for golf as our friend Joe McMicking! I would say today the need for a further 18 holes is there as memberships in the royal Valderrama and Sotogrande courses are in great demand. The same is probably true of La Reserva! Who knows? Time will tell.
Notwithstanding the debate of another course we can safely say today Sotogrande has amongst the best golfing facilities in Spain and indeed in Europe. In total we have 99 golf holes and 18 short holes giving a total of 117 golf holes! The golfing possibilities are endless both for professionals, amateurs and most importantly the youth.
I would like to thank Joseph McMicking, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño, Sir Robert Trent Jones, Dave Thomas and Cabell Robinson for giving us so much pleasure in golf.