Monday, June 17, 2024

Sotogrande – Where golf, lifestyle and luxury blend seamlessly – Irish Golfer Magazine

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The brainchild of Filipino-American businessman Joseph McMicking – who was enthralled by Pebble Beach and the exclusive, country club lifestyle prevalent throughout the United States – and after purchasing five farms stretching from the Mediterranean back to the neighbouring hills, Sotogrande was born on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

This 25-square kilometre estate – over 6,000 acres for those who prefer the imperial system – is now home to four top-class golf courses, a marina, a beach club, several luxury hotels, an international school, a wide-range of luxury villas and apartments, one of the world’s most famous polo grounds, and of course, a variety of top-class restaurants.

And I was recently fortunate enough to take a trip here and sample some of the prized offerings, including rounds of golf at Almenara and La Reserva, two of the four courses set within the estate, while there are an additional three within a short 15-20 minute drive.

The SO/ Sotogrande Spa and Golf Resort was where we set up base camp, and it really has to be seen to be believed. The architecture is a blend of quintessential Andalucían cortijo (farmhouse) with bright and airy colours, and a spacious series of villas, complete with understated art and sculptures. A variety of terraces provide fantastic views from the hillside towards the Mediterranean, while several different pools and lounging areas provide families, couples, and individuals alike the perfect opportunity to relax and frolic to their hearts’ content.

The SO/ Sotogrande ‘Cortijo’ Hotel

There are five restaurants within the hotel itself, and many more within the 6,000 acres, including Cancha II, an Argentinian steakhouse – I highly recommend the Rib Eye – and KE, situated by the vibrant marina, where we dined on the first evening and provided an idyllic setting and food to match.

Back at the hotel, a visit to the spa is a must, and my own personal favourite was the floatation tank. Stepping into a cocoon-like structure, half-filled with heavily salted water and closing the lid on top, you float on the surface in complete darkness, save for the night sky-like pattern on the underside of the lid and drift alone with your thoughts – or with your own choice of music if you’d prefer – and it is the height of relaxation.

They say that a 25-minute session is the equivalent of a four-hour sleep, and I can’t say I disagreed. After four or five hours on the golf course or chasing the kids around a swimming pool, there are few better ways to recharge the batteries.

The first golf course we played was Almenara, which is the closest course to the hotel and is within walking distance. Designed by Welshman David Thomas – a four-time Ryder Cup player – in the 1990s, the 27-hole layout was redesigned by Manuel Pinero – another two-time Ryder Cupper who famously partnered Seve Ballesteros and collected four points from a possible five as Europe made history by wrestling the trophy back from the Americans for the first time in 28 years back in 1985 – in 2021, and though at less than €100 for a green fee (buggies included) it is the cheapest of the seven surrounding courses to play, you’d be foolish to write it off on that account.

Set on dramatic, hilly terrain with tight fairways, large greens and no shortage of water hazards, the course was in pristine condition and provided a strong challenge to both the accomplished and less accomplished players in the group.

The Almenara Course at Sotogrande

Day two meant another trip to a golf course, but this time to watch rather than play as our visit coincided with the DP World Tour’s Andalucía Masters held at Real Club de Sotogrande, which was the first of the four courses to be constructed when it was designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened in 1964.

To say this place is expertly manicured would be an understatement, and casual conversation with a couple of the Tour pros who were playing the tournament – and many were staying at our hotel as well – confirmed that it was comfortably the best conditioned golf course they’d played at throughout the season.

An incoming storm meant the players battled through strong winds and tested them to the pins of their collars, but even without the gale-force gusts, this is a course still more than capable of challenging the game’s top players and watching them navigate their way around only served to heighten the desire to try out my own – admittedly limited – skills here. That will have to wait, however.

Real Club Sotogrande 16th & 17th Holes

Before we get to La Reserva, where we played on the final day, the fourth course within the Sotogrande estate needs no introduction. Regularly considered the top course in continental Europe, Real Club de Valderrama held the 1997 Ryder Cup, had been a European Tour venue for decades, and now hosts a LIV event. At €600 plus caddie, it’s a little on the expensive side, but its one to be ticked off the bucket list. Unfortunately, that too must wait.

La Reserva was a more than adequate substitute, however. Designed by Cabell B Robinson and pened in 2003, it is the newest of the four courses and is a golf course I could happily play every day for the rest of my life; the 320 days of sunshine that Andalucía enjoys might play a part in that too, however.

It has hosted events on both the European Tour and Ladies European Tours, and at a touch over 7300 yards from the tips, it’s easy to see why. Not that we were that brave (or foolish), but from the sensible tees it was buckets of fun, with most the of the fairways wide enough to allow you to open your shoulders, and the trees lining the fairways friendly enough to allow you to find your errant shots, even if a sideways swipe or an adventurous recovery shot are the options.

The conditioning was superb, and the opening hole among the most memorable I’ve encountered, playing from an elevated tee and sweeping from right-to-left, with a ravine guarding the front of the green. Though water comes into play on six holes – most notably the index-one par-4 eighth – the hazards tend to run alongside greens, meaning shorter hitters still have the opportunity to ‘run one in’, but heavy bunkering and large, undulating greens are the main defences when it comes to second shots.

The 18th hole at La Reserva with the palatial clubhouse in the background

At around €200 for a round, it’s not cheap, but it’s still serious value for money when you consider that it is more than capable of holding its own against the neighbouring Real clubs, ranked number one and two in Spain.

The clubhouse is palatial, with two restaurants, tennis and padel courts, and the nearby beach club which has the rare distinction of being a couple of miles from the sea. If you think this sounds a little odd, you’re not alone, but my scepticism dissipated when I saw it, saw the peace of mind that parents of young children can enjoy when their toddlers can play on a sandy beach with only a couple of feet of water to worry about.

And for the big kids, water sports, hydrofoil boarding, can be enjoyed, or better still, relax with a beer or glass of wine while you watch the more adventurous try (and inevitably fail) to gracefully cruise around the lagoon on what is effectively a propelled surf board.

The Beach Sports lagoon at La Reserva Club

If you’re thinking that this sounds like a place you could call home, well, the good news is that there are more than 7,000 private properties in Sotogrande. With Gibraltar airport just a 20-minute drive away and Malaga airport a little over an hour, living in the south of Spain while still conducting your business in Ireland or the UK has become quite fashionable, and the international school – boasting over 1,300 students – means that children’s education can continue with ease.

During our trip, we inspected some of the La Reserva Club’s real estate offerings. Among these was the Village Verde – a contemporary selection of 124 apartments and penthouses, each of which offers modern, open-plan living with large balconies that are interconnected on each side, and sprawling roof terraces for the penthouse apartments, while ground level apartments enjoy private gardens.

Situated adjacent to the golf course, views across the entire La Reserva Club can be enjoyed, and property ownership secures access to the golf, tennis and health facilities. Phase two of the development is currently underway and apartment prices start at €830,000.

The Village Verde apartments

If apartment living is not to your taste, perhaps ‘The 15’ is. As the name suggests, this development consists of 15 luxury villas, situated a little further up the hillside, affording even better views and privacy, and these start at €2.8 million.

If seclusion is even more important, ‘The Seven’ is a similar concept, but again a little further up. Each of the seven plots of land has a unique concept home designed by seven different international architects waiting to be built, and from here, the views over the Mediterranean are breathtaking, and the privacy supreme. These plots start at €7,600,000.

The best was yet to come, however, and our final stop was the NIWA, the last of The Seven and the effective penthouse of the entire resort. A €22 million concept house, overlooking it all – and as you’d imagine for €22 million turnkey, nothing was left to spare.

So, whether it’s a golfing holiday or a new home you’re looking for, when it comes to climate, culinary delights, outdoor sporting activities and all-round luxury, Sotogrande has it all covered.

The NIWA at Sotogrande

For more information or to book a stay at SO/ Sotogrande, please click here, for golf at Almenara, click here, and further information about La Reserva’s, golf, real estate and lifestyle offerings can be found here.

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