There is much distressed discussion these days about how far the golf ball travels when it is despatched by the world’s most talented players. You don’t have to look too hard at the stats or too long at a televised tournament to understand why, and one reason these exceptional distances are a concern is their obsoletion of historic courses.
Another dispiriting consequence is the effect such colossal hitting has had on new courses, when owners with an eye on hosting a tournament (whether realistic or fanciful) encourage designers to create courses able – which largely means being long enough – to challenge the strongest players. This trend has led to many tedious modern courses, many of which have never come close to hosting the players they were designed for. Instead, on a daily basis, the course hosts club golfers who drive the ball 150 yards shorter. Forward tees help to some degree, although there is never 150 yards between back and daily tees.
So when the emphasis during design and construction is on catering for the elite pro, it is inevitable the holes work better for those players and their tees than the 22-handicapper and his or her tee. It’s frankly absurd; akin to a clothes shop stocking mainly sizes that fit catwalk models, with the after-thought of a few garments that fit the rest of us.
Happily, there are now increasing exceptions to this flawed strategy and one such example is at Las Colinas near Alicante on Spain’s east coast. It might seem obvious to cater for a higher handicapper, given the kind of golfer playing in the sun-soaked Costa Blanca, but it is far from always the case. Here, though, American designer Cabell B Robinson’s prime focus was on how the course works from the Yellow tees, which add up to an appealing 6,226 yards. The White tees at 6,653 yards are also very playable but there is also a set of Blacks that takes it over the 7,000 mark. Not gargantuan by modern standards, but why would it need to be when they are broadly used for a week a year when the course hosts European Tour Stage 2 Qualifying? Incidentally, ‘only’ 14 or 15 under wins in those qualifying weeks, so ‘shorter’ doesn’t necessarily equate to easier; thus, if you’re a category one player, you’ll not leave here feeling short changed.
For the rest of us, the White and Yellow tees are plenty enough, because if their relatively modest yardage hints at gentle ‘holiday golf’, think again. Las Colinas is not stupidly tight or ill-advisedly tricked up, but it is a comprehensive examination. You will reach for every club in your bag at some point in the round and it’s a fair bet you will try to hit every kind of shot as strong par 4s mix with sporty ones, dog-legs to the right are matched by those to the left, cute par 3s are followed by robust ones, flatter greens combine with undulating ones.
Its variety is impressive. You get ‘breather’ holes between the stiffer ones, and even on those more exacting tests you are usually presented with a tantalising chance for glory, where a big carry or a brave line will reap rich reward. Las Colinas loves to try to tempt you into attempting spectacular shots. You are always thinking too. On several holes – the 3rd, 9th and 16th spring immediately to mind – you are staring at your StrokeSaver for several minutes before hitting both the drive and the approach. Rarely do you simply stick a tee in the ground and simply swish away.
There is minimal rough but plenty of water hazards to lose balls in, and there are lots of bunkers to avoid. And given Robinson’s association with Robert Trent Jones Snr – he was his point man on all the legendary American’s European designs, including Valderrama and Real Sotogrande – there are unsurprisingly plenty of elevated greens fronted by closely-mown areas. It is an easy walk – much more so than, say, Finca Cortesin, another of Robinson’s solo Spanish designs – despite a few lengthier green-to-tee gaps at the end of the front nine, and between 12 and 13. Some are reasonably steep climbs, but unless done in searing summer temperatures, most will walk Las Colinas comfortably.
The ascending walks indicate the site offered Robinson interesting terrain to work with, which is a surprise given outside the property it is flat. The reason Las Colinas is not is because the owner spent a fortune terracing the land for citrus trees. Robinson told Golf World he was “extraordinarily surprised and impressed” by the site and that other than excavating the lakes, he moved earth purely
to grade and re-contour the terraces into golf course topography. As a result, the fairways often rise and fall pleasingly and several greens are tucked neatly into hillsides.
If the condition of a course is crucial to you – which is the case for many – be assured few courses in mainland Europe are presented more immaculately. Greens, for example, are quick and true (there is a chap employed solely to repair pitch marks), yet not so rapid or slopey as to be silly.
A rising star
These strengths combine to make Las Colinas a course ranked by Golf World among Continental Europe’s Top 100. It was No.78 last time, and is not flattered by that position. Work is already well underway on the refreshed ranking that will be published in August, and don’t be surprised to see it rise, perhaps notably.
It wouldn’t, for this golfer, be quite in the same class as the continent’s heathland or seaside classics, Valderrama, and perhaps PGA Catalunya and Monte Rei of other modern ‘resort’ courses – but in Iberian terms it compares well to anything else. It comfortably exceeded expectations. It is resort golf in the sense it is part of a real estate complex, but is a high-calibre version. Playing here feels special, rather than just another sun-dappled game in Spain, and begins at an entrance carved between startlingly yellow rock. And while €100 for a green fee is not insignificant, its Euros-to-quality ratio is very attractive indeed. You can categorically very easily spend more and not enjoy the same calibre of course, and you can spend a little less and the level of quality falls off a cliff in comparison.
Run by director of golf Sean Corte-Real – formerly of Vila Sol on the Algarve having played on the European Tour – it also benefits from Troon Golf’s agronomic input. While the course is routed around what Corte-Real calls the ‘island’ – a huge plot of land that contains much of the residential development – the million euro houses are not often in view and never close to the playing corridor. Most holes run through valleys with the real estate up higher. In fact, viewing lines are remarkably clean.
The course covers about 100 hectares of the resort’s 480-hectare site, and that translates to a spacious feel. Rarely do other golfers intrude on your hole and you are often sufficiently lost in your game to require the use of ‘the island’ to get your bearings.
A good wake up
The front nine loops around the inside of the northern part of the island then returns on its outer edge. The back nine follows the southern section, with the 3rd and 14th greens located just a few yards apart. Corte-Real describes the opening pair as “a good wake-up” and he’s certainly not exaggerating, the 1st turning
left and uphill along a notably rolling fairway towards a green tucked in an amphitheatre. The 2nd is also tough, well-bunkered and uphill to a green with a steep apron.
But then comes a risk-reward downhill par 5 where a line over the last trap on the left rewards with a shute-like effect – à la Augusta’s 10th – to present a good look at the green, albeit one guarded by water. A short par 4 follows, even if it’s uphill, with a valley of sin at the front and a kooky green. There’s an even better short two-shotter at 6, which has a four-club, equally funky green.
In between comes the first of a fine collection of par 3s: the 5th is a tough downhiller fronted by water with a deep bunker behind it; the fabulous 7th is even more acutely downhill, from a tee on a rock outcrop among the trees down just 120 yards off the tips to a small green; the 10th plays to a slender green with a drop to
the left; at 14 you play over a creek to a shapely green with a lake to the left; and finally the robust 17 is the longest of a varied-length portfolio, weighing in at 274 yards.
That gives the back nine three par 3s – and three 4s and 5s too – a result of environmental curbs (mainly around tree cutting) that meant the 10th, planned as a par 4, had to be shortened into a par 3, which Robinson admits is not the ideal way to start a nine on a resort course. The 14th starts a run for home where only the penultimate hole does not strongly feature water. There is a terrific driving hole on 15 to enjoy, where the course clearly shows you that the best route is down right so you can hit ‘up the green’ with your second or third, then a super dog-leg left on 16 and finally a slow-burner at the last, where you drive semi-blind over the brow of a hill then emerge to be presented with a stellar approach to a lakeside green.
Under 500 yards off the Yellows, it gives the regular golfer a chance for final glory, which is a thoroughly apt way for Las Colinas to conclude.
Las Colinas is ranked No.55 in our Golf World Top 100 Courses: Continental Europe ranking. Click here to see the full list and more information.