You could virtually count on the fingers of one hand the golf courses in Spain that, like Marbella’s Royal Las Brisas Golf Club, combine a layout of extraordinary quality - the work of one of the finest designers of all time – and a remarkable curriculum of world-class tournaments involving many of golf’s greatest players over the decades.
The creation of Royal Las Brisas Golf Club – which is celebrating its golden anniversary this year – was a significant milestone for Andalucian golf, and a classic example of how things should be done to achieve a top-quality golf course.
Businessman José Banús, who developed Royal Las Brisas (originally known as Nueva Andalucía Golf Club) and was the key figure behind the creation of the famous Marbella marina that bears his name, “was a visionary”, says Paul Muñoz. “He realised that, to ensure success, you had to work with the best in every respect, and to that end he commissioned one of the leading golf course designers and architects, Robert Trent Jones.
Banús, promotor de la macrourbanización Nueva Andalucía, donde se ubica el RCG Las Brisas, fue una persona muy inteligente y vio que
“Banús was an extremely intelligent man and he saw that, to achieve the best possible international promotion of Las Brisas, they would need to host a major tournament and provide it with substantial prizemoney, and that’s how they managed to hold the World Cup and attract players of the calibre of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.”
Another event at Las Brisas that gained global media coverage – albeit not on the fairways but in the clubhouse – was a spectacular inauguration party for Puerto Banús, including a concert by Julio Iglesias and gala dinner for 1,700 guests, among them Prince Rainier of Monaco, Princess Grace, Gina Lollobrigida and the Aga Khan.
Nearly half a century after Royal Las Brisas was opened, and following a major golf course renovation by renowned designer Kyle Phillips, “we are continuing to work towards conserving, for many more years, the enormous quality that defines this magnificent project initiated in 1968 thanks to José Banús”, says Muñoz.
“Our objective is to ensure there is continuity at this extraordinary club, and we believe Kyle Phillips was the ideal person to carry out the renovation, to provide continuity for Trent Jones’ project, and to prepare the club for at least another 50 years at the same high level of quality.”
A Giant Among Giants
In the history of Spanish golf, very few courses have hosted top global tournaments and attracted legendary golfers to their fairways. Las Brisas is one of those rare jewels. Robert Trent Jones had already completed Sotogrande and shortly after he would also design Valderrama, the elite of the elite.
Those of a certain age and a good memory – or others with an interest in history – will recall the 1973 World Cup won by Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller for the US. It almost seems like yesterday that Miller carded 65 in the second round – but it is now 45 years later.
In the 1980s the course continued to host major tournaments: for example, the 1983 and 1987 Spanish Opens – the latter won by Nick Faldo in a tough battle against Severiano Ballesteros.
In 1989, the World Cup returned to Las Brisas, together with severe flooding. So much rain fell that the event was reduced to 36 holes, with Australians Wayne Grady and Peter Fowler winning on a blanket of water, and José María Cañizares and José María Olazábal finishing second.
Two years later, in 1991, Las Brisas was the venue for what – at the time – was the most lucrative one-day event: $450,000 dollars for a skins game involving Curtis Strange, Mark Calcavecchia, Bernhard Langer and John Bland. To have an idea how much that meant two decades ago, the prize fund was three times the amount won by Ian Baker-Finch as British Open champion one week later.
There is no doubt that this is one of Robert Trent Jones’ best creations. It is a perfect example of how to design a course the right way.
José Banús allowed him to choose the best part of the property, and he did. He built the course in the most spectacular and attractive valley in the area. Houses were built in the rest of the property.
The layout was constructed around water hazards: there are 10 artificial lakes fed by two streams, which come into play on no fewer than 12 holes. The greens – most of which are elevated – are well protected by bunkers. Another original touch by Trent Jones at the time was using Bermuda grass on the fairways and Pencross Bent on the greens.
Today, with all the new equipment, it could be said that it is not a long course, but Las Brisas is difficult and attractive – requiring accurate play.
“Las Brisas,” said former US Tour star Paul Azinger on one occasion, “does not have a bad hole. It is one of the best courses I have played.”
In addition to the superb design there is one other touch of genius. José Banús commissioned Englishman Gerald Huggan to landscape the course. Huggan had just returned from Kenya, where he had designed the Nairobi gardens. At Las Brisas, he created a botanical sanctuary, with trees from all the continents: Africa, Asia, Australia, America and Europe… unique species that cannot be enjoyed in any other part of southern Europe.
In the 10 years after its foundation, Las Brisas was an open course and one of the main tourist attractions in the area. In 1981, it became a members’ club, and it currently has 1,225, representing more than 30 nationalities.
The Director’s Vision
Paul Muñoz, director of Royal Las Brisas Golf Club, has many arguments when it comes to answering the question of why this course should be considered one of the finest – the “greats” – in Spain. "In addition to its location, in Marbella’s ‘Golf Valley’, it is one of the Costa del Sol’s classic golf courses, with an unparalleled track record, having hosted more than 20 tournaments of global relevance; it features an original design by Robert Trent Jones Sr, renovated by Kyle Phillips in 2017; it is a social club that brings together more than 30 nationalities; it is highlighted by a course that is pleasant to walk, with an extremely good pace of play; and it offers first-class facilities, a wonderfully active social environment (celebrating more than 120 annual sporting-social events) and a highly qualified staff ... All this leads me to rate Las Brisas as one of the greats of Spain."
Robert Trent Jones was born in 1906 in England (Ince-in-Makerfield) and at the age of five he moved to the United States with his parents. He became a prominent golfer when he was still a teenager and, at 16, broke the course record in the Rochester City Championship. He attended Cornell University and opted for studies that he had personally selected in order to prepare for a career in golf course architecture. While still a college student, he designed several greens at the Sodus Bay Golf Club in New York. At 25, in 1931, he completed his first full design of a golf course, the Midvale, in Penfield (New York).
By the mid-1960s, he had become the most famous golf course designer in history and probably also the most influential. He collaborated, as a consultant architect, with numerous clubs where some of the world’s major tournaments were held, many of them featuring his own course design. By 1990, he had designed more than 500 courses in 42 US states and 35 countries, and remodelled many others, accumulating as many as 300,000 flight miles a year for his work.
In 1990, Trent Jones had been involved with golf course architecture for 60 years, a record even longer than that of Old Tom Morris. His name was still the most famous in the world of golf course design and, during that same year, two courses were named in his honour: one after renewing his design and another already existing (the Robert Trent Jones GC at Cornell University). Also in 1990, the Robert Trent Jones company was awarded the largest golf course design contract in history: a series of complexes totalling 468 holes in Alabama state for the Sunbelt Golf company, partially financed by the state’s pension system for public officials. Today the Robert Trent Jones Trail is one of the most popular destinations in the world for golfers.
In 2000, Robert Trent Jones died in Florida aged 93. His sons Rees and Robert Trent Jr have followed his father's professional trail and are also golf course designers.
Trees from Five Continents
Las Brisas is home to trees from all continents: African species such as the Cape Chestnut and Spiny Acacias; from Asia, the Indian Laurel and Mysore Fig; from America, the Drunken Stick and Mexican Green Ash; and from Australia, the Black and Transparent Acacia – together with multiple species of palms and Mediterranean trees that coexist in great harmony, transforming the course into a real botanical garden.
Top-Tier Champions… and Runners-Up
The champions’ honour board at Las Brisas features the names of some of the sport’s most renowned stars – and the roll-call of runners-up is just as dazzling. The former group, for example, includes Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Wayne Grady, Peter Fowler, Anders Forsbrand, Ian Woosnam and Eamonn Darcy; while standing out among those who have finished second in events played at the course are the likes of José María Olazábal, Manuel Piñero , José María Cañizares and Eduardo Romero.
Stunning Revamp of Original Design
A major renovation of the course designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones was entrusted to another magnificent designer: American Kyle Phillips. He has completed projects in more than 30 countries on five continents.