Royal Sotogrande’s golf course has been completely renovated over the past three years. As greenkeeper Patrick Allende notes, this legendary layout – the first course designed in Europe by renowned American architect Robert Trent Jones – is enjoying the best moment in its history.
“After more than 50 years,” says Patrick Allende, “the course had major structural problems: very poor drainage, loss of the original Bermuda, etc. This was the first course that was planted with Bermuda 419 and after five decades it had become contaminated with all kinds of weeds that had practically wiped out the original grass.
“Initially, we proposed a mostly agronomic renovation project, to change the type of grass, but one of the reasons why Bermuda was lost was the lack of drainage and that had to be resolved as well. On the other hand, since it was necessary to raise the whole course, there was a unique opportunity to improve other aspects. We hired Roger Rulewich, one of Robert Trent Jones’ key disciples, having worked with him for 35 years, and his partner David Fleury, because we thought they were the ones who could best embody the spirit and ideas of the designer.
Originals construction plans
“We found the original construction plans of 1966 and when we compared them with those of 2014, overlapping them, we saw that the greens had lost a lot of surface, in some cases reaching 40 per cent with respect to the originals. So we understood it was time to regain not only the dimensions of the layout but also the shapes and contours from when the course was built. Subsequently, an ambitious and comprehensive renovation of the course was finally tackled, but always with a focus on restoration, to regain as much as possible the essence of this jewel created by Robert Trent Jones.”
The renovations were completed in two phases, during 2015 and 2016, and now, more than a year since their conclusion, the course is in superb condition...
That’s true. The course needed a little time to settle down after the work, but you can already see the result and we hope that in spring it will be in perfect condition.
Could it be said that the course is at the best moment in its history?
Certainly, yes. The course has gained a great deal in quality since we incorporated 75,000 tonnes of siliceous sand to the fairways, tees, rough, etc. This meant adding 20 centimetres of sand of the highest quality. In addition, 43 kilometres of drainage has been built, which allows us to have a very firm course, with certified Bermuda 419. The greens have been built in accordance with USGA specifications, with the highest construction standards and with an air extraction system through the drainage that we did not have before and which is a pioneer in Spain. Undoubtedly, the course is much better than before.
Following the major renovation completed in 2016, you didn’t stop there, completing additional work…
Last year we rebuilt the putting green near the first tee so that it had the same playing conditions as the rest of the greens on the course. It was completely rebuilt, with a new design for the entire short game area, which now consists of six bunkers, a putting green and two chipping greens. It extends over 8,000 square metres, was completed in August 2017 and is truly spectacular.
Now you have completely raised the short course…
Yes, the whole short course and the driving range as well, which is the last phase of this major renovation and restoration project at Royal Sotogrande Golf Club. We will completely restore the short course following the same philosophy of quality applied to the main course, with the help of Rulewich and Fleury. The same as on the main course, the greens had lost a lot of their surface area and we are regaining their original shapes and improving the layout as much as possible.
Finally, the driving range is going to be totally rebuilt and we will add a short-game area at the back for children, so they will have magnificent facilities for learning and training. We plan to finish this work in July.