For a fifth consecutive year, the Costa del Sol will once again be in the global spotlight for top women's professional golf when the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España is held from 26 to 29 November at Royal Guadalmina Golf Club in Marbella – concluding the 2020 season with a final flourish.
The only Ladies European Tour event being played in Spain this year, the tournament will double as the grand finale of the Race to Costa del Sol, the Tour’s new order of merit, which is sponsored by the Costa del Sol Tourism Board as a magnificent promotional vehicle for the area.
Designed by Javier Arana, the South Course at Royal Guadalmina takes over the baton from other renowned Costa del Sol courses that have hosted the competition in previous years (including Aloha Golf and La Quinta Golf & Country Club). The club will also be acting as a spectacular ambassador for the more than 70 courses located in what is popularly known as the “Costa del Golf”, extending from Nerja to Sotogrande and covering the entire Málaga coastline as well as the Mediterranean part of Cádiz province at its eastern border.
The Ladies European Tour’s top players will be able to witness first-hand the same pleasures enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors who travel every year to Europe’s premier golf destination: a benign year-round climate, and a wide and diverse array of leisure, cultural and gastronomic activities offered throughout 160 kilometres of picturesque coastline.
All of them will be keen to follow in the footsteps of the Netherlands’ Anne van Dam, winner of the last two editions, and Marbella-born Azahara Muñoz, also a double champion, including victory in 2017 when the Spanish Women’s Open was first held at Royal Guadalmina. They will also be battling for the honour of being proclaimed winner of the inaugural Race to Costa del Sol, which (as we went to press) was led by Emily Kristine Pedersen from Denmark.
On the Costa del Sol, golf goes far beyond being simply one aspect of the area’s leisure activities. It is the main reason golfers visit the Coast – tourists who tend to extend their stays as long as possible and remain loyal to a destination that offers them security, diversity, an exquisite welcome and first-class services. To convey this reality to potential national and international travellers, the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de Spain represents a valuable promotional tool, with television coverage reaching 148 countries and 500 million homes.
Royal Guadalmina Golf Club, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, will be able to showcase the beauty and challenge of its South layout, a fine example of the high quality offered by Andalucian and Costa del Sol courses, which has allowed them to host professional championships at the highest level, including the Ryder Cup, Volvo Masters, World Cup, Spanish Open (men’s and women’s) and Estrella Damm NA Andalucía Masters.
Ignacio del Cuvillo – General Manager of the Marbella Golf Club
“The 2020 Spanish Women’s Open at Royal Guadalmina is going to be memorable”
The return of the Spanish Women’s Open to Royal Guadalmina, three years after the stunning and highly emotional victory by one of the Marbella golf club’s most famous “daughters”, Azahara Muñoz, is going to be in unprecedented circumstances – unimaginable until the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world.
"For us", says general manager Ignacio del Cuvillo, "it’s going to be a great challenge, because that is what’s required, and we will put all our efforts into hosting a memorable 2020 Spanish Women’s Open.”
The experienced and highly respected golf club manager realises that the challenge is "very complicated and complex because holding the 2017 Open here raised the bar not only quite high but almost to a stratospheric level”. That Open, he says, “was the perfect event – it could not be repeated.
"Nevertheless, for this year's tournament we have an additional level of enthusiasm, as we are preparing the course to host a Spanish Open within a much more ambitious context that extends to the future: the 2023 Solheim Cup on the Costa del Sol.
"It's an opportunity that we welcome in this new phase for Royal Guadalmina as a members’ club, a situation which has been consolidated since July.” Royal Guadalmina has been managed as a company since 1 July, when the board of directors headed by Juan Ramón Martínez Landazábal took over the club's management. "Hosting the Spanish Open is the club’s first major challenge, as host of the tournament and fulfilling the requirements of the Ladies European Tour and the organisers.”
What does it mean, from a weather point of view, hosting this year’s Spanish Open in November?
In September 2017, we had more guarantees in that respect, because we knew during that month it would be very unlikely for the tournament to be suspended due to rain. Now we hope that November will provide a pleasant surprise, and that we will enjoy weather that proves to be attractive enough for the European and international public to see players competing in short sleeves and with the sun shining.
Can we expect to see some top players among the participants?
It’s still too early to confirm the players, but what we can expect – looking at the main tour schedules, the European, Asian and US – is that this date has been chosen specifically to become a key one for women’s golf in the future, as no event can overshadow it, being the final tournament of the Race to Costa del Sol. No other competition is being held at the same time on the other tours, so we can expect the top European stars as well as Asian and American players lured by the $700,000 in prizemoney. This will be a wonderful opportunity for the three main tours to coincide in Europe, in Marbella and at Royal Guadalmina Golf Club.
In what ways will the tournament be different in this COVID-19 era?
One of the first concerns we had when we were asked to host the tournament was the COVID-19 situation, but that was back in February, when the impact of the coronavirus pandemic was still not so patent, and we replied with a resounding yes to the Spanish Open organisers, thanks to the town hall’s invaluable support.
With all that has happened around the world over the last few months, we were aware that any sporting event, and certainly one of this magnitude, would have to provide maximum guarantees of security.
At professional tournaments held recently – both on the US Tour and the European and Asian Tours – players have been quarantined and protected in a bubble, and that is only possible at courses with a hotel nearby. And it’s not only that players have to stay in a hotel but also that they need to move around while always avoiding undesirable situations.
At Royal Guadalmina we have the good fortune of there being two hotels close by, one next to the beach and the other, Barceló Marbella, near the clubhouse. The Barceló chain has been widely praised and recognised, since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, for its efforts in ensuring that all hotels are 100 per cent safe for guests through the “We care about you” program.
Barceló Marbella, located just 200 metres from the clubhouse, will be the hotel base for the players, organisers, VIPs and TV production team. The players will stay and have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel, and only leave to take part in the tournament. When they complete their round they will return to the hotel.
This will enable us to guarantee a well-protected tournament environment, with maximum security protocols in place.
Is it known if spectators will be allowed at the course and, if so, under what conditions?
It has not yet been decided if public access will be allowed. If it is, we will study a formula for spectators to maintain safe distances and protective measures at all times. To that end, we will use volunteers not only from the club but also from all the clubs in the area, and we will also have the support of Marbella town hall, helping us to coordinate any spectator movements, if allowed.
In any event, the success of this tournament lies in the fact that its dissemination through social networks, television and the media in general is going to be enormous. In 2017 we were told that we had reached 270 million viewers. With people craving for live golf – not “canned” golf – this tournament can reach audience figures comparable to that for men's tournaments, so its success is guaranteed.
Has the course undergone any special preparation for the tournament?
We have prepared the course by making some adjustments during the year, taking advantage of the quarantine situation. The Ladies European Tour had given us some indications on restructuring and renovation and constructing the tees, which we have already done. We have removed trees, and in September we started a double vertical cut program, with top dressing to improve the playing conditions of a Bermuda grass which, obviously being November, will be in something of a lethargic state.
We have help from the Royal Spanish Golf Federation through its green section program, with David Gómez Agüera providing us not only with machinery to prepare the course for the tournament but also greenkeepers and staff who will work as a support team that week.
“Finally,” says del Cuvillo, “I would like to appeal to golf clubs in the area to, as far as possible, collaborate with Royal Guadalmina and our members (around 2,000), because we will have the course closed for two weeks and it would be greatly appreciated if we could count on their solidarity and they could make us some interesting offers.”
Manuel Cardeña – Head Councillor for Sport at Marbella Town Hall
“We want the Spanish Open to be seen as a general recognition of the whole golf tourism sector”
Marbella Town Hall deputy mayor and councillor with responsibility for sport, a lawyer and someone with extensive management experience in various public administrations, Manuel Cardeña talks in this interview about the Spanish Women’s Open and golf in general as one of the municipality’s key tourist attractions.
What does it mean for Marbella, the municipality with the most golf courses in Spain, to host the Spanish Women's Open again?
It is very important for everyone to know that Marbella is open for business, that it is able to host this type of event, that we have the best golf amenities, that we can welcome all golfers who visit us with absolute guarantees of security... I don’t believe there is a better option than hosting a great championship such as the Spanish Open. We want the Spanish Open to be seen as a general recognition of the whole golf tourism sector, which has suffered in recent months. And to see if, with events like this, the situation changes and we can continue to offer Marbella what we do every year: that is, plenty of wealth and employment. For us it is very important that the event is being played at Royal Guadalmina Golf Club, and that the image projected abroad is hugely positive.
What do you think about the Spanish Open being held again at Royal Guadalmina Golf Club, which already hosted it in 2017?
It is a great choice, not only for the quality of its golf facilities but also for the involvement of its members and the club's management when it comes to hosting and supporting this important tournament. For this reason, and due to their proven organisational experience, holding the Spanish Open at Royal Guadalmina is a guarantee of success.
What plans are in place to ensure players’ safe health?
At a health level, the tournament will be held with all guarantees for both players and the organisational team and, if the case arises, for the public. The collaboration of Hotel Barceló Marbella, located next to the golf club, is essential in this regard, as it will become a bubble hotel that guarantees the health and safety of players at all times.
How important is golf as a tourist resource for Marbella?
I believe that for many years this was not really taken into account. By that I mean the golf courses were sports facilities that had been created randomly, and it required official studies and reports by the Junta de Andalucía (regional government), the provincial tourism board and the town hall itself to clearly see the importance of golf as a major tourist attraction. Of the more than €1,400 million generated by golf in Málaga province, 20 per cent corresponds to Marbella. Figures from the Patronato (tourism board) give you an idea just what is generated by golf.
Have political leaders finally grasped the idea that golf is not an elitist sport but, in fact, a very popular one, with nearly 300,000 golfers in Spain alone?
I believe there are not so many political prejudices in that sense. Golf is not a sport for the elite; it is a sport that has become popular and represents a top-level tourism sector that generates many jobs and that we have to defend at all costs.
The effort that has been made since 2016 to unify all administrations, regardless of their political leanings, and to try to bring major tournaments to the Costa del Sol has put us back on the main Tours. Our name resonates potently in the world of golf. Despite having the best golf amenities in Europe, you can never become too comfortable. The work of golf clubs with the various public administrations has brought us the 2023 Solheim Cup, the world's premier professional women's team golf event, and this will provide us with an even more visible international projection as the great golf destination that we are.
However, it doesn’t end here because we must continue working to attract top-level events on an ongoing basis, and we must also thank Deporte and Business, Iñigo and Alicia, for their commitment and efforts in helping us to attract world-class events and to remain a flagship golf destination.
We are going to continue working to stay in the limelight with top tournaments, because our golf tourism industry demands such events from us, and we have to be the best in Europe and the best in the world.