Ignacio Apolinario Zárate (born in Madrid in 1965) made a radical change to his life 20 years ago when he began working in the world of golf. A graduate in economic sciences and business administration, he had previously worked in the private banking sector and for a major company manufacturing PVC tubing. He married a Málaga woman and moved to Marbella. After spending nine years as Las Brisas manager, he took on the same position a decade ago at Santa Clara Golf Marbella – one of the municipality’s other top clubs.
- Has your previous banking and industrial sector knowledge been of much use as a golf course manager?
- Yes, it has, for a golf course and any other kind of business. The only thing we golf courses have in common is green grassland that needs to be maintained meticulously in an attractive state. Management, on the other hand, doesn’t in itself vary a lot from any other business.
- What makes Santa Clara Golf stand out from other golf courses? What are its special features?
- Santa Clara is a commercial course that is extremely enjoyable to play. You could even say it is an easy course and, when people play golf, what they want above all else is to enjoy themselves. The fact that you can score pars and birdies is something that really appeals to players. Santa Clara also stands out for its maintenance. We have always been committed to outstanding maintenance, and this is apparent with our greens, which are considered to be the best on the Costa del Sol.”
- When you say an easy course, that depends on the player…
- Exactly. You might have a good or a bad day but the course is a technical one, parkland with no rough, and you have ample space to stray. For example, on the first hole, there are three other fairways (the 10th, ninth and 18th) where your ball can be hit, so you’re really not penalised much.
- In recent years, the golf situation on the Costa del Sol has improved greatly and there are solid figures for the number of rounds played. How has the year been for Santa Clara, and what is your forecast for 2017?
- This year (2016) has been a good one for us, and in general for the whole of the Costa del Sol. There is no doubt that the political situation at an international level is benefiting us, and countries that used to send many golfers, who then travelled to other destinations, are returning to ours. That is something all of us, in conjunction, need to take advantage of in order to ensure that we retain their loyalty once again.
We are seeing an upturn in French tourism and Italian tourism, and especially German and Scandinavian. What we need to do is improve every day and offer the highest quality and excellent service.
As for the future, our expectations are very good. That’s what we noticed at the International Golf Travel Market (IGTM) in Mallorca, where tour operators expressed great interest in Marbella.
- Apart from green fees, do you offer any other season tickets for playing regularly at Santa Clara?
- We have an annual season ticket and a six-monthly ticket. A year ago we had others, from 15 days to one month, but we have changed the marketing policy and returned to the field of pay-and-play – i.e. purely and unreservedly a green fee course. That has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of players, around 18 per cent, but the revenue has increased by six per cent, so we have managed to increase the average amount spent by each player by nearly 40 per cent.
- What would the Costa del Sol be like from May to October if we didn’t have golf?
- Golf is the main industry that helps ease the seasonal nature of tourism. In the past when people only came for the beach and chiringuitos, as soon as October arrived all the hotels and restaurants emptied, and suddenly the golf industry emerged as the main revitalising agent for the whole tourism sector. Golf is currently essential for the Costa del Sol and I believe that the public authorities should make a bit more of a commitment to our industry, truly get to know it properly, and see that we are important generators of employment, not only the actual golf courses but also the many businesses that get by thanks to golf.
- This year two major European Tour events have returned to the Costa del Sol: the men’s and women’s Spanish Opens at Valderrama and Aloha, respectively. Just a few years ago, even more tournaments were held in this area, some with a global impact. Do you believe that major events are the best way to promote our golf amenities?
- Without a doubt. I believe that major tournaments are an important promotional lure to encourage the huge number of spectators to come here and get to know our courses, to see what the Costa del Sol is all about, the climate we have, and to discover that golf can be played here all year round. The problem with the major international tournaments is that they require a lot of money, so it’s important that the public authorities support private initiatives associated with these events.
- What other golfing amenities are offered by Santa Clara in addition to the 18-hole course?
- We have a golf academy with two practice tees and a brilliant professional, David Guarch, as well as a course with two tees, one down below which is grass and another above which is used more for the academy, with a pitch and putt area, green, practice bunker and mats, where any player of any ability can practise or start learning this wonderful sport.
I would also like to note that the company which owns Santa Clara Marbella has another course, Santa Clara Granada, close to the mountain range, offering magnificent views and also a great course. In addition, we have a third course, Montenmedio, in Vejer de la Frontera in Cádiz province.