He was already playing at Las Aves when Jaime Ortiz-Patiño bought the course and renamed it Valderrama in 1985. So Nuno de Brito e Cunha, Viscount of Pereira Machado, is very familiar with the inner workings and heart of Spain’s most famous and prestigious golf club. A native of Cascais (Portugal) and an outstanding amateur player, his fondness for golf was instilled in him by his father – also a top amateur golfer – almost from the cradle. The young Nuno learned the game so well that he was crowned Portuguese champion on more than one occasion and represented his country in world and European championships.
Now, as he marks 10 years at the helm of Royal Valderrama Club, he takes stock of his decade as president – in particular, the milestone when members purchased the club – and talks about the present and future of the iconic Valderrama. He is optimistic about the possibility that Valderrama will once again host one of the world’s premier tournaments.
"I think the club has changed for the better," he says, referring to Royal Valderrama’s recent evolution. “The design hasn’t been touched because it’s a classic”, he stresses, “but we have made major investments in the irrigation system, in the water pumps, in the composition of the bunkers, in all the greens and fringes, and we have renovated the clubhouse."
A golf course "is a living being in constant evolution", he adds. “While preserving Valderrama’s tradition, we have undertaken the essential work required to ensure it remains up to date and is transformed into a modern course. Here you can never say the work has been finished: there is always something to improve. It's like when you paint a bridge: when you get to the end, you have to start repainting it from the other end.”
Nuno de Brito highlights Valderrama's strong commitment to the environment. "As a club we are highly aware of the course’s ecological aspects. We believe these are hugely important, and this is demonstrated by the fact that we have had the Audubon Certificate for 23 years, which very few courses have.
“Every year,” he says, “we incorporate initiatives for environmental care and protection. This year, for example, we have done something that is very important to me: place cork oak bark mulch in areas of rough that were previously all grass, which needed fertilisers, water, chemicals, etc., areas where the players never go. It also looks attractive aesthetically and the members are delighted, because it is easier to play the ball from there than from high grass.
"What we want is for the course to be very difficult for top golfers but also accessible for medium and high-handicap players."
Certainly, Royal Valderrama presents an extraordinary, picture-postcard look. The course is undoubtedly at its best. “I’ve never seen it as good as it is now”, says Nuno de Brito, listing several reasons to explain this. “Javier (Reviriego, general manager) and I have analysed the situation and I think it is a result of the investments we have made in recent years, with a very modern irrigation system and other improvements, and also Adolfo (Ramos) is an extraordinary greenkeeper. Then there are certain additional factors such as completing the maintenance a little earlier and pruning many of the trees without affecting the course’s level of difficulty. All of this has made the course better this year than ever before.”
The improvements have generated great satisfaction among members, according to Valderrama’s president. "That’s what they tell us, and it’s a great incentive to continue working along the same lines."
Royal Valderrama has a limit of 450 members. "We could have more," acknowledges Nuno de Brito, "but I think it's the ideal number for this club.” In total 35 nationalities are represented. “Ninety-eight percent are members who do not live here. It’s not a rule but it is something we like, because with this diverse international composition and not having many local members, the club is always very peaceful. Tranquillity prevails: there are never stressful situations, there are no tee times, and people play when they want to.”
One novelty that is in full view as soon as you cross the control barrier at the entrance to the club is a change in the colour of the clubhouse façade (white has replaced the former light yellow) and, in addition, the elimination of the popcorn (or stipple) ceiling effect. Unquestionably, a success at an aesthetic level... “We are an Andalucian club,” notes the club's president, “white is a colour that represents Andalucía particularly well, and I really believe that it is better than before.” The dark gray colour of the also-renovated buggy paths and the different shades of green on the golf course further enhance the clubhouse’s pristine white hue.
What has been the most important event at Royal Valderrama in the 10 years you have been club president?
For me the most important thing during these 10 years has been the purchase of the course by the members, because we finally have control over our destiny and now we are totally independent and depend only on ourselves. Before we depended on the owner of the course.
Although top European Tour tournaments have continued to be played here, will we once again see more international-level events in the near future like the major ones Valderrama hosted in its heyday?
I always remember what (founder) Jimmy Patiño did with the two American Express (World Golf Championship) events, which featured the best players in the world, and later with the Ryder Cup, which was an extraordinary success and even more so bearing in mind who was the European captain, Seve, a legendary icon in the history of golf. Here we always have that same ambition to host a major tournament, and we have taken significant steps towards that objective – but we want more.
Could the recently announced alliance between the US PGA Tour and European Tour open a door of hope in this regard?
I think so. The alliance is a great step forward, great news. To organise a major tournament you not only need money, but you also have to have the venue, and there are not many venues in Europe with the history and spirit of Valderrama. So, if you want to hold a €15 million tournament, it is not the same to play it at a municipal golf course next to London as it is to host it at a renowned course like this one. You see that the US Open, the US Masters, all the major tournaments, are held at well-known courses, so it is evident that we are very well positioned to host a major tournament here.
Focusing on the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters in October (14th to 17th), will there be spectators at the course, as in past times?
We are confident that there won’t be any problems having spectators. I hope there will not be a new outbreak of a variant of the virus that does not work with current vaccines. You never know, so we are a bit at the mercy of events, but we are optimistic and we believe that we will be able to have spectators at the tournament.
Jon Rahm's return to Valderrama, if confirmed, will be a very powerful attraction for the tournament...
His presence is confirmed, and having the number one in the world here is magnificent news for the tournament. He has confirmed he will play in the Spanish Open (the week before the Valderrama event) and this one as well. He has had a fantastic year but also bad luck with two COVID positives, at the Muirfield Village (Memorial) tournament and then before the Olympics. Of course, in between he won the US Open with two impressive putts. Rahm is a genuine role model for golf.
With care for the environment so in vogue, are there going to be any special measures in this regard for the tournament?
Fortunately, we do not have to do anything special in this regard because our ecological commitment dates from a long time back, the past 23 years. Anyway, the club is always operating with this commitment in mind and, for example, this year we are building a lake with capacity for 52,000 cubic metres of rainwater that is practically ready and will be used to irrigate the golf course. And another important thing: we no longer have plastic bottles.
Valderrama has to always be at the forefront of progress and that is why we have developed this lake for rainwater. Javier (Reviriego) is also looking at hybrid machines for maintenance, and the day that electric machines are efficient we will incorporate them into the club.