Why Sotogrande Is One Of Europe’s Best Golf Destinations

Fergus Bisset travelled to Sotogrande for his first overseas golf trip since the Covid pandemic.

Villa Vela looking at La Reserva Sotogrande
(Image credit: Sotogrande)

I had almost forgotten where I’d put my golf club travel cover when I received an invitation to head out for a few days’ golf in Sotogrande. Two Covid-affected winters meant it had been almost three years since I’d played golf overseas. Needless to say, I was champing at the bit to get away from a cold and wet November in Aberdeenshire, with golf courses past their best for the season, to get some sun on my back and play some pristine tracks in the south of Spain.

I’ve been to Sotogrande before and loved the blend of continental style and top-quality golf on offer. The itinerary for this trip promised more of the same so anticipation levels were high. Flying from Edinburgh, it’s three hours south to Gibraltar. It must be one of the easier ways for us Brits to get back into the European Union these days. After picking up bags, we crossed the border on foot to find a car on the Spanish side. From the border, it’s only a 20-minute drive to Sotogrande – One of the shorter golf transfers to be found anywhere in Europe.


SO/ Sotogrande

(Image credit: SO Sotogrande)

My billet for a few nights was the wonderfully luxurious SO/ Sotogrande hotel. Recently upgraded, it offers five-star quality throughout, from the villa-style bedrooms to the salubrious spa. Designed with a traditional Andalusian Cortijo (an old-fashioned rural dwelling) as the inspiration, the hotel marries heritage with sumptuous modern comfort. The food is of the highest standard with a choice of restaurants – from tapas in the Cortijo bar, to fine dining in Society. There’s a selection of outdoor pools, as well as an indoor facility and there are options to enjoy all sorts of experiences, from cycling to polo lessons! And, of course, there’s the reason I was there – the golf.

Sotogrande offers a number of famous courses but the logical place to start was the layout set over the grounds of the SO/ Sotogrande Hotel. Almenara Golf offers 27 holes designed by Dave Thomas and it dates from 1997. Legendary local golfer Manuel Pinero recently completed some remodelling work to further improve the offering. We played the Pines and the Lakes nines, the other being the Corks.

The Pines starts off relatively softly - A sweeping par-5 with trouble down the left side. A theme on this nine is – don’t go left. Often the ball will kick down from the right side to find the middle of the fairway as the course travels around the property in a clockwise direction. If you are able to play a straight ball, the layout isn’t overly punishing but for those with a tendency to a hook (or pull as I was suffering,) keeping yourself in play is tough. Worth mentioning was the beautiful quality of the playing surfaces – it was to be a theme over the three days. The greens here were excellent and the fairways and other closely mown areas were beautifully maintained. Very good for how late it was in the year.


3rd hole Lakes nine at Almenara

(Image credit: Fergus Bisset)

On to the Lakes nine. As you might expect, water plays a part as the nine moves around two main lakes. There are some very enjoyable holes – the par-4 6th is a tempter for the longest hitters, but the carry is not far off the 300-yard mark. Otherwise, you have to plot your way round the lake – a dogleg from left to right with a very narrow fairway… Very tricky indeed. The 7th is an excellent par-3 with a carry all the way over water to a green sloping strongly from right to left and back to front. Almenara is a tough track for the wayward hitter but a fair one if you can keep your tee shots under control.

Although the food in the SO/ Sotogrande is first-rate, there are some excellent off-property dining options around Sotogrande. One of the most famous is the Trocadero by the beach. It’s a place that gives a real taste of what Sotogrande is all about, where old-school, 20th century sophistication meets modern gastronomy and mixology. We enjoyed a mix of delicious tapas-style starters before moving on to a pair of paellas that were as rich and tasty as one could possibly hope for. After 18-holes, an extremely nourishing meal and one or two exceptional Old Fashioned cocktails back at the hotel (the mixologist at SO/ Sotogrande is an award winner in his own right,) a good night’s sleep seemed inevitable, and so it proved to be. The rooms and beds at SO/ Sotogrande are airy and hugely comfortable.


An incredible villa at La Reserva

(Image credit: Fergus Bisset)

Property is a big deal at Sotogrande and the resort is home to some of the most amazing in the whole of Andalusia. The development has been on an impressive scale and there’s great variety, from the early villas built in the 1960s and 70s to exceptional contemporary designs like those around La Reserva. We were taken to see one of the more opulent examples which was like stepping straight into a film set. I was imagining Leonardo DiCaprio swanning about either as Jay Gatsby or Jordan Belfort, transported to the 21st century.


Real Club de Golf Sotogrande - view from 16th green to 17th and 18th

(Image credit: Real Club de Sotogrande)

Day two’s golf was to be at one of my favourite places to play anywhere on planet golf – Real Club de Golf Sotogrande. Opened for play in 1964, the course at Real Club de Golf Sotogrande was the first in Europe to be designed by acclaimed course architect Robert Trent Jones. It has been recently renovated with guidance from Roger Rulewich, Trent Jones’s right-hand man for 35 years, and his partner David Fleury.

From the moment you arrive in the stylish clubhouse, you feel like you’re experiencing the height of continental chic. Whether you’re sipping a cocktail in the bar or perusing the cashmere in the pro shop, you have the feeling that Sean Connery might walk round the corner at any moment.

Out on the course, that old-world feel continues. It’s a layout that delivers classic golf over playing surfaces that are as good as you will find anywhere. The greens are incredible to putt on. The opening holes are relatively generous as they wind through the gnarled cork trees. Those trees are worth seeing in themselves - like something you might run into in Fanghorn forest just before they stand up straight and tell you they’re an Ent.


7th hole Real Club Sotogrande

(Image credit: Real Club de Sotogrande)

The course flows beautifully, from the open early stages to the tighter, more undulating holes around the turn. On the back nine, the course offers more of a stadium feel as it travels around two loops circling a couple of lakes. It’s a great feeling as it’s as if the course builds towards that climax.

Real Club Sotogrande (RCS) offers a hugely memorable day of golf and a glimpse back to a more elegant and sophisticated age of the game that I, for one, would like to see elements of return.

Something I hadn’t known was that Sotogrande is the European polo capital. Each year the polo season spends some six weeks in Sotogrande with the world’s best polo players competing in a series of tournaments. For dinner after RCS we, fittingly, headed to an Argentinian steak restaurant – Cancha II – adjacent to the polo field. A bustling space, you could see the steaks being cooked on a flaming grill, with simply incredible cuts of meat and the fullest, most nourishing red wines… it’s my kind of place.

Again (with the further help of another Old Fashioned) sleep that night was highly obliging and wonderfully deep. I roused myself with an Andalusian breakfast in SO/ Sotogrande’s Society… I say roused – more like filled myself to the brim once more, before heading to our final game at La Reserva Club.


The 18th up to the clubhouse at La Reserva

(Image credit: La Reserva)

Opened for play in 2003, La Reserva was designed by Cabell B. Robinson. Above all, this is a fun track to play with a number of highly memorable holes. The fairways are generous, although trouble awaits if you stray too far. It’s the greens that you really must watch for – they’re large and seriously undulating. Often, two putts can be quite a challenge.

But, what strikes me most about La Reserva is how fair it is – If you play to the right positions and give yourself a chance, it’s possible to score well. Get out of position and, good luck to you!

It’s a regular fixture on the Ladies European Tour and provides a great stage for the players who are always quick to comment on the supreme quality of the playing surfaces… That, as I said, is a theme at golf courses in Sotogrande – course maintenance is of the very highest standard.


6th hole at La Reserva

(Image credit: La Reserva)

Like with much of Sotogrande, there are great views at La Reserva, down towards the sea. It’s a beautiful spot to play and that is part of the experience of a day at La Reserva.

Away from the lush, manicured fairways, there are plenty of other options – there’s a popular tennis club and an astounding, inland Beach Club. A seaside oasis transferred to the Andalusian hills; it has to be seen to be believed.

A visit to Sotogrande offers more than just the golf. Aside from the opulent accommodation in SO/ Sotogrande or the mind-bendingly luxurious villas, there’s the beach, polo lessons, mountain biking, horse-riding, yoga, hiking in the hills, sightseeing at historic Andalusian villages, tennis, shooting and, of course, some exceptional dining and drinking to enjoy. Sotogrande is a real jewel on the Spanish coast, and you should take any chance you get to go and visit.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?