It doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand that Europe’s best golfers get to play on Europe’s very best courses. If you run through any self-respecting list of the very best layouts in Europe then it quickly becomes very clear that tournament golf and world-class tracks very rarely go hand in hand.
For years Valderrama has always been a mainstay for both. Everybody loves Valderrama. Despite the severity of the test – John Catlin won here with a winning score of +2 in 2020 – the players love it. The facilities are like nowhere else, the range is said to be out of this world and it gets the juices flowing. It is possible to score well – Adrian Otaegui somehow got it round in -19 this year to win by six – but you will have played your very best stuff to weave your way between the cork trees. Even better it is relatively short, at just a few yards over 7,000, and still it can trick the very best.
As fans we like going back to our old favourites, we like a bit of history and we like revising some of our favourite holes where anything and everything can happen – Valderrama first played host to the European Tour in 1988. For years it provided the stage for the season-ender when topping the money list was a big part of the charm of the tour.
If you want an idea of how big it was then, and how things have slipped, the overall prize money when Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie famously shared the title in 2002 was bigger then than it was this year.
Part of Augusta and The Masters’ huge attraction is our in-depth knowledge of the course and the players’ ability to hit certain shots, at Valderrama we might not enjoy such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the place but we know more about it than the bulk of its peers on the DP World Tour calendar and we know that the last few holes can make a mess of a good round. Whatever score you’re on after 11 holes it’s generally understood that it's unlikely to get any better from there on in.
In terms of courses there’s not a huge amount to get excited about the new DP World Tour schedule for 2023. They’re all perfectly acceptable but two Irish events, at Galgorm Castle and the K Club, a Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club and a British Masters at The Belfry doesn’t even get close to representing the best these countries could offer.
If we’ve learnt anything in the past year it’s that headlines of record prize funds mean very little to the ordinary golf fan but a proper test and something out of the ordinary does. Obviously it’s all about the money to the players and they would far rather have bigger prize kitties and even some world-ranking points to collect next year than a long list of world-class heathland and links courses to tackle, but the tours should also be about really showcasing what the game has to offer.
One of the most striking aspects of the announcement of next year’s calendar is the omission of Valderrama from it. The course, which was given royal status in 2014 to become just the 15th club in Spain to receive such patronage, is likely to be part of the LIV Golf circuit in 2023 with the Saudi-backed series reportedly offering more than €2m to the course. The whisper is that it will host one of their 14 events in late June just three weeks before The Open.
Of all the coups that LIV have pulled off this would be one of the most impressive. If you were anti-LIV then you could easily point the finger at a collection of courses that offer very little in terms of genuine class. For all LIV's billions it’s fairly bizarre that Centurion Club has a place to play on a very limited schedule but that could all now be changing.
Next year Valderrama looks set play host to a bundle of major winners in the height of the golf season. Sergio Garcia (a multiple winner at the course) will be in the field, as will our latest winner Otaegui, and we get to see players like Cam Smith pick their way around the course. The storylines are fairly endless of how to paint a rosy picture of the week – Valderrama famously staged the Ryder Cup in 1997 and we’ll have Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson in the LIV field, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell have both won here and it will be the first time that a collection of big-name Americans will have set eyes on the place.
If you weren’t tuning in to Rich Harvest Farms or Pumpkin Ridge then there’s a good chance that you might do in late June next year.
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Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
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