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  • Neil White

Real Club de Golf Sotogrande

The mountains looked down in the distance, the palm trees stood as tall as in Beverly Hills and the turtle appeared to nod his head in appreciation before diving into the lake alongside the 18th.

To say that Real Club de Golf Sotogrande has a wow factor is probably the greatest understatement of our travels so far.

Within 100 yards of the beach and set on one of the most exclusive tracts of land on the planet, R.C.G.S. is a sumptuous destination to play our wonderful game.

From the moment we arrived in the car park, we knew we were somewhere very special.

And we enjoyed it all the more for avoiding a buggy and having a proper walk with a push-trolley, supplied at the caddy-master hut along with complimentary balls on a superbly laid-out range.

RCGS is the oldest club in these parts, designed by Robert Trent Jones to coincide with the development of the estate back in 1964.

It was updated five years ago and its huge number of bunkers, keen use of water and elevated greens mean every golfer has to be on their mettle to score well.

The first sets a tone – a par-four which can be reached but where water awaits to the right with sand threatening to gobble under-hit approaches.

However, in common with all of the holes, the fairways are wide and course management will be rewarded.

The greens are also slick but I found them easier to read than La Reserva (my most memorable moment was a monster putt from off the rear of the fifth into the hole).

The early holes are impressive but after the 7th jaws really begin to drop. This is a relatively short downhill right-to-left dogleg with a water feature to the right of a green which is surrounded by bunkers.

Not only is the hole picturesque in itself but the view of the mountains of the Sierra Blanca makes it doubly captivating.

The eighth is a mighty tricky par-three ascending pretty much all of its 190 yards. Incredibly, Mrs W’s decent tee shot skimmed the bunker in front of the green and ran down a path to the right never to be seen again. It summed up her day.

Speed of play is clearly a big deal in this part of the world. There are dire warnings about completing a round in four hours and ten minutes on Real Sotogrande’s website, on the course and from the starter.

At the halfway hut, players are given a friendly instruction to return to the tee even with coffee and cake in hand.

I get the need to hurry things along but there is a difference between good pace and rushing and we felt we didn’t even have time to weigh up putts before we were charging off to the next tee.

Real Sotogrande actually felt like a place that needed serenity rather than darting around.

I digress.

The second nine is arguably the most visually pleasing I have encountered on my travels so far.

The bending tenth allows more views of the mountains from its elevated tee and is bordered by some magnificent properties.

From the 12th, the water at Real Sotogrande becomes the dominant feature.

This par-five has a wide enough fairway to make the opening two shots comfortable but then turns so that an approach to the flag demands avoidance of the lake and a bunker.

I opted for the chicken’s way out on the left-hand side but the narrowness of the putting surface meant I overshot.

The par-three 13th is truly memorable with water in front to right and all the way around the rear. If the ball doesn’t sink to the depths, it may find its way into the sand which protects the left of the green.

The drive on the par-five 14th has to carry the lake but even if that is successful it then winds up to a green situated on a plateau. It is a belting hole.

The only blind shot on the course is the second to the long 15th which drifts uphill before a dip and another rise into a green defended by four bunkers.

Then we are back to another stretch of water for holes reminiscent of the 12th and 13th.

The 16th is a par-four which has plenty of room off the tee but demands accuracy to avoid trouble with the second and the 17th is another par-three with water in front, and right.

The home hole is another beauty and is where we passed a sunbathing turtle at the banks of the lake before ascending to a green in front of the wonderful 1960s-style clubhouse.

It was appropriate that my second, a meatily struck fairway wood, should find sand. It was probably the tenth trap I had found so by this time I was pretty adept at extricating myself.

But, regardless of my travails, I was exhilarated because Real Sotogrande delivered in every aspect.

As we tucked into our post-match grub overlooking the course, I couldn’t help wondering where could have been better for a mid-November round. Its condition was perfect and its staff were top-notch.

No wonder it is in Spain’s top three.

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