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  • Neil White

Real Golf de Pedreña

I fell in love with golf in the mid-1970s, and from then on, Seve Ballesteros was my idol.

The young, precocious, swashbuckling Spaniard made our great game thrilling, always managing to extricate himself from disaster before going on to glory.

I was lucky to see him be the central figure in those glorious Ryder Cup victories at The Belfry in which we cheered ourselves hoarse… for Europe.

His spirit still looms large during the magnificent tussles with the United States.

The stories of Seve playing on a nearby beach with a three-iron before eventually being given a chance to caddy at Real Golf de Pedreña are legendary.

Back then, he would hide in a cave near the 18th tee and wait for everyone to disappear before emerging to hit some balls.

Treading in his footsteps at the club where his son still plays was one of the great privileges of my golf pilgrim quest so far.

Pedreña is one of Spain's most exclusive clubs and behind its gates is a pristine golfing environment.

Mrs W and I were agog at the manicured hedges, perfect walkways and on-point practice areas.

Seve helped design par-three and pitch-and-putt courses for youngsters to hone their skills before taking on the 18 championship holes.

Both are high-quality, as are the short-game area, driving range, and putting greens.

We and our host were among the first out, so we didn't have the usual welcome.


However, the first demonstration of the members' friendliness was on the third hole, when I was told my phone had been found on the second.

The pair who alerted us and those with the mobile were lovely.

By then, we had already discovered that the course was in remarkable shape and its greens were fiendishly fast.

Fortunately, our opening shots had been better than one recent player who left a ball-sized hole in an adjacent clubhouse window after what must have been a considerable shank.

The first is typical of Pedrena's holes. Wide fairway surrounded by trees before a green protected by a false front, bunkers and the subtlest of putting surfaces.

It is followed by one of my favourites – a knee-trembling par-three with water on the right and a diagonal green, which I thought I had found only to see the ball slip off by a yard.

That was enough to ensure bogey rather than par was recorded.

The pattern was repeated many times: decent tee shots, fair follow-ups, and putts that I thought were well-struck but either slipped past the hole or headed in expected directions.

There are also plenty of threats off the tee – for example, there is a longish carry on the dogleg third between the bunkers of the second and fourth greens before the fairway narrows towards its target.

My first fist pump was on the fifth – a short par-four which demands precision off the tee because of tight out-of-bounds on the right and a fall-off into a wooded area on the left.

My centrally placed drive was followed with a pitch to about ten feet. The putt missed but I was grateful for par.

The course is nearly 100 years old and was designed by the genius Harry Colt. More recently, there was some Seve-style creative thinking, especially on bunkers.

Purple azaleas to the rear of the sixth green also trigger memories of his two Masters wins at Augusta.

The seventh is the second of five very different par-threes with its angled green, sloping steeply from right to left.

Our compadre had hit his tee shot to the left but looked as if he had recovered expertly with a deft chip only to see the ball bite, stick for a second and then roll back towards him.

The eighth is a cracker of a par-four bending towards the ocean with reedy horrors ready to snaffle the balls of those who try to cut the corner.

And then there is a deep, vast bunker that must have prompted Seve's memories of the nearby beach where he played with a makeshift three-iron as a boy.

My approach looked good but dripped into the giant trap.

The Cubas estuary and Santander Bay views were stunning, even on a disappointingly misty day.

The ninth is the first par-five, which big hitters will fancy reaching in two.

I only needed a clip of a nine-iron to make it in regulation, but I found a greenside bunker I didn't know was there.

The danger for anyone who is over-aggressive is the extreme run-off behind the target. Once again, the views from the green are terrific.

The second par-five is in the opposite direction and is another scoring opportunity if the bunker can be avoided. My approach found sand because I was too ambitious and aimed directly at the flag.

The 13th and 14th need accuracy as they are straight par-fours lined by trees before the 15th, an insanely tough par-three of 200+ yards to a small green at the bottom of a left-to-right slope.

Finding the middle of the green with a strangled driver could be my shot of 2024 so far.

The 17th is a belter – a very sharp dogleg to the right from an elevated tee, which tempts longer hitters to cut the corner and risk crashing into one of the tall trees in a thick copse.

My criticism of Pedrena is that its greens were tricked up too much and it was near-impossible for the mid-handicappers in our group to threaten the cup.

Their difficulty was magnified on the 18th – an otherwise excellent home hole to a target perched above another false front.

I was thrilled that my drive and three-wood found me just short of the green, leaving me with a comfortable uphill lag to the pin.

Or so I thought. The ball was about four feet short when it went into sharp reverse and returned to my feet. This was repeated three times!

My issue was that if I had hit it any harder, it would likely have finished 20 feet past the hole because of the flag placement.

Regardless, we had enjoyed a wonderful day, topped off by a convivial lunch in a traditional clubhouse.

However, I would say the room dedicated to Seve was lower-key than we expected and a more subdued celebration of him than at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, the venue of his famous car park shot and subsequent open victory.

We also stopped outside his house, where there is a statue of him next to a replica of the famous St Andrews Swilcan bridge.

The golf pilgrim had made a true pilgrimage and I was delighted to have done so.

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