- Neil White
“It’s 102 yards to the flag but against the wind, so, 110 yards.”
Our forecaddie had spoken, I played the chip and his information was so accurate that the ball hit the flag… and then deflected into the greenside bunker! The pitch mark was two inches from the cup but I blobbed the hole.
Luck was against me for much of the round as we followed the steps of Seve’s 1997 Ryder Cup team on the hallowed turf of Valderrama.
But I couldn’t blame fate for my inability to handle the mix of Penncross grass and Ryegrass around the greens.
However, the words of wisdom from the man in the white overalls transformed Mrs W’s short game. Thanks to him, she recorded one of her best rounds of our holiday on one of the toughest courses in the world.
There is probably a greater sense of place at Valderrama than at any other venue I have played.
I will be honest in saying I thought near-neighbour Real Sotogrande had better views and more dramatic holes but it doesn’t have the cache of Valderrama.
Here forecaddies are compulsory and ours certainly added significantly to our enjoyment with his keen eyes and impish humour.
Valderrama is imposing but not stuffy.
After being waved through with a smile into the property, our bags were taken from the car by one of the enthusiastic caddie-master team who showed us the ropes after our friendly welcome in the pro’s shop.
Every aspect of this club is on point – from the locker room to the practice facilities, there is a clear intent to be the best.
The same is true of a course which was in magnificent condition even though we were playing it in November.
Valderrama is not a particularly long but it was clear that our forecaddie was keen we avoid the gnarly corked oaks which line the holes (acorns were dropping from the trees throughout the round and initially had us scampering because we thought they were errant golf balls!).
Therefore, on the first, after decent tee shots and the lay-ups he advised, we chipped towards the flag, had par-putts and walked away with two points for our bogeys (we always play Stableford on the top 100 quest).
I can’t say his methods were fool-proof but we only lost one ball between us and we didn’t succumb to either trees or water, Valderrama’s key defences.
However, I lost count of the number of times he said ‘bunker’ with a wry smile and his eyes towards the sky as our shots found sand.
There are several blind tee shots at Valderrama so I was grateful of the advice of ‘aim at the tree’ on the second. This allowed the right-to-left slope feed the ball into the perfect approach position.
Beauty is the eye of the beholder but the 4th was one of my favourite holes – a par-five with fine views and a slither of a green between a water feature on the right and bunker on the left.
The 6th is a picture par-three. Downhill into a green beautifully framed by bunkers. Mrs W and I were both thrilled to hit the centre of the target.
She was delighted with her par and I was left scratching my head when my second putt defied gravity to stop on the edge of the cup.
The 8th is where the corked oaks are there most populous and lured me down the right-hand side. I took my medicine and punched out before the aforementioned chip against the flag.
The sea emerges for the first time on the par-five 11th, which demands a tee shot down the left-hand side to avoid the ball sliding down the slope into the bunkers on the right.
Its green is perched on what appears to be the course’s highest point with a gorgeous outlook over Sotogrande and the Mediterranean.
By this time, the caddie had rectified Mrs W’s struggling bunker play and a disgruntled eye firmly fixed on my faltering ‘wide-stance, low tailbone and swish’ technique.
Consequently, I was particularly chuffed to lob to two feet from the left-hand bunker on the par-three 12th.
The 16th and 17th are brilliant holes.
The former is a long bending par-four which goes steeply uphill towards a green defended by a fiendish complex of sand traps.
The latter is a glorious par-five where strategy is key to avoiding bunkers and a stunning water feature in front of arguably the trickiest green on the course.
My approach was so good that it drew applause from the group in front but neither they nor I knew that being above and right of the hole leaves a near-impossible putt.
The caddie suggested almost a right-angled trajectory which I followed but hit it way too hard.
Mrs W played the shot of the holiday by chipping beneath her feet from the thick grass to within a foot of the target.
It was one of the many moments we had to savour on the trail of Seve, Sergio, Jon and co.
Yes, Valderrama may be a very expensive day out but once you have accepted the cost, it delivers in every way right down to our meal in its illustrious clubhouse and the final shine of our clubs by the caddie team.