Jeremy Ellwood discovers the perfect base for taking on some of the best golf courses the area has to offer
Golf in Marbella – Los Naranjos and Rio Real
For the second year in a row I was fortunate enough to enjoy a spot of November golf in the Marbella sunshine, this time staying in La Medina, one of many well-located, luxury apartments managed by property rental specialists Vacation Marbella.
Like all the company’s properties, it was modern and tastefully furnished, and in our particular case a mere five-minute stroll down to the marina at Puerto Banus.
This stretch of coast boasts several very fine golf courses, and this kind of accommodation is just what many golfers are looking for… including a very welcome bottle of red on arrival.
On this particular trip we played two contrasting courses where our hosts have negotiated reduced green fees for clients – Los Naranjos, a Robert Trent Jones Snr creation which dates back to 1977, and Rio Real, the handiwork of Spanish design supremo Javier Arana which opened 12 years earlier.
Los Naranjos played host to the Spanish PGA Championship in 1989, when Jose Rivero had the audacity to defeat Seve in a play-off.
It is, to a degree, a course of two halves, with raised greens the order of the day on the front nine, and the back nine then playing over mostly flatter terrain, all in the lee of the Sierra Blanca mountain range and its highest peak – the distinctive La Concha.
Among the best holes are the par-5 5th, with water down the left for most of the way until you cross it nearer the green, and the testing long par-3 8th that plays to a wide green with a particularly steep false front.
Coming home, the 15th is a fiddly short par 4 that could goad you into attack when caution may be the wiser option due to the pond fiercely guarding the dogleg.
Rio Real is a very pretty course characterised by narrow fairways, mature trees and some intriguing bunkers that, at times, intertwine with the trees in the rough.
Two holes – the 4th and 5th – are set the other side of the busy A7 motorway, with the 4th taking you right down to the shore.
The 5th is then an extraordinarily tough par 4, where the approach is played blind or semi-blind over a large mound and water to a treacherous green.
The 6th is no less extraordinary, a mid-length par 3 to a slender green wedged precariously between a rockface and a sheer drop down to the riverbed.
Even with a mere 7- or 8-iron in hand, the sudden overwhelming need for precision provides real pressure. The 5th and 6th are certainly among the most memorable back-to-back holes I’ve ever played.
Of course, all golf and no culture makes Jezz a dull boy, so it was great to also venture inland to the quite spectacular Ronda Cliffs, where a bridge traverses the dramatic 300ft gorge created by the Guadalevin river, which splits this medieval city in two.
Looking down is definitely not recommended if you’ve no head for heights, though it is worth contemplating what club you would require to safely make it across at various points!
A fitting finale
While here, we had the very great pleasure of wining and dining at Viejos Descalzos, an ancient monastery-turned-winery.
This once derelict property is now producing some very fine wine – the owner even opened a first-harvest 2003 on our account – and the leisurely dinner we enjoyed here gazing out over the vast valley made for a very special evening indeed.
Our final treat was a wonderful meal in the Trocadero Arena beach restaurant close to the Rio Real’s seafront holes, where the varied menu was accompanied by a particularly good Entrechuelos Chardonnay, and an even better Cune Crianza Rioja.
A fitting way to round off a great couple of days in the sun before our short flight back to Gatwick and the British winter.