The DP World Tour returns to Andalucía in October for another year, but this time the host course will be Real Club de Golf de Sotogrande. This club, which used to stage pro events in the past, takes over from Valderrama and has found the right moment to showcase its great Robert Trent Jones design, restored in a course refurbishment in 2015.
We spoke to Kostka Horno, director of Real Club de Golf Sotogrande, about the competition and the decision to host it in a record year for top-level golf competitions in Andalucía.
Each year, Real Club de Golf Sotogrande hosts the most prestigious European amateur championship, the former Jerez Cup and now Sotogrande Cup, which brings together the leading amateur players on the European scene. Yet the club has not been hosting any professional tournament. Why hold a DP World Tour tournament now? Why did the members make the decision?
It is true that we have focussed on amateur above all else. Even though in 1966 we hosted the Spanish Open, won by Roberto de Vicenzo, and in 1987 the Spanish Professional Championship, won by Seve Ballesteros, our priority has been to promote the ‘Copa Sotogrande’, the European Nations Championship event.
When we carried out the major course refurbishment in 2015 and 2016, we took the opportunity to design in some black tees in case the chance came up in the future to host an appealing professional tournament and show the world this Robert Trent Jones jewel.
Over the years, we have received various offers to stage professional tournaments, but for a variety of reasons we never took the plunge. The chance came at the end of last year when the DP World Tour ended its relationship with Valderrama, and among all the candidates, the PGA European Tour showed interest in our Real Club de Golf Sotogrande to host the event. This time round, with many of our investments completed, the excellent condition and upkeep of the course, a quality and highly motivated management team and the flexibility not to continue if the first year didn’t go as we expected, the board decided to go for it.
In my view, it is a unique opportunity to showcase this great course. Because of Valderrama’s great track record in organising top-level professional events, for many years it has been kept in the shadows, especially for international golfers. It is also important to remember what 2023 means for this area as a golf destination and for Spanish golf in general: this year a LIV Golf tournament has been organised at Valderrama; the Solheim Cup will be held in September at Finca Cortesin; the DP World Tour will take place here at Royal Sotogrande and we will close the year with the Women’s Open at Royal Las Brisas. It is hard to find another place in the world that hosts competitions of such a high standard on courses within half an hour’s drive of each other.
After the 2022 Estrella Damm Andalucía Master, Valderrama announced that it would end its relationship with the European Tour because the strength of the field had been whittled away over the years. What does the agreement with the DP World Tour say regards that? Have they guaranteed the participation of top-level tour players? Will Jon Rahm be among them?
It is true that Valderrama has always fought to attract the best possible players, and if there is a venue that deserves it, it is Valderrama for sure, considering the large number of events they have organised there over the years. The DP World Tour’s commitment and determination to attract the best players is clear, but we need to remember that, even in a normal year, it is very hard to guarantee specific names will take part, and even more so in a year as eventful as this one, with the famous LIV Golf agreement with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour and it being a Ryder year. Despite those challenges, all sides are working to attract the best players possible. We have one point in our favour which is that many of the players currently competing on the DP World Tour already know our course as they played for the Sotogrande Cup in their amateur days. That tournament has a record of producing winners of the standing of Padraig Harrington, Sergio García and Rory McIlroy, among many others.
In terms of preparing the course, obviously the day-to-day upkeep is different to a European Tour event. What is being done over and above the normal maintenance schedule?
In terms of the quality of course upkeep, we are not going to do anything especially different as our course director, Patrick Allende, sets his standard at this level of tournament every day of the year. Obviously there will be tweaks to make the course harder – we will narrow some fairways, let the rough grow up a bit to make it harder to control the ball, create some runoff areas around the greens and work on green firmness and speed. This will be done slowly at first in August, to avoid affecting members, and be speeded up from September onwards. The dates for the event, from 19th to 22nd of October, work in our favour to present a course in perfect condition.
We are aware what professional players at this level are capable of and the numbers they are marking week in week out. The course will be prepared to provide a fair degree of challenge, but we are obsessed with avoiding very low scores which, given how close we are to the Strait of Gibraltar, will depend largely on the wind conditions on the dates of the event. Our aim is to present a course in superb condition for players, spectators and those watching on television.
You have already told us that the course went through a major refurbishment in 2015. What does Royal Sotogrande look like now after that renewal?
The project was planned as a true restoration of the golf course designed in 1964 by Robert Trent Jones. Don’t forget that Real Club de Golf Sotogrande was Robert Trent Jones’ first design in Europe.
With the refurbishment, we recovered 49% of the green areas that had been lost over time and many pin positions. We gained in the quality of the Bermuda on the fairways and rough and of the Agrostis on the greens. In terms of design, the only relevant change was on the 8th hole.
The rest, essentially, has kept the features that made it famous. A course with long tees, wide fairways, and large, raised greens, subtly contoured and fast, are what makes it a challenging round. Two out of three bunkers are placed around the greens, which means players must be as precise as possible attacking the flags. It is a varied course, not only in terms of its form and distances but also in its vegetation: the mixture of cork oaks, pines, palm trees and other types give the course great character and beauty.
We are really looking forward to showcasing the course to the world and I think both players and public will really fall for it.
I would like to take this opportunity to urge all those who love golf to block out a few days in Sotogrande to enjoy this great show and all the area has to offer.