The remodeling of the links course, at La Hacienda Links Golf Resort by famed American designer Kurtis Bowman, was one of the biggest moves made by Millennium Hospitality when they became new owners of the two golf courses and clubhouse in 2019.
Bowman’s goal was to improve not only the layout and conditioning of the course, but also ensure that sustainability was at the heart of the operation, to align with the resort’s commitment to sustainability.
This La Hacienda Links Golf Resort project is Bowman’s first in Europe and it will undoubtedly change the course of his career. With almost a year since its opening in July 2022 to draw on, the designer is back on the course reviewing the work with the La Hacienda team.
It is difficult to meet all the objectives in any job and in the design of a golf course more, since it is a living being. Do you think you have met all the objectives set out in the new design?
My goal as well as the goal of the owner, Javier Illán-Plaza was to create Spain’s Pebble Beach. Prior to the redesign, the golfers only spoke about the view, not the course. The Costa del Sol has many great golf courses but didn’t have a great seaside course. We believe we’ve created one of the most unique courses in Spain that will belong on the list of the best courses in Costa del Sol as well as the best courses in all of Spain.
You are in Spain supervising the evolution of the field. What balance have you made of your visit?
During the construction of the golf course, I spent over 150 days on the course. I believe that great golf courses are built in the field, not on plans. Plans are simply a starting point. The goal of this visit was to work on smaller details with the new golf course superintendent, Ricardo Baron and agronomist Javier Gutierez of Acttua. Getting small details done correctly can mean the difference between good and great. One example is that we modified and expanded fairway mowing patterns. This will allow the average golfer to find their ball in the fairway more often.
The new tees, greens and bunkers have created a totally new strategy on the course. Can you explain more about this?
La Hacienda Links has to predominant winds, levante and poniente so the golf course plays vastly different depending which wind is blowing the day you play it. The tees are “freeform ribbon” style which allow the markers to be moved forward and backwards substantially depending on which wind is blowing. The greens were also designed with the wind in mind. I wanted to create larger greens with bold contours that could be interesting and challenging without them having to be mown very low as a strong wind will actually begin to move the ball around on very fast greens. I used restraint on using bunkers on the course with only around .61 hectares of bunkers. I wanted my design to be sustainable from a golf course maintenance perspective so low-mown approaches around the greens also serve as the defense much the way that the bunkers do. However, for the average golfer these low-mown approaches are much easier, top lay from tan a bunker. The bunkers we did build are dramatic and generally a bit deeper, tan what the course had before the redesign.
In Spain there are many good golf courses, but do you think a great golf course facing the sea was missing?
Absolutely. Spain features many great golf courses but prior to the redesign was lacking a great seaside golf course. I would like to believe La Hacienda Links now fills this void in Spain.
The new layout will definitely be competing as one of the best courses in Spain. What can players expect when they come to La Hacienda Links?
They can expect to play a golf course with great variety that they will want top lay again. The design of the course continues to reveal itself over time. It is extraordinary fun to play. It is surrounded by great championship courses such as Valderrama, Sotogrande Real, La Reserva Sotogrande and Finca Cortesin. All of these courses are much longer than La Hacienda Links. However, playing along the sea presents its own challenges with the wind and the views from La Hacienda Links are unlike any other course in the world. On a clear day you can see the Atlas Mountains of Morocco as well as the Rock of Gibraltar.
He sure has a favourite hole. What is it and why?
I’d like to say I have 18 of them. The most unique is probably the downhill, par 5 5th hole that is benched in along the Mediterranean Sea with the Rock of Gibraltar framing the backdrop of this dramatic hole. The 5th green is connected to the 13th green and combined this green is approximately 2,000 M2 or 21,000 ft2. I believe this is the largest green is Spain.
Its design has improved the layout and conditioning of the field, but also sustainability. In this sense, how has the redesign impacted?
The course was designed to be sustainable over time. We installed the Rain Bird Integrated Control irrigation system which is the most advanced golf course irrigation system currently available. This allows the golf course superintendent to use water more efficiently. We also use reclaimed water for irrigation and chose turf types that would thrive in this coastal environment while also reducing the chemical and fertilizer inputs necessary to maintain a golf course at a high level. The tees were designed to be mown with a larger riding mower which requires less labour. The area of the bunkers is also quite low for a modern golf course with only around .61 hectares. This also reduces the labour costs.
The Hacienda Links Golf Resort is the first of its designs in Europe. Do you have more projects on the continent?
At the moment, I am busy designing golf courses in the US but I hope to design many more courses in Spain and in Europe. I loved working in Spain in particular and hope to be building more courses there soon.