COSTA DEL SOL, Spain - Santana Golf & Country Club opened for play on Jan. 1, 2004. The inauguration was long awaited by local golfers, who had been able to catch a teasing glimpse of its development from the adjacent road.
But the opening had been delayed by bureaucracy and by one of the wettest years on record, in an area which boasts more than 300 sunny days a year.
With nigh on 40 courses already, the Costa del Sol is true to the Costa del Golf marketing slogan, but Santana promises to be a cut above the many of the rest.
Set in 138 acres of picturesque parkland on a former avocado plantation between two rivers, Santana is an 18-hole course, par-72, measuring 6,306 metres (just under 7,000 yards) and sympathetically laid out by Cabell B. Robinson.
The final result is a magnificent course with wide, well-defined fairways on level terrain, hence it is easily walkable. Water features play an important, albeit not excessive, part in the overall design.
Each hole has a variety of tees, wide fairways plus very large and undulating greens protected by bunkers full of crushed marble in order to combat the double-edged sword presented by amateur golfers armed with the latest club technology.
Good holes come at you one after another so that one becomes absorbed in the very different challenges encountered; a short, dog-legged par-4 is followed by a downhill par-3 which, in turn, leads on to a tee that demands an exact drive.
Each hole connects seamlessly with its predecessor but is a challenge for mind as much as technique. Santana leaves golfers with an intangible feeling that, if all is not well with the world, at least its problems can be put into perspective.
Buggy paths have been cleverly integrated between the rows of fruit trees preserved alongside the manicured fairways. Many visitors will be pleased to escape them for a 'jammy' par.
Despite its previous use, the avocado tree is not the only tree present in this beautiful enclave, as Entrerrios, (literally 'between rivers' and situated between Fuengirola and Mijas) has species like eucalyptus, orange and lemon groves, pines, olive, cactus, fig and mango to add zest to the preserve.
The cork oaks along the 5th hole deserve special mention, as they have been present for more than 500 years.
A varied population of indigenous birds, including the black-footed eagle, add to the tranquility that reigns just 10 minutes from the bustle of the coast.
However, it is not only the beauty of the landscape - the sunsets that light up the Sierra de Mijas are exceptional - that will impress the player as the course itself has attributes to please the most discerning golfer.
And Robinson cannot contain his enthusiasm for his latest creation.
He said: "Unusually, the course has probably gained yardage from my original scorecard. I'm a pretty wild golfer myself so I tend to build wide fairways wherever I can - and here I had the space."
The American architect, who came to Mijas to work for Trent Jones and stayed, added: "Santana is surprisingly mature, instantly pretty and free of real estate."
Santana Golf is a technically demanding course that presents a continuous challenge to all. The layout of the greens, well protected by greenside bunkers, as well as the lakes, rivers and streams encountered throughout a round, ensures a round requires good strategy as well as the confidence to use every club in the bag.
It is difficult to identify a signature hole, as each of the 18 has something special to offer. The long par-4 18th is one of the most demanding finishing holes along the coast according to its designer, with a lake along the right-hand side and a narrow approach to the green.
The fourth is spectacular with views from the tee that are magnificent, and the Campillos stream must be crossed when approaching the green.
The big hitters will favour the 8th - at 595m, reputed to be the longest hole on the Costa del Golf - while the par-3 12th plays downhill to a large undulating green, where many will be happy to walk away with a three - three putts, that is.
Owner Larry Curran, an Irishman with long experience of the coast, underlines his commitment to the Santana motto "Quality without compromise" with a generous 10-minute interval between tee times and an almost 'Patiño-esque' devotion to his greens.
Under the guidance of golf director Salva Jaime Gallardo - formerly of Mijas Golf - the staff receive visitors with a smile. But after completing their rounds, it is the golfers leaving Sanatana who wear the smiles.
A day at CG Santana can be combined with La Cala Resort's North and South Courses - also designed by Cabell Robinson - and two Trent Jones Sr layouts Los Olivos and Los Lagos at Mijas Golf International.
Coincidentally, Robinson also was involved in the creation of the Mijas complex when he was in the employ of Trent Jones' design company.
Five-star accommodation is available at La Cala Resort (lacala.com, firstname.lastname@example.org ) and Hotel Byblos Andaluz G.L (byblos-andaluz.com, email@example.com ) both resorts are within five minutes' drive from CG Santana.
Alternatively, Hotel Tamisa Golf, with only 24 rooms, all overlooking Mijas Golf, offers a cozy option (hoteltamisagolf.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Less than five minutes travelling time from CG Santana is La Cala de Mijas, virtually the last remaining fishing village on the Costa del Golf, which offers a whole gamut of apres golf options.
Alonso and Tina welcome golfers to El Cortijillo (Tel: +952 494 065; closed Sundays) for a tasty, cheap and cheerful menu; Mijas Playa (+952 493 749) and El Oceano (+952 587 550) offer select menus in more upmarket surroundings with beachside terraces.
Biddy Mulligan's Irish pub - Bulevar de La Cala, beside the taxi rank - is the place for full English breakfasts while Bob at Papa Souza's (+952 493 562) beside the Post Office, offers the best of Goan cuisine.
Even if you don't stay at Hotel Tamisa Golf, Rte Salvador is a good meeting place and often has live music (+952 585 988).
March 15, 2004
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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