The Costa Del Sol is a popular holiday destination for us Brits due to the short flight and beaches. It is also home to over 70 golf courses from the top-ranked course in Continental Europe to a 9 hole course that you can play after a day by the pool.
I’d love to talk you through my Spanish golfing memories.
My first visit to the Costa Del Sol
I was told by my parents that I needed to finish my education before I turned professional so never got the opportunity to play in the Spanish Amateur (February). As soon as the degree was in the bag I entered the Sherry Cup at Sotogrande GC.
I always remember the driving range being full of both men and women amateurs which was unusual as I always played in single-sex competitions. The wind blew off the coast and the course played hard. I played great and made the playoff, unfortunately I lost on the 2nd hole to a birdie 4. However, not a bad start to my career in Spain.
Qualifying school is where a golfer goes to earn their playing rights for the year. It is the toughest job interview in the world. If you don’t finish in the top 25 players you are out of a job for another year. The 2006 Ladies European Tour Q school was held at La Cala Resort. I remember my friend (caddy) saying “I want to carry a tour bag, like a ‘proper’ caddy”. I warned him that the course was long and very hilly. A true resort course which is built for carts. He never listened learned the lesson the hard way, lugging the bag for seven days in a row up the Mijas Hills,
It was an exhausting but great week for me, I managed to secure my playing rights with a top 10 finish.
La Cala is a perfect resort for Q school and a golf trip because it is self-contained. There are three courses (America, Asia and Europa) as well as a large driving range and par 3 course. You can stay onsite in their beautiful 107 bedroom hotel and look out onto the course imagining what could have been. There is a spa which was very relaxing after seven days of intense golf.
A huge bonus to this resort like many others is you are only thirty minutes from Malaga Airport. You can fly in the morning and be on the 1st tee by 2 pm. I’d highly recommend a short or long trip to La Cala but remember to book a golf cart and not be like my stubborn caddy.
My Ryder Cup Experience
The first Ryder Cup I remember watching on tv was Valderrama. The rain fell, Seve was everywhere and Europe were victorious. I have been very lucky to play Valderrama in a corporate golf trip and even though we got the 1997 weather, I would still rank it as one of the best courses I have ever played. Ranked the number one course in continental Europe since 1988 everything about it is special, the range, the course condition all reminds me of Augusta National.
There has been a huge investment in recent times, transforming the driving range, cart paths, grass and bunkers. The famous Cork trees which line the fairways have also been manicured to make the course more playable.
Even with pouring rain I had a smile on my face, every hole is memorable and it feels like you have the golf course to yourself due to the corridors of trees lining the carpet like fairways.
As I walked off the 15th green (I hit driver to that par 3) I already had the signature hole on my mind. I told myself “I must go for 17 in two’ like I’d seen Sergio Garcia do time and again on television.
My tee shot found the fairway and I was left with a 3 wood over the water for my 2nd. All the feelings of history, excitement and nervousness come over you. “Don’t mess this up Soph, you won’t get an opportunity to do this again”. I swung hard and confidently, the ball flew towards the middle of the green, landed and skipped through. Luckily not into the back bunkers like Jose Maria Olazábal did in 1997. I was left with a steep downhill chip but with the green softer from the rain I managed to get up and down for a four. And walk away with the story for life “I birdied the 17th at Real Club Valderamma”
My Most Memorable Shot in Golf
Puerto Banus is home to supercars, yachts and eleven golf courses. It is a popular spot for the Ladies European Tour and I have played nearly all of the courses in the Golf Valley.
My best finish in the area was around Aloha Golf Club, a tree-lined course with views of the La Concha mountain and the Mediterranean Sea. As I stood on the fairway of my final hole at the Open Femino I knew I needed a birdie to move up the leaderboard. I was faced with an uphill 137 yard shot to a green which sloped from back to front. I dare not hit the ball short as it would almost come back to me.
With a 7 iron in hand, my caddy (a Carpet fitter, not a professional) said to me “commit to it Soph”. I’d recently changed coach and had a few key swing thoughts which I had stuck to all week. I committed to my process and let fly. The ball flew straight at the flag, I knew it was good. The crowd clapped and then there was a massive cheer. The ball had landed two feet left of the flag, and danced right into the bottom of the hole. EAGLE TIME……. I raised my hands aloft and hugged my caddy Adam.
The thrill of executing a shot under the biggest pressure in front of live Sky Sports cameras and a crowd gave me a massive surge of confidence. And a decent paycheque for third place. I headed down to the port to celebrate in Astral Cocteleria bar (the boat bar in Puerto Banus). The famous strawberry daiquiris were on me.
Where it Ended and Began
La Quinta golf was the location for the final event of the 2018 LET season, there is a Race to the Costa Del Sol just like the men have on the European Tour. I had decided at the start of the year that my twelfth season on tour was to be my last. La Quinta is another great resort to visit for a golf holiday as there are 27 holes and a Westin hotel on site. There are also many apartments and Villas to rent close by. I would recommend the hotel for a short stay and one of the Villas if you are with family or there for a week.
The 3 nines have slightly different features. San Pedro is open and short, Ronda is narrow with difficult greens and Guadaiza sits somewhere in the middle of the other two. Weirdly my final round wasn’t emotional, I knew things were coming to an end but I had new beginnings on the horizon. I signed my card, ate some lunch and then headed to the TV compound. I walked in, put my headphones on, started talking and so another chapter of my life began.
I am now the commentator for the Ladies European Tour, so my Northern tones will be ringing in your ears whenever you turn on the TV for women’s golf in the Uk and around the world.
Let me take you back to September 2019, Suzann Pettersen has just holed an 8-foot putt to win the Solheim Cup for Team Europe. The sky is blue and the sun is shining but she, like everyone watching at Gleneagles, is wearing a woolly hat, thermals and waterproofs as they celebrate the victory. This was the greatest Solheim Cup ever but it was pretty cold and wet. Fast forward to 2023 and the Solheim Cup returns to European soil in the Costa Del Sol.
Imagine heading to Finca Cortesin to cheer on the team in the sunshine. You could stay in the Sotogrande and Marbella area, enjoy the beach holiday and watch some golf. There is no better event in professional sport than a Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup. It is a party atmosphere. You could book yourself in for a round at the local courses in the area and put into practice what you have learnt from watching Charley Hull and Nelly Korda’s swings.
This is a trip not to be missed, and I can assure you the player after-party will go long into the night. You might even see them in one of the famous bars down by the port.
I hope you have enjoyed my highlights from visiting the Costa Del Sol, if you wish to book a trip make sure to head to Your Golf Travel.