Some don’t like ‘resort courses’, but this one, although not directly linked to its own hotel, is a cracker and just the sort of place to play when you can get away for a few days in this golfing paradise. Santana is a high-quality pay and play course, situated between Malaga and Marbella in Southern Spain. The management of the complex completely ‘get’ their market and ensure that their staff are bright, friendly and attentive and offer delicious food and drink after golf and great service throughout.
The course is fairly compact and runs through land which was once given over to avocado groves. Some of these wonderful trees remain, as well as orange trees and glorious eucalyptus trees towering along the fairways and defining the options for attacking the pin.
This is a busy course in top condition and, as with all busy courses, it is difficult to manage large numbers of golfers and keep them all happy. At Santana they have a number of charming marshalls who gently cajole a little more pace from a flagging group of players, enhancing their experience with friendly banter, whilst making the fair point that a slightly faster pace of play might help everyone.
The course has four sets of tees and can play to nearly 6900 yards from the back tees, but with most of the golfers using the yellow markers it is a fair test at around 6200 yards. All of the teeing areas are perfectly trimmed, reseeded and repaired and the ladies tees are treated with equal reverence and care.
With rolling hills and plenty of smaller undulations on the fairways and green surrounds, the course is interesting to play and a good challenge, despite the rough being cut right back. This allows for a forgiving round, but the rolling ball can easily run into trouble and spin off the pacy greens. In some ways, the paired rough makes playing easier, but it also encourages and the challenges are still to be found in positioning your ball under the pin, as the speed and slope of the greens can wreck cards quickly.
There are many courses in this part of Spain, like Santana, that prefer the coarser, slightly grittier sand that is popular at many venues today. The drainage is excellent, it doesn’t wash out too easily and it plugs less and can give golfers the chance to really spin the ball from a hazard. It certainly encourages more positive play from bunkers and helps with ball sales too, as the additional scuffing limits the life of a new ball. All of the bunkers at Santana are well designed and create a great visual challenge for players and a gentle punishment for those visiting the sand.
The course was designed by the renowned architect, Cabell Robinson, who trained with Robert Trent Jones and spent two decades working for the company, latterly heading their European operation. In the late eighties he branched out into his own practice and has been highly successful since. He has designed some absolutely fabulous courses around Europe including; Finca Cortesin in Spain, Aphrodite Hills in Cypus and Praia del Rey in Portugal. He has constructed a very playable course at Santana, which is quite easy to walk despite the popularity of buggies with most visitors. The routing (the difficult bit in course design) is excellent, but there are no elaborate practice facilities, which is the only drawback to the whole complex. Robinson has lived on the Costa del Sol for many years and is fully attuned to the local ways and is also a strong environmentalist.
As with almost all commercial courses in Spain and elsewhere in the world, golf buggies are a huge part of the income for a facility. The buggies at Santana are well maintained Club Cars, cleaned down after every round and charged to provide at least 36 holes of use. Buggies in hot climates make golf so much more pleasurable for many. They shield the player from the sun and once in motion provide a wonderful, cooling breeze to soothe the overheated golfer. They also help with pace of play and allow golfers of all abilities to get round in a reasonable time. They can also be useful for the hillier layouts and those with long distances between greens and tees. A good buggy track is a must and Santana has a great one. Turning areas are nicely judged and the whole concrete construction has been carefully planned and well made - it will last well.
There are a number of eye catching water features at Santana. All have been built with a dry stone wall look and dodging them is part of the battle between golfer and architect. Despite the light rough, the golfer will normally come off second best, as all water hazards seem to have a magnetic attraction for golf balls.
As with other well thought out pay and play venues, the clubhouse has been designed and built to look after no more than 70-80 golfers at once. This is wise as, with no membership, there is less need to build a colossal palace, which is either underused or marketed so heavily that the core operation can be forgotten. The restaurant is outstanding and serves fabulous food to suit all palates and budgets. There is an extensive wine list with some very good stuff for those with a generous budget and a finer understanding. It is beautifully run, with fine dining mixing easily with snacking golfers, a really great trick to master for those of us in the food and drink business.
The reception is manned by multilingual, bright and warm staff who take bookings, cash and handle all sorts of queries. As previously mentioned, there are no members, so all of the green fees are sold at the best market rate, with the Santana website offering the best deals, which helps to keep the parasitic third party operators at bay. With such a great climate and a well run and thought out course, there was no requirement to create a membership, which even golf club members must admit, is at best tricky and can be downright awkward.
Santana, like the rock band of the same name, is cool and unforgettable. It is unpretentious and very well run and is one of the very best places to play on the Costa del Sol.
For more information, please visit: santanagolf.com