Among the players relishing a return to El Saler for the Via Digital Open de España this week is Carl Suneson, as it was on this course two years ago that the Spaniard finally turned the corner. After years of erratic golf, during which he was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes and then a thyroid problem, Suneson finally hit form by winning the Challenge de España over this rugged linksland course near Valencia.
That victory marked the start of a great season for Suneson as he went on the claim two more victories on the Challenge Tour on his way to winning the Rankings and regaining his playing privileges on The European Tour.
“When I won there it was fantastic,” said Suneson. “I’ve had health problems over the last five or six years. It was hard. I had just three putted the final hole of the Spanish Open to miss the cut by one and I was feeling down.
“I decided if I wanted to play golf I had to keep on playing and drove down to El Saler with my wife to the Challenge Tour. I won the tournament and went directly from head down to head up. It was a definite boost for me. Now I’m looking forward to returning to El Saler.”
El Saler has regularly ranked among every connoisseur’s top ten courses in Europe since Bernhard Langer won the 1984 Open de España with one of the truly great rounds in the history of The European Tour. His 62 in the final round clinched the title and the German won again in 1989. It was five years ago that The European Tour was last at El Saler when Diego Borrego captured the Turespana Masters Open Communitat Valenciana Paradores de Turismo and it is sure to once again provide a stern test for all players.
“Firstly it is a great golf course,” said Suneson. “The design is fantastic. What makes it difficult is the wind being right by the sea.
“All the holes are pretty tough. On the front nine there are a few holes in trees and the wind whistling between the trees makes it difficult. The back nine is more of a links course, more exposed.
“I like it is you have to pay attention on every hole. The key holes are probably the last six holes as that is where a tournament is decided.
“The 18th is tough – over 460 yards with a howling wind off the right and out of bounds on the left. That’s a key hole.
“The 17th is a great hole because it is so long, straight into the sea. Wind normally dead against. If you miss the green you have had it and when you are playing 240 yards it is not easy. When I won I hit the middle of the green but the other guy missed the green, hacked it out, hacked it out on the green and made six. Things like that happen all over the golf course.
“I think the easiest hole is probably the 13th. It is a drive or a three wood and then a wedge. But the green is elevated which makes it difficult to see where you are going. You can put the pin middle right and it is easy to be short or over the back.”
Suneson will be aiming to repeat his victory from 1999 but will have his work cut out to break the course record of 62.
He said: “Langer’s 62 was unbelievable. You can do it but you have to play fantastic golf. It is like the great scores you see in the Open or US Open, someone shoots a 65 and you think that is fantastic. But that 62 is unbelievable. It’s possible but you have to hit the fairway, hit the greens in the right place and hole the putts. Langer often plays within himself so can shoot those low scores.
“You can’t let up anywhere on the course. Even the par fives, if you hit a great drive and can get up because I hit the ball quite a long distance, it is almost better not going for it. Lay up and have a nice easy 100 yards wedge. If you hit a three wood and it goes a bit left or right you can’t get up and down. From 100 yards you can put a bit of spin on and really go for the flag. It is a strategic golf course.
“It all depends on the wind. If the wind doesn’t come up you can hit low scores. It will be a good test.”