The Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation is back on the European Tour International Schedule for the first time in six years, with Real Club Valderrama, one of the most prestigious courses in Europe, playing host.
Situated in Sotogrande in southern Spain, the course has an illustrious history and has welcomed the game’s finest through its gates since it opened in 1974. The 1997 Ryder Cup was staged here, the first edition of the tournament to be played in mainland Europe, and witnessed a classic encounter which finished 14.5 - 13.5 in Europe’s favour. Led by inspirational captain Seve Ballesteros, a European team including Lee Westwood, José María Olazábal and Sir Nick Faldo defeated Tom Kite’s United States side, who boasted 21 year old reigning Masters Champion Tiger Woods in their ranks.
Valderrama, originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr, also hosted the first edition of the WGC-Championship, where Woods claimed the second of his record 18 WGC titles in a play-off against Miguel Angel Jiménez. The Open de España was held at the course for the first time in 2016, the site of Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston’s first European Tour victory.
The par 71 course is renowned for being a challenging test, with just 14 scores of par or better recorded over the last three tour events held there. Johnston’s winning score during last year’s Open de España was one over par, proving Valderrama’s reputation as a formidable examination of a player’s game is not overstated.
Ahead of this year’s tournament, europeantour.com spoke to Adrian Otaegui about the challenge lying in store for players this week. The Spaniard, winner of the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play earlier this season, has played the course just once on the European Tour, but is in no doubt that this week’s venue is a challenge to be relished.
“I have loved this golf course from the first time I played it. It is a different course to any other, but it’s always in perfect condition. The atmosphere and even the smell here is different.
“I think everybody will make mistakes and make bogeys. The winner will be the one who makes the fewest bogeys. There will be birdie chances, though, because the course is softer than last year and the rough is not as thick. I think the winning score will be lower than last year.
“The more you play this course the better you’ll know it and the better you can work out some strategies on different holes. I’m a good friend of the director here and obviously we play all around the world, but as soon as I can I love coming here to play Valderrama. It’s special to play here.”
“The greens are quite small, even if on the front nine they have made them a little bit bigger. But because they’re small you’re dead if you miss the wrong side of the green. It is very strategic and very demanding.”
“You have to be very precise, not just from the tee but into the greens, because you have the trees almost coming into the fairway. You really have to think more than ever where you want to hit the next shot.
“I like to imagine my ball flight and trajectory before the shot and sometimes the trees here can help with that, allowing you to see the flight a little better. I like to work with flight. The key here, though, is to think about where you are going to play your next shot.”
The famous 17th
“The 17th is a very beautiful hole. So many people go there towards the natural stand at the back of the green and the atmosphere is really good. In practice the hole played downwind and we could reach the hole in two, but it’s still a demanding hole even if you lay up before the water and play it in three. If you put the pin short left it’s a nice image for the television cameras! I just think this course is so beautiful, the European Augusta National.”
4th – 564-yard par five:
Only two per cent of players hit the fourth hole’s narrow green in two shots. With water right, there is plenty of danger around this hole, with 61 per cent of players hitting the green in regulation.
16th – 433-yard par four:
This was the eighth toughest par four on the European Tour last season, not including WGCs and Major Championships. This dogleg-left sees only 47 per cent of players hitting the green in regulation and just 50 per cent hitting the fairway.
17th – 536-yard par five:
A real risk and reward hole, with water in front of the green creating a beautiful but challenging proposition. Seven per cent of players hit the green in two shots.
How it’s played in previous years
Since 1999, no other course has yielded fewer birdies or better per round than Valderrama, with a low 2.66. The tournament has hosted four separate European Tour events here since 1999 – the Volvo Masters, WGC-Championship, Open de España and Andalucia Valderrama Masters – and the course average in that time is 73.31 strokes.
Last season the scoring average for the Open de España was 75.6 strokes, the highest average of any event, including WGCs and Major Championships. Johnston won the Open de España with a 72-hole score of one over par.
Most likely to be birdied – 11th hole (36 per cent birdie or better)
Most likely non-par five to be birdied – fifth hole (18 per cent birdie or better)
Most likely to be bogeyed – seventh hole (40 per cent bogey or worse)
Easiest GIR – 11th hole (77 per cent)
Toughest GIR – seventh hole (29 per cent)
Easiest fairway to hit – second hole (67 per cent)
Toughest fairway to hit – 17th hole (49 per cent)