An introduction to Costa del Sol
The sun-soaked region of the Costa del Sol in southern Spain is outrageously popular as a holiday destination. It is also one of the biggest golfing hotspots in the world and is affectionately known as the ‘Costa del Golf’ due to the fact there are over 70 golf courses in the Costa del Sol.
The vast quantity of golf courses also means there is something for everyone. Regardless of whether for you the golf is just a glorified walk to get rid of the hangover, or whether you’re scratch golfers looking to test yourselves on the best tournament standard and challenging courses, you’ll absolutely find a golf course to suit you.
See also: What are the best golf courses in Spain?
In this article however, we will be focusing on those golf courses which stand head and shoulders above the rest, exploring which are the best golf courses in the Costa del Sol. Clearly as with all ‘best of’ lists, it is slightly subjective which courses make the final selection. But in no particular order, I’m merely looking to highlight some of those which seem to appear again and again on most people’s best Costa del Sol golf courses lists.
The best golf courses in the Costa del Sol
The newest golf course on this list but without doubt one of the best, Finca Cortesin was opened in 2007 and was designed by the talented American architect Cabell Robinson. Within just two years it was already hosting the prestigious Volvo World Matchplay championship where the Englishman Ross Fisher beat the American Anthony Kim.
The course is immensely challenging with long carries, thick undergrowth running alongside the fairways and plenty of water. Not that many of us would, but playing off the back tees measures over 7,500 yards! Fortunately for us mere mortals there is a choice of tee boxes which means the course can be enjoyed by most levels, although I certainly wouldn’t recommend this to higher handicaps.
There is a distinct lack of property surrounding the course meaning you really are at one with nature. The imposing clubhouse is truly superb with fantastic views out towards some of the holes on the back nine. A wonderful course and one of the best in Europe.
Real Club de Golf Las Brisas
This classic course is one of the stalwarts of the region located just outside of Marbella. It was designed in 1968 by Robert Trent Jones Sr just a few years after he designed the similarly impressive Real Club de Golf Sotogrande further down the coast and this is right up there with Sotogrande.
It is quite simply an outstanding course and straight from the first tee shot really challenges players with drives hit just a little too long ending up wet, not the best way to start a round of golf. In fact the first few holes are absolute crackers where strategy over length is critical. Water hazards, tricky elevated greens and numerous bunkers make this a ‘plot-your-way-round’ course rather than a ‘smash-your-way-round’ course like many others in the region.
In 2014 the course was remodelled by Kyle Phillips and this has worked wonders in reestablishing the course as one of the finest in the country.
San Roque Golf (Old)
One of two courses at San Roque golf club in this list, the Old Course was designed by Dave Thomas and opened for play in 1990. Just over 20 minutes up the coast from Gibraltar, San Roque rubs shoulders with some of the best golf courses in Spain and yet does a sterling job itself to keep up with them.
The Old course is tucked away in the foothills of the nearby and imposing Sierra Bermeja mountains and this hilly topography plays a significant part in the course layout, particularly the first nine holes. The rolling fairways are made even more tricky by the mature cork trees lining them so precision is essential here. The second nine opens up nicely but still has plenty of challenges.
The course has also benefited from a couple of ‘touch ups’ over the years. Work in 2005 by Seve Ballesteros improved the bunkers and the most recent renovation in 2019 and 2020 had the objective of making the course more playable with the creation of several new tee boxes and the removal of a number of unnecessary hazards.
For many years ranked as the best golf course in continental Europe, Valderrama is quite something. It holds esteemed company with just a stone’s throw away La Reserva and Real Club de Sotogrande, two more of Spain’s best golf courses, but Valderrama just manages to stay ahead of them.
In absolutely impeccable condition all year round, there is barely a leaf out of place here. And with a roll-call of tournaments including the first Ryder Cup to be played on European soil and the Volvo Masters, it has to be.
The course itself is absolutely no push-over and the design is definitely quite unique. The fairways are on the narrower side, the greens are lightning fast and often impossible to read and there is always a rogue tree playing havoc with your approach shots.
That said, Valderrama is quite sensational and should absolutely be on everyone’s bucket list.
The oldest golf course in the Costa del Sol, Rio Real is located to the east of Marbella and opened for play in 1965. At the time the course was quite secluded, set far enough away from the busy streets of Marbella. But over time the land surrounding the course has been snapped up and converted into residential areas, so that initial charm has definitely been lost a little.
That said, Rio Real is still a fantastic parkland course and continues to attract golfers year-on-year. Much of its original charm and character remains and at times there are some wonderful views out to the Mediterranean.
Water comes into play on a number of occasions as do mature trees and well positioned bunkers. There is also a nice change from one nine to the next as the more narrow tree-lined fairways open up substantially on the back nine.
Real Club de Golf de Sotogrande
There are many purists who rate this Robert Trent Jones Sr designed course as being superior to the more quirky Valderrama. I’m not personally going to enter that debate, but what is certainly true is that Real Club de Sotogrande is a magnificent course which could hold its own against most of the best golf courses in mainland Europe.
Although this is a private member’s club, there are a limited number of tee times available during the week and visitors will be warmly welcomed to the club. The condition is top class, not quite Augusta-esque, but close. Nearly every fairway is lined with oaks, cork trees, pines and palm trees or alternatively water.
The length is rather modest at just over 6,800 yards from the backs, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in strategy. Indeed this modern lust for courses to become longer and longer actually works in Sotogrande’s favour, as it’s becoming more and more difficult to find outstanding golf courses which don’t resort to extending holes to make them more difficult.
Without doubt another bucket list course you simply must tick off your list.
A mere stone’s throw away from the buzzing party town of Puerto Banus and the large city of Marbella is Aloha golf club, one of the region’s oldest and best golf courses. The course was designed by Javier Arana and opened for play in 1975 at a time when many golf courses were being opened in the region.
The course is laid out on some pretty hilly terrain and although this can play havoc with the scorecard, it certainly makes for some pretty impressive views out across the Mediterranean. In fact, hilly terrain is the least of your worries here. There are numerous dog legs, blind shots as well as multi-tiered greens which play fast. This is not a course to have a bad putting day.
A testament to the quality of the course, it was selected to host the European Tour’s Andalucian Masters on three occasions in the late noughties and most recently hosted the Andalucia Women’s Open.
San Roque Golf (New)
And so to the second course onsite at the San Roque club, the more recent New course which opened for play in 2003 and was designed by Pete Dye’s son Perry. The site selected for the course is quite stunning, with on one side the pristine Mediterranean coastline and on the other a protected nature reserve.
There are many challenges lying in wait but overall the course is not too demanding. Yes there are gently undulating fairways, many mature trees and large fairway bunkers which regularly come into play, but on the whole the fairways look more narrow from the tee than they actually are. And similarly with the greens, they can be quite intimidating from afar, but up close they’re actually quite large and accommodating.
This latest creation, along with the quite stunning Old Course, have firmly put San Roque on the golfing map as one of the best 36-hole golf clubs in Europe.
This stunner of a course is nestled up in the hills overlooking the small town of Sotogrande and not too far from the likes of Valderrama and Real Club de Sotogrande. It opened for play in 2003 and like many of the newer golf courses in the region, was designed by the American Cabell Robinson.
From the back tees the course is long at over 7,000 yards, but unlike some of his other creations including the likes of Finca Cortesin, the fairways are wide and if you’re hitting the driver well, they can be quite accommodating assuming you miss the many fairway bunkers. The greens are also quite large although finding the right part of the green is critical to avoid a long putt.
The immense clubhouse is built in the traditional Andalusian style and has sublime views across the countryside and golf course.
And so to our last course on the list of best golf courses in the Costa del Sol, but by no means is this a reflection of its quality. Yet another Cabell Robinson designed course, clearly a very popular man in the Costa del Sol in the noughties, Santana golf course has grown in stature over the years after opening for play in 2004.
Tucked away up in the hills overlooking Fuengirola and neighbouring the golfing mecca of La Cala golf resort, Santana is immensely popular with visiting golfers. Yes it is one of the closest golf courses to Malaga airport, but there is so much to enjoy at this course. There are gently rolling fairways with glorious white bunkers, nifty approach shots, strategic water hazards all combining to create one of Cabell’s best designs in the region.
Not the longest course in the area at over 6,700 yards, but without doubt one of the most enjoyable. Despite being in the hills, it is relatively flat and I can only see it growing in popularity over time.
There were so many golf courses I could have included on this list including any of the three golf courses at La Cala Golf resort, Mijas Golf, Alcaidesa Links, La Quinta Golf, Los Naranjos Golf, El Chaparral and many more.
But I feel the list above really does group together the best golf courses in the Costa del Sol. Clearly as with all these things, some people will disagree and that is one of the great things with these best of lists, everyone has a different perspective. What I’m sure we can all agree on though, is that if you are visiting the Costa del Sol for a golf trip you’re sure to be in for a treat and there’ll be no shortage of golfing options!