One of the Spanish capital’s premier clubs doubles its course portfolio with two, new and very different, courses. Toby Ingleton visited to find out more
New course projects in Spain, which until recently were so plentiful it was hard to keep track, have suddenly become quite rare. So a club embarking on a project to double its course portfolio from two to four is bound to raise eyebrows. Perhaps even more surprising is that, while we’ve become used to projects being plagued by delays and setbacks, Golf La Moraleja has transformed what was rambling farmland into 36 perfectly presented and playable holes in just eighteen months.
That achievement is testament to the work of Spanish contractor Desarrollos y Contratas, the people behind which have been building courses since the early 1970s, when they were involved with golf construction at the famous La Manga Club close to Murcia and the south east coast of Spain.
The firm has demonstrated how experience and commitment combine to deliver impressive results on an aggressively short timescale.
Golf La Moraleja is one of Madrid’s leading private clubs, offering golf plus a range of other activities, including various racket sports, swimming, fitness and spa facilities. It is located in the affluent La Moraleja district of Madrid, known as the city’s Beverly Hills and preferred neighbourhood of some of its most famous residents.
Over the past 40 years, the club has established a rich history that places it in the top tier of Spanish golf. Its original course – Number 1, designed by Jack Nicklaus and Desmond Muirhead – was opened in 1976 and has hosted the Spanish Open on a number of occasions. Its final green is also where Bing Crosby uttered his last words in 1977 – “That was a great game of golf fellas” – before collapsing and dying of a heart attack.
A second course was added by Nicklaus’s firm in 1992, and is typical of signature design from that era. It would be described by many Europeans as ‘American-style’: over 7,000 yards in length, with extremely large greens and four lakes that come into play on almost half of its holes. Number 2 has hosted both Spanish and Madrid Opens, most recently in 2006 when Ian Poulter eased to a five shot victory.
So, why the need for two more courses? While the club has in excess of 6,000 members, only a small fraction of those play golf. But the club’s success is down to its reputation as one of Madrid’s finest, attracting the city’s elite among stiff competition from other private clubs like Real Sociedad Hipica Española (RSHE) Club de Campo, which has two Robert von Hagge courses, and Real Club de la Puerta de Hierro, whose Arriba course was originally designed by Tom Simpson and is complemented by the Abajo course, a Robert Trent Jones II design which was added in the early 90s.
Even in years of recession, the very wealthy generally stay wealthy, so elite clubs not only have the money to invest in their facilities, but doing so makes good business sense, as it gives them the best chance of retaining the custom of their extremely valuable client base.
The two new courses at Golf La Moraleja are located in Algete, a few miles away from the original Number 1 and 2 courses – and directly over the road from RSHE Club de Campo. While both were created by Nicklaus Design and are on the same terrain, the contrast is a remarkable achievement – with the courses extremely different both in terms of aesthetic and playing character.
The Number 3 course is a parkland-style layout, winding its way through a gently undulating landscape that is dotted with specimen trees. Formerly a flat site, movement has been achieved thanks to the excavation of three large lakes, providing fill that has enabled the design team to give the course a ‘rolling’ feel, most notably on the fifth and sixth holes. The latter provides one of the most inviting approach shots on the course to players who negotiate their drives onto a plateau from which the fairway falls sharply towards a green that nestles in front of a copse of native trees.
Over time, trees will play a more prominent role throughout the course, with over 1,200 saplings having been planted during construction. As these mature and better complement the existing trees, the character of the course will develop, giving some of the more open spaces greater definition. In the meantime, it is the lakes that will perhaps offer the most lasting impression, coming into play on eight holes including two heroic par threes that play directly over them.
The Number 4 course could hardly be more different. It follows current architectural trends to a more rustic feel, with rugged, fescue edged bunkers that offer the most visible contrast to the clean and precise lines of the Number 3 course. From the tees – which are irregular and uneven like at the Castle Course at St Andrews and blend seamlessly into the fairways – the course feels more claustrophobic, but this is a reflection on clever design and the encroaching fescue grasses rather than a lack of space. The landing areas are actually more generous than they first appear.
The abundance of fescue means it will inevitably be described as ‘links-style’, and for many reasons this is fair. Rather than the smooth sweeping lines of the Number 3 course, the ground movement feels more random, with smaller irregular mounds likely to kick balls away from their direct path. This has a massive impact on playing character, emphasised by the use of a different blend of grass that provides for more roll and the team hopes will promote the game being played on the ground.
Furthering that links aesthetic, there is also a greater degree of ‘quirk’ in the routing of the Number 4 course. For example, while none of the holes actually cross each other, there are points on the course, such as the twelfth tee, where there’s a sense of golf being played in all directions around you. And arguably individual holes on the Number 4 course are more varied and memorable.
At all stages of construction, environmental standards have been adhered to. Desarrollos y Contratas, which provided all staff, equipment and machinery for the project, is certified by Aenor, the Spanish standards body. Their requirements complement the firm’s commitment to quality, the environment and workplace safety. Victoriano Jiménez Inglés, principal of Desarrollos y Contratas, explains: “With over 100 staff working on the project at any one time, we have to be totally focused on the same goals throughout the firm. Environmental stewardship was particularly important on this project, with all the native trees having special protection, and an exclusion zone around the Jarama river which runs alongside the eastern edge of the site.”
The two new courses are a magnificent addition to Golf La Moraleja, and must have surely cemented its position among Madrid’s premier clubs, from a golfing perspective at least. It’s difficult to comprehend how such a high level of presentation was achieved in the eighteen month timeline that the owners demanded from the contractor, particularly considering the scale of the task – including an irrigation system that comprises over 3,600 sprinklers, and a hydroseeding process that required inch by inch precision to meet the exacting requirements of the team at Nicklaus Design.
Victoriano Jiménez Inglés explains: “When we accept a project, we are doing much more than just taking on a job. We are assuming total responsibility for its completion, to the satisfaction of the owner and the golfers.” It’s this personal pride and dedication to the task in hand that creates results of the quality on show at La Moraleja.
This article appeared in issue 28 of Golf Course Architecture published October 2012