With just 11 courses to his name over a 30-year career, Javier Arana may not be considered the most prolific golf course architect.
But he is regarded as Spain’s finest, producing some of the country’s most celebrated designs – including Club de Campo in Madrid and El Saler on the Mediterranean Sea just south of Valencia.
Arana never saw his final design, Aloha in Marbella, completed. Construction began in 1972 and the architect made his last visit to the course in May 1974. Seeding of the greens had not yet started, because of a shortage of water to grow them in. Arana died in January 1975; the course opened that October.
Spanish agronomist Luis Cornejo says that when Aloha first opened, the greens were typically cut at 5.5 millimetres and had a Stimpmeter reading of 6.5. Playability has therefore been a challenge in recent years, with the higher speeds associated with modern cut heights reducing the pinnable area on surfaces that – on half of the holes – sloped at more than five per cent.
According to Alfonso Erhardt, author of ‘The Golf Courses of Javier Arana’, the architect drew detailed plans of the greens, but there is some debate as to how precisely the final surfaces reflected his intent given that he died before opening and several have been reworked since.
Between April and July of this year, the greens have been rebuilt, by a team comprising design firm Lobb + Partners, contractor CJW Golf, agronomist Cornejo of Surtec Golf Agronomy, who also served as project manager, and Aloha’s head greenkeeper Manuel Angel Gonzalez Loma.
“Aloha is a beautiful course to play, set amongst rolling hills and a varied landscape,” says architect Tim Lobb. “We first visited the course in 2022, prior to commencing our design, and undertook a comprehensive analysis of the existing greens. Surtec had already completed a full detailed survey of the greens and the slope analysis backed up our initial thoughts that large portions of many of the greens were severely contoured. This meant there was a severe lack of pin positions and diversity in the putting experience with modern green speeds.”
All eighteen greens have been rebuilt in a single phase with TeeOne bentgrass, which was grown in an offsite nursery. Following the completion of work, the course reopened in stages during August and September.
“During the design process, the underlying philosophy was to retain and enhance the Arana influence as much as possible,” says Lobb. “We were working to a minimum of seven pin positions per green, which would have several benefits, including developing a variety of playing strategies. We worked hard to also restore some of the perimeter pin positions which were lost due to green shrinkage and speeds.
“The club can now spread the wear on greens of this busy course. Aesthetically, the greens should look quite similar from a distance, and I would say that many golfers may not feel the subtle changes to the green contours. But what will be different is the variety of pin positions and strategies available.
“Working on Arana’s last design has been a pleasure and joy. Studying his other courses and greens philosophies – some inspired by his early mentor Tom Simpson – highlighted the need to look at the collection of Aloha greens holistically whilst still respecting the original intent with the tilts, plateaus and separations.
"Studying original course layout photography, visiting other Arana courses, and studying Alfonso Erhardt’s complete book on Arana assisted in determining the decision making. On a few greens we found the original perimeter when we started to clean out the old rootzone mix. On greens seven and ten this was particularly noticeable, and we restored the perimeter edge and multiple pin positions as part of the reconstruction process.”
Surtec assisted the club in the selection process of the golf course architect, as well as planning, agronomic awareness and a continuous on-site presence. The contractor, led by Conor Walsh, was selected following its success at the nearby Comporta Dunas (read more in the July 2023 issue of GCA), and completed the reconstruction of greens on time and in budget.
“Conor and his team brought a fantastic can-do attitude,” says Lobb. “He staffed the project with some of the most qualified and passionate people in the construction industry, with experienced David Minogue as the daily construction manager.”
This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.