What makes up a proper golf course in Marbella? Jim McCann, the editor of Top 100 Golf Courses discovered the answer in a recent visit to golf courses on the Costa del Sol. In his guest post for the Rio Real blog, McCann reveals the right ingredients.

Rio Real – one of the most pleasant surprises by Jim McCann

When I attended the recent annual conference of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects in Puerto Banus, part of the formal itinerary included an opportunity to play two of the top tracks in this part of the world, the iconic mid-1960s Robert Trent Jones Snr designs at Sotogrande and Las Brisas in Marbella.

The basic plan was to fly into Malaga, play both courses on consecutive days, attend the one-day conference then fly home again on day four. However, having never played golf on the Costa del Sol before, I was keen to extend my trip a little to see how these highly-regarded layouts compared to other courses in the vicinity.

The trouble was, how was I to select other places to play when there were so many to choose from between Malaga and Gibraltar? The obvious answer would be to look at the regional listings on the Top 100 Golf Courses website, pick out courses with similar rankings near the top of the chart, then make arrangements to play them.

Javier Arana at a golf course in Marbella

Never one to take the easy way out, I decided against this in favour of the more left field option of looking at some courses designed by an underrated Spanish architect who built three courses along the southern coast of Spain between 1959 and 1975. Granted, such a paucity of output isn’t much to go on but Javier Arana was a man who only ever completed an average of one project a year during a career spanning three decades.

The seeds for the story had now been sown. Selecting another Robert Trent Jones Snr golf course in Marbella would allow my article to revolve around matching three of the world-famous architect’s layouts against three courses from a largely anonymous local designer with a lifetime portfolio of only around a dozen 18-hole courses.

Some might see this as a mismatch, more a tale of an architectural giant versus a relative unknown, but it seemed to work for me. As I’ve often said in the past, there’s as much (if not more) pleasure to be had when playing tracks by lesser known designers like Rio Real as there is from tackling the big championship layouts and here was a chance to prove that theory once again.

Getting value from a golf course in Marbella

Not just that, for golfers who wince at paying an exorbitant green fee to play golf, there’s often better value to be found at these “lesser” courses – why would you want to pay top dollar to get beaten up by a long, demanding layout that’s set up to test elite amateur and professional golfers when, for half the price, you can derive double the pleasure by playing a more user-friendly layout?

Here’s a link to what I published.

The last course reviewed in that article was Rio Real, and I’m so glad it rounded off my short golfing excursion to the Costa del Sol. After visiting literally hundreds of golf clubs in recent years on behalf of the Top 100 Golf Courses website, first impressions often mean a lot and you can more or less guess what a golf course will be like within the first five minutes of arriving at the front door.   

What’s apparent right away is that this is a club which appeals to the more discerning golfer. There’s a certain feel to the clubhouse and the locker room that lets you know you’re teeing it at a proper golf club where visitors are treated like members, not as vacation golfers who’re passing through as quickly as possible on a fast-moving conveyor belt from local hotels.     

Just as commendable, the course itself is well maintained, with most of the original Arana design features remaining intact, which is an absolute joy in an age when well-meaning renovation work so often ruins the original design intent – and to see nowadays what was achieved fifty years ago when setting out eighteen holes within a very constricted property is something of a golfing education.

For what it’s worth, I can only say that Rio Real was one of the most pleasant surprises in my recent golf travels in Europe and it’s a golf course in Marbella I’d love to return to again when I’m next in the area.

Jim McCann


Top 100 Golf Courses

See for yourself exactly what McCann means and book a round at a proper golf course in Marbella now.