This past weekend, I participated in a golf tournament at Arcos de la Frontera. Arcos de la Frontera is one of the fabled “white villages” of southern Spain. I have visited and poked around Arcos on several occasions with my family and friends that come to visit but I had no idea that there was a golf course there. Honestly, a golf course at Arcos de la Frontera is a bit off the beaten track.
I have a good friend (Darren) who alerted me to the tournament. Darren has told many stories about Arcos de la Frontera. My friend Darren is an international laptop cowboy. He grew up in Holland, speaks a thousand languages and works on translating apps for companies. He also plays a lot of golf and has around a 2 handicap – he is good. Darren told me he was going to play the tourney, so I signed up also and we went together.
Arcos Golf is the old stomping grounds of Darren. When he first moved to Spain, through a series of coincidences and rapid decisions, he ended up at Arcos de la Frontera and spent almost three years there as a member of the golf club at the very peak of it’s luxury condition.
Darren explained that a wealthy, local family developed the golf club during the heart of the real-estate boom of 2000 through 2008. And as far as Spanish golf resorts go, during it’s peak Arcos Golf was the tip-top of the luxury golf stops in Spain. Villas are sprinkled throughout the golf course and strings of white, luxury townhouses line several of the fairways.
After an hour and a half traveling through back country fields and olive orchards, we arrived at the golf course about 45 minutes before the tee off time of 9:30 am. We parked in a lot and walked through a set of giant arches into a small court yard, and then through a doorway into a humble golf shop in the Casa de Cortijo. The tournament was a shotgun start (we all started at the same time) and we were told to tee off hole number 5. We loaded our clubs on our assigned cart and started off toward the practice range. Our cart almost would not start but if we kept the foot pedal to the floor for 3 seconds a rattely old gas engine would start up and we could putter around.
After warming up a bit chipping and putting, Darren and I took off through some back paths towards tee #5. Darren knew all the paths and as we drove his eyes lit up and he started telling stories of back when. The clattering old golf cart transported us back in time.
As we dodged around bushes on a dirt track past the practice range, Darren pointed to overgrown bushes, desolate sanded areas and he explained how the club was set up for professionals to practice back when. Aside from the driving range and two putting greens still available today, we drove past sections with palm trees where approach greens had been set up – each with different species or mixtures of grass. He explained that each year the club would buy 5,000 Titlest ProV1 golf balls for the practice range and make them freely available, but that after three months, 2000 would disappear. The ProV1 balls are the best, most expensive golf balls on the market (selling for about $50 per dozen), and so people would just pack them off.
We bumped over curbs, drove over bare, packed areas and past rock streams without water. I could see that it hurt Darren to see the disrepair of the course but the bones of a luxury course were clear. Darren talked of sunny days, bubbling creeks, and manicured fairways and greens as we drove past handcrafted stone walls overgrown with vines and looked over expanses with beautiful palm trees. His enthusiasm was such that I could see it 10 years ago, and I wished I could have been there when he was. But as we drove around, only the beautiful bones of the course remained.
By 10 am, we had started our round – driving off of the tee box of number 5. We started our round and it became clear that even now, after the decline, Arcos Golf is beautiful and fun. The fairways are fair with bunkers dangerous for the heavy hitters and protecting greens. The fairways are in very nice shape and the greens and approach areas are well kept. All the bunkers have real sand and offer a fair chance to hit out. A great golf course.
But wait. ….. The greens. Something more needs to be said about the greens so we should revisit that. The greens may be the most unique experience of Arcos Golf. I do not pretend to be an expert on reading greens but it is impossible to know how to putt on the Arcos greens. Honestly. 100% the truth.
As Darren and I approached each green, he would ask me what I saw. I would say, the green drops from front to back. Ha Ha Ha – Darren would laugh. He says that may be the way it looks, but the fall is actually to the back, and more severely to the right (toward the pueblo). He would tell me that my putt is down hill. I would look at it and see up hill. As much as I tried to putt quietly and short, it would roll by the hole a good 3 yards. Impossible. Really, and I am not joking…. impossible. It was if we were not only in a trip back in time, but we were also in a different dimension where up is down and left is right. Middle-level or duffer golfers such as myself do not stand a chance. Even pro’s were not able to figure out the fall of the greens back in the day. Darren explains that there are many courses in the world with similar falls – courses built into hillsides create the illusion that the green is flat when it actually falls downhill.
While I understand the explanation, I cannot account for how it looked. I could not read a single putt. Honest to God. I would swear the putt was uphill when it was down. I would look at what I thought was a flat putt and watch it drain 6 feet to the one side. It takes away your confidence and crushes your golf spirit. You cannot read the greens period. The only recourse is to play several times and then maybe you can account for how the ball moves on the greens. Darren said that is true.
I believe that may have been the downfall of this course. While it is must have been absolutely beautiful in it’s hay-day and it still is, there is something dispiriting about having no chance on the greens. I asked Darren if the course greens were designed especially to be deceiving and he thought not. It was just built but the greens turned out to be especially hard to read.
We had a wonderful day playing golf. I knew the greens were going to be hard. I three putted most greens. Darren shot 1 over his handicap. He hit several spectacular shots. I played alright and can’t wait to return. I didn’t keep track of my score after 3 putting the first green.
We finished the day in the court yard of the Cortijo. A flamenco group played for about 45 minutes while the tournament participants ate appetizers, sandwiches and enjoyed a garbanzo bean soup with beer, wine and refreshments.
After the prizes were handed out to the winners of the tournament a lottery was held for many other Christmas prizes and baskets. My name was called and I walked away with a basket that included olive oil, chorizo, pastries, pate, Christmas candies, Scotch, wine and Iberica ham.
After the music, food and prizes were given out, Darren and I walked around the grounds. We passed from the current Casa de Cortijo to where the original club house and restaurant stood with huge parking lots. We walked around the original club house. In it’s time, it would have been beautiful sitting at the end of hole 18. But, peering through the windows, we see disarranged furniture, empty frames on the walls and dust. We walked past what Darren called his office (the members room), where he spent a large portion of his days between rounds and practice. We passed terraces and patios where many people must have spent hours and hours enjoying drink and food from the restaurant while watching players finish their rounds. We couldn’t see into the basement where there was gym but Darren assured me it was top rate back then (he was locked in several times at the end of day but had a key to get out). It was a trip back in time. Darren played the last championship of the club and won and will be forever enshrined as the club champion with his picture on a wall that no one will ever see again.
Looking back after a couple of days, I still feel the nostalgia for what must have been. A luxury golf course in the middle of no-where, ….an oasis . I wish I could have been there to see as Darren saw it. Many of the villas and town houses were sold at the top of the market to many famous European golf professionals and associations. During the hay-day, many golfers passed weeks playing and practicing at the course. But that all ended with the crash of real-estate prices in 2008.
What remains is the bones of what was. Beautiful bones,… but still bones.
Personally I am looking forward to going back again. I am the sort of golfer that likes the off the beaten path experience. Arcos Golf offers a unique golf experience. And it offers greens that you will not be able to read (period). It is not for the faint heart-ed but it is a wonderful Andalusia golfing experience. And you always have the opportunity to visit the other white villages and explore Southern Spain.
Thanks for reading. – Steve