On the hour long drive down the A7 autovia from Malaga, as if by fate the song “I’ll do my crying in the rain” came on the radio. Thoughts immediately turned to the 1997 Ryder Cup and a rain soaked Seve first hugging Nick Faldo as both men cried tears of joys and later his iconic emergence from the clubhouse when, flanked by his victorious Team Europe, he held aloft the Ryder Cup. We were headed for the theatre of that golfing dream, Valderrama, on the eve of the final ever Volvo Masters.

With a tee time of 10am, good friend Johnny Lydon (handicap two) and I decided to be thoroughly Irish and arrived in the gates of Valderrama at about 8am to “savour the atmosphere”. The first task was getting our bearings, just looking at the splendour around the clubhouse, administration buildings and practise facilities made my arms feel heavy, tired from constantly picking my jaw up off the floor. As it turned out, our early arrival was a real stroke of luck, we were to have the whole course to ourselves, being as it was officially closed to green fees in preparation for the arrival of the Tour.

Next we met our host, General Manager Derek Brown, a big burly Scotsman with a roguish smile and that larger than life charm that immediately puts you at ease. If they’re ever looking for an EU secretary general of golf, this man is perfect for the role. He’s the golfing equivalent of Michael Palin; there’s not a person alive or dead that played the game that he doesn’t know and he has a charming story to go with each. He excitedly quizzes us on an old black and white photo from the late 70’s of an older gent and a tall fit looking man, both smiling and chatting around a steel bucket overflowing with practise balls in Valderrama. The subjects were none other than three time British Open Champion Sir Henry Cotton and Ireland’s own legendary amateur Joe Carr.








The Calm before The Storm.
John Lydon, Derek Brown (General Manager Valderrama) and The SpinDoctor overlooking Valderrama’s practise ground.

After clinking a few dozen pristine callaways on the range (that Faldo called the best in the world), we tore into a few drives in the vain attempt to reach the smattering of balls some pro had crushed 300 yards down to the very end. Little did we know at the time, but we were absolutely wasting our time and energy. Valderrama is no place for JB Holmes wannabies. The only place you should use your driver here is to measure a club length when taking a penalty drop. Henry Cotton was a great proponent of the use of the hands and forearms to correct flaws and produce accurate shots and indeed the first key to unlocking the Valderrama code is exacting accuracy off the tee. “Remember this boys”, shouted Derek after us, like the skipper of a Scottish trawler as we headed to the first tee, “Stay left of centre, on every hole”. Like Nicholas Sarcozy, I thought. And of course he was bang on. Valderrama’s fairways seemed as narrow as a landing strip, on a lego airport, and are endlessly flanked by what we christened “goalkeeping trees” which just seemed to grab the balls out of the air and drop them vertically into the rough below. On the odd occasion we did throw caution to the wind and rip a long drive down the centre of the fairway, we found we had driven too close to the Peter Schmeichel-esque trees which blocked the trajectory of the second shot and left no chance of hitting the green.

You know the way the touring pro’s always seem to get a lucky bounce when they carve their drive into the trees? That doesn’t happen much around here. If you’re wild, you’re history. I made the cardinal error of going for a big drive off one tee, but pirouetted like a ballerina during the swing and sent the ball at least 100 yards left of its intended line. Having left that ball for dead, I carried on, taking double bogey with a provisional. As if to teach me a lesson about use of the driver, Valderrama decided to later reunite me with my stray ball, leaving it six foot from the pin, four holes from where I lost it! I should have taken a hybrid off the tee but as Charlie McCreevy said, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision”. At under 7,000 yards, with a par 71, this course demands prudence, course management and flawless ball striking, borne out by its list of tournament winners which include our own Paul McGinley, Tiger Woods and Canadian Mike Weir. Defending Volvo Masters champion Justin Rose, won here with a total of one under par in 2007.

The second key is being comfortable on the greens. Make sure you clean your spikes before walking on them because they are glassy. A round without three putting in Valderrama is unthinkable. Ken Brown would be like an excited child here, dropping balls on the slopes and watching them whizz away. The aprons probably run faster than most clubs greens and you almost feel guilty taking a divot. The greens are absolutely tiny too, hitting them sometimes felt equivalent to hitting the bullseye on a dartboard.

My standout holes in Valderrama include the first, purely for the fact that the hole speaks to you in a stern voice and says “You better be able to hit it straight lads or you’ve no future here.” The fourth hole, “La Cascada” is probably the best known hole on the course; a par-5 with two tired green flanked on the right by cascading agua. I also loved the dramatic par-5 17th; yes the slope on the apron of the green is as severe as it seems on TV and just gobbles up any chip shot short of perfect and deposits the ball in the water. Just ask Sergio, he’s had a few pro-V’s in the drink there over the years.

This year sadly sees the last staging of the Volvo Masters at Valderrama after 14 consecutive years and the push is on to create a new tournament, the Valderrama masters; a plan which is sure to succeed on a course which is brimming with golfing memories and consistently ranks among the best in the world. If you are escaping the rain to Malaga for a weeks golf, be sure to make time to drop in and play Valderrama; it is pure golfing gold. Full details are on http://www.valderrama.com/ .

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