BY LEWINE MAIR
Finca Cortesín, which will be hosting the Solheim Cup this week, puts one in mind of that much-loved old Irish tale, the one about the tourist who asked for directions, only to be told, “I wouldn’t start from here, if I were you.” I doubt whether anyone other than the owner of this former vineyard near southern Spain’s Costa del Sol would have scanned the steep and sun-kissed hillside and thought, “Now there’s a golf course if ever I saw one!” But a golf course it has become, and one which has a growing number of admirers.
Cabell B. Robinson, its American architect, must have balked when he first saw the land, and not least because of the extent to which a design has to be “forced” when it starts off on an unlikely site. However, thanks to the amount of money that was being poured into the project, Robinson was able to turn Finca Cortesín into something pretty special, and with a character all its own. “It’s probably because it wasn’t an easy site that I liked it so much,” he explained to Andalucia Golf magazine.
In 2007, Pádraig Harrington, who would win the Open Championship that year and the next, was asked for his opinion on where the World Match Play Championship should go following 44 years at Wentworth in England. He decided to have a quick look at Finca Cortesín. The “quick look” lasted three days, and he soon was spreading word among his European Tour colleagues that the course was made for match play.
When Lee Westwood went to have a look, he was not so sure: “It will be a test of stamina. You know it’s a demanding course on the body, and that will make it even harder that we have to play at least 54 holes over the first two days. If you beat someone 7 and 6, you’re not going to be able to walk in. You have to keep your wits about you and grind it out mentally and physically till the end.”
If ever there were a course where you need to stop and smell the flowers along the way, it is Finca Cortesín. It is stunning, as is the resort overall. That irresistible Spanish combination of blue skies, Bougainvillea and white walls show the hotel and surrounding villas to best advantage, and there are three outdoor swimming pools along with an attractively Romanesque indoor version. Yet the overriding luxury is an aura of space and calm, which visitors would want to take with them to the golf course.
Given a pair of binoculars, one could stand inside or outside of the clubhouse and identify the players at any number of the holes below. Again, there is a downhill practice area where the average player feels as if he is hitting the ball a country mile. A few changes have been made with the Solheim Cup in mind, but the course is in grand condition and has regularly featured among the five best in Spain by numerous golf publications.
However, as a Solheim Cup venue, Finca Cortesín cannot be presented as fault-free.
“No and no again,” said one prominent LET player who has graced the Solheim Cup on several occasions. “You can’t walk the course, and it’s miles between some of the greens and tees.” (Buggies were used to ferry players from one to the other in the World Match Play events held there, in 2009, ’11 and ’12.)
The same player went on to hazard a guess that the organisers might be able to work something out, and to wish them well.
Laura Davies was equally sceptical when the venue was announced as the Solheim Cup host. She wondered whether there would be enough room for an 80,000-plus crowd but presumed that LET officials would find the room from somewhere.
“Who knows?” she said. “They may even host the best Solheim of all time.”
Even before the 2019 Solheim at Gleneagles in Scotland was such a resounding success, there were English clubs expressing an interest in becoming involved in any bidding process for ’23. The LET did not rule them out all at once, but after a bit of humming and hawing, it soon became apparent that there was no bidding process. Nor, for that matter, was the LET under any obligation to have one. So, Spain was a done deal.
“They, the LET, never really listened to what was on offer from England,” said one more prominent Solheim Cup star from the past. “It would have been nice had these clubs been heard, but they weren’t. There should always be a competitive element to choosing a Ryder or Solheim Cup course in this day and age.”
David Hardy, a prominent figure in the world of finance and the man at the helm of a group which spent considerable time and effort on promising discourse with Royal Birkdale, eventually had to accept that he was getting nowhere.
“Of course we would have liked to have been fully considered,” Hardy said, “but we don’t bear any grudges and we wish them all the best for ’23.”
In 2024, with the match having returned to even-numbered years, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia – home to four Presidents Cups – will be the venue. In 2026, Bernardus Golf in Cromvoirt, Netherlands, is Europe’s chosen destination. What is more, those who may have taken time to recover from negotiating the slopes of Finca Cortesín will be pleased to note that the Dutch layout is flat and easy to walk besides being a pictorial delight.
It goes without saying that it did no harm to the LET’s 2023 cause that Marta Figueras-Dotti, the LET’s chairman, has been a leading figure in Spanish golf for years, and that Alex Armas, a sister Spaniard, is the organisation’s CEO. The two of them will have their hearts set on making this Spanish Solheim one to remember. Add in the help forthcoming from Mike Whan, who did so much to assist the LET get back on track before he resigned as LPGA commissioner in 2021 to become CEO of the USGA, there is the feeling that everything will be OK on the day.
Elías Bendodo, the president of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, spoke recently of how several courses in his region had “passed the cut demanded by the LET in terms of competitive level and length.” As for the DP World Tour players, those who reached the later stages of the Match Play at Finca Cortesín were of the opinion that it asked some excellent questions, if a few too many on the fitness front.
To a man, they saw it as a course which took their breath away – in every sense.
Where the Solheim Cup is concerned, there’s no time left for spectators, much less for the players, to get into training.
Top: Finca Cortesín
PHOTOS courtesy finca cortesín