Article from COURSE ARCHITECTURE - JANUARY 2007
Developers of raise the bar with high-end golf project
Golf in Southern Spain is nothing new. After Robert Trent Jones blazed a trail with Valderrama and Sotogrande, the newfound European middle classes were happy to hitch up the wagons and follow the sun. Since then, the sun, sand and sangria has had a non-alliterative addendum - fairways.
Oftentime these fairways have been lined with condos and villas with agreeable price tags - these too have appealed to the aspirational Brits and Germans. At Club de Campo La Zagaleta above Marbella, another success is close to completion. But this is a Spanish resort with a difference: the price.
A 3,000-meter square plot starts at a minimum of 850,000 euros, rising to 2 million euros for a larger plot with sea views. Completed houses start at 3 million euros. Shoestring budget it is not. Popular it is.
So far the villas sold figure stands at around 210 and the developer, La Zagaleta S.L.U., is happy with progress to date. They clearly are in it for the long term and remain the founder, owner and builder of the estate as they have been since its incorporation in 1991.
What makes Zagaleta so successful in a market that is not short of cheaper options? Architect of the recently completed, second golf course, (Los Barrancos), Steve Marnoch is clear on that.
"The new course is set in a landscape that is something to behold - magnificent mountains and steep barrancos go together to form some of the most striking and beautiful landscape in that part of Spain", he said. "La Zagaleta overlooks the Mediterranean, Gibraltar and even Africa can be seen from the elevated golf courses."
Open for play this year, the result is a dramatic and truly magnificent golf course.
Blowing his own trumpet? Well, he has a horn to blow, that's for sure. The original golf course at the resort - designed by Bradford Benz and completed in 1994 - has a reputation for dramatic play and quality playing surfaces.
Los Barrancos has, if anything, gone even further. It simply had to because the land left for the second course required civil engineering unknown on a European golf course.
Jacobo Cestino, club manager at La Zagaleta, offered comparisons.
"Maybe some of the hill courses in Japan would be comparable", he said. Even then it might be pushing it when the figures are studied.
"This was not normal golf course construction", Marnoch said. The developers move two million cubes of material and formed a road tunnel underneath the practice area to reach the new clubhouse. There also were several areas of cut and fill reaching depths in excess of 30 metres plus with over a half-mile of shaped rock wall six meters in height with four meter deep foundations.
The massive engineering project is not the only unique point of interest at Zagaleta.
"It is difficult to compare Los Barrancos to any other golf course that I am aware of", Marnoch said. "It is not only the course, the landscape and the environment that makes this course unusual. Its true uniqueness comes from the La Zagaleta complex and the clientele. Similarly, it is not that normal to have two clients for a golf course on this scale - one being the landowners and the other being the existing course members - both of whom would split the bill. Combine all these factors and I believe that you have a course that is incomparable."
While mountain golf courses have been built before - most notably in the United States and Korea - it is still something of a novelty in Europe. Marnoch is excited by the realities of such a design despite two decades as a course designer.
"Being built on a mountain the course is obviously penal, but I worked hard to give the players more bailout options than on the first course, such as wider fairways where possible," he said. "I have also endeavoured to provide a fairway plus some semi-rough and rough before the ball is lost. Around and behind the greens the playing areas are generous although from the fairway the targets still look daunting."
While most resort courses are required to be flattering and not too difficult (thus speeding up the process and increasing the flow of currency), Los Barrancos de Zagaleta bucks the trend somewhat - fair but by no means a pushover. The need for a wholesale throughput of golfers is moot, given the exclusivity.
No stone has been left unturned at Zagaleta (almost literally). Mountains have been moved, not for Mohammed, but for golf and the members of La Zagaleta. This might be viewed as a sin against economics but, in fact, La Zagaleta has formed its central ethos on such efforts.
For those able to afford membership/residency at La Zagaleta the golf is a central and exciting element.
Marnoch realises that the exclusivity has both good and bad features.
"The complex is only accessible to a very few, which is a shame as far as I am concerned," he said. "Obviously one would want any golf design to be seen and enjoyed by many, but only a select few will play or even see Los Barrancos."
Which is part of the draw for such a resort. Not only are the golf courses set in stunning surroundings and maintained to the highest standards, they are hardly overcrowded. Only 10,000 rounds over both courses combined are forecast annually - less than 100 per week.
Such exclusivity has helped La Zagaleta to a raft of international awards over the past decade.
La Zagaleta has been exclusive and successful for nearly a decade, with the second course only now coming to fruition. Los Barrancos joins a range of other leisure offerings that are for the exclusive use of members and their guests.
In addition to the two 18-hole golf courses with two driving ranges, facilities include a riding club, a clubhouse with restaurant, bar, several lounges, library, billiard room, bowling alley, function room with discotheque for private events, tennis and paddle courts, changing rooms, sauna and swimming pool. Angling and hiking trails are set within the grounds and fit perfectly with the mountain setting.
Residents are catered to by the private, on-site service company - La Zagaleta Services Management S.L, a red carpet service that provides private transport to the airport, home delivery laundry service, maintenance of the gardens and pools, babysitting, catering, chauffeur and secretarial services, insurance company and banking facilities.