Campo de golf del Parador de El Saler pg.iii

Tenth hole, 400/390 yards; The merit of two shot holes largely defines a course, primarily because they typically outnumber one and three shot holes combined. So it is at El Saler, which enjoys the quintessential configuration of five two shotters, two three shotters, and two one shotters on each nine. Among the ten two shot holes, there are the charming drive and pitch sort (seven, eight, and thirteen), beastly ones (six and eighteen) and the all-important middle kind in the 380 to 410 yard range. In recent times much has been made of drivable two shotters and notoriety tends to follow the really hard four pars. Though they seem to have been been ignored in recent times, it is this middle range that is so important to a course’s overall fabric. For the average player who might hit a drive and mid iron, these holes are essential to bestowing good golf qualities to a course. The tenth highlights the need for a well-placed drive to a particular side of a fairway followed by an accurate iron approach. Playing smart golf, the thinking golfer has a fighting chance against the bomber at El Saler.

The 10th fairway billows right then left before …

… ending at an angled green which best accepts shots played from the right half of the fairway as pines left complicate the approach. It reminds the author of the start of the back nine at Harbour Town where strategically located trees favor the golfer who can shape the ball.

Twelfth hole, 200/185 yards; To gain an appreciation of an architect, sometimes it is most instructive to see how he tackles flat land. Does he create ‘noise’ with mounding to ‘liven’ the proceedings or is he is comfortable to let a course enjoy a quiet moment so that the golfer’s senses aren’t always under assault? Arana clearly subscribed to the latter school, as did Colt and Simpson. 200 yards from the back markers, the twelfth features a high to low point of four feet – and is all the better for it. For long iron approaches, Arana liked to build greens that were deep, often times wider at the rear than the front with a one or two foot high ridge somewhere in the putting surface. Such is the case at the twelfth green, which at 53 yards, is the course’s second deepest putting surface. It adds up to golf that is challenging for the best, an easy bogey for the rest and served up in tranquil surrounds.

Today’s back left hole location on top of a tier leaves the golfer a small effective hitting area; it is amazing how the golf pivots around that two foot ridge. The lack of framing mounds elevates Arana’s work above the work that was going on in North America in the 1960s.

Thirteenth hole, 350/340 yards; The flow and pacing of an Arana course is invariably of a high standard, meaning that the golfer is never beat down or given a reason to become wholly discouraged by a string of extremely difficult holes. Yes, the eleventh is a long three shotter and the twelfth a hard one for the average player, but they are followed by this tickler. Position is everything, both off the tee and on the approach.

Given the day’s hole location over the left bunker, a drive down the right is optimum. In yet another example of how well the course is presented, the view down the right is obscured, thus creating a sense of doubt.

This golfer unwittingly did what many do and steered his tee ball safely left. The fairway bunker only exacerbates the difficulty of the awkward angle.

This right side view demonstrates how Arana draped the putting surface over the top of a dune. Controlling the spin is paramount as the false front occupies the first quarter of the green.

Fifteenth hole, 565/550 yards; The second nine plays a couple of hundred metres longer than the first nine, largely due to the extended length of its three shotters. This one is a slow bender to the right and the golfer needs to make sure that the slight left to right ground bias doesn’t assist him to inadvertently carve a ball right into a well-placed hazard that eats up the area 135-155 yards from the green.

The transition from fairway into the native area is seamless as the fairway winds right.

Though the bunker itself isn’t particularly deep, this is known as the deepest hazard on the course as the vegetation has been cultivated to make it fierce. Second shots that peel right meet with harsh consequences.

Seventeenth hole, 215/185 yards; In another reminder of Harbour Town, two of the course’s most iconic holes close out the round and bring the golfer to the edge of a large body of water. Nestled into the main dune line and surrounded by six bunkers, the penultimate green is an island of grass in a sea of sand. Technically, there is room to run the ball up but practically there isn’t as a large fronting bunker is Arana’s way to demand a player’s very best late in the match. Still, the architectural features meld into the dunescape, allowing the setting’s purity to shine, which is exactly how design functions at its highest level. The pair of one shotters on the second nine (twelve and here) are the only two holes that play toward the Mediterranean on this side and both holes are at right angles to their predecessor. Thus, gauging the wind becomes an art form, especially here, so close to the shore.

The penultimate hole as seen early in the morning with the sun rising over the Mediterranean Sea just beyond the dunes.

The morning light highlights the high right plateau. Even on calm days, right hole locations lend the hole wonderful playing qualities.

Just as Tom Simpson was prone to, Arana liked to flair bunkers away from one shot greens. The man above faces an uncommonly long greenside bunker shot.

The splendors of the environment are evident in this view of seventeen from the eighteenth tee.

Eighteenth hole, 470/445 yards; The views afforded from the Home tee are the best on the course and if there is a better finishing hole in continental Europe, the author hasn’t seen it. What a pity none of the Open rota courses finish in such a rousing fashion. Since Arana was an ace player, the first time player might roll his eyes and assume that Arana concluded all his courses with tough two shotters. Nothing could be farther from the truth: Real Sociedad de Golf de Neguri signs-off with a three shotter and Club de Campo Reorrido Negro in Madrid with a charming short two shotter. Arana clearly didn’t have any preconceived notions about an ideal finisher but it just so happened that a long two shotter here maximized the land’s potential.

A moment to savor: the view from the eighteenth tee.

Though suitably wide, note how the eighteenth fairway gracefully tappers away both left (toward a large bunker) and right (away from the green).

The fairway bends left around this bunker and the hole heads away from the Mediterranean.

A whooping 56 yard long green means the final approach shot can vary by as much as four clubs depending upon where the hole is located.

One advantage of staying at the Paradores is waking up and soaking in this view from your porch. The depth and configuration of the Home green is fully appreciated.

Imagine living in Valencia and having El Saler as your local! Fresh fruits and fish abound, Rioja and paella galore, 2,500 hours of sunshine per anum and a low profile course that changes every day as the coastal winds shift. El Saler is a walker’s paradise, just as it is a sanctuary for birds. Not very hilly but the rolls in the ground lend character to many of the holes. Maybe you have children and can bring them along or perhaps it is your daughter or son that has you as a guest? Regardless, Arana’s architecture encourages the pursuit of the sport at all ages. It doesn’t overwhelm and its lows are high while the highs (a crisp approach to the second, the terror at the approach to the sixth, the clever eighth, the thrilling finish) are all that a golfer could ask for. The only knock on El Saler is that its architecture is so inclusive that everyone enjoys playing here which stretches rounds past four hours. Tee off early in the morning, get ahead of the crowds and enjoy the flow of holes in the soothing, coastal environs.

Arana’s portfolio is only ten courses as the Spanish Civil War and World War II interrupted the game’s evolution right when Arana was at the height of his playing prowess. Yet, after touring several of his courses the golfer will yearn to see more of his work. Reading Alfonso Erhardt’s book and his Feature Interview (http://golfclubatlas.com/feature-interview/feature-interview-with-alfonso-erhardt/) are musts. Arana wasn’t splashy but he found the right sites that would yield good golf. He never tortured the land but built courses that lay peacefully upon it. Additionally, he was always mindful of the weaker player and used short grass to befuddle the tiger as opposed to fronting bunkers. To see the fairways at grade at El Saler is a stark reminder of how contorted and unnatural too many courses have become. Following in the foot steps of his mentors Colt and Simpson, Arana excelled at building courses that the golfer delights to play on a regular basis. There is no higher compliment.

Erhardt succinctly sums up Arana as an architect, ‘Throughout his life, Arana remained true to three of his master Simpson’s design theories. At El Saler we can observe that no consecutive holes are oriented in the same direction, that the optimal position from the tee is never the middle of the fairway and that most greens are angled to the fairway, favoring a particular position of the previous shot. The great HS Colt said that the test of a golf course was if it was going to live. Arana phrased it differently: do I want to play again? By combining Arana’s classic design elements, a beautifully routed property and huge green complexes, El Saler proves to be a tremendously elastic course which plays completely different from day to day. We can rest assured that 50 years after its birth El Saler lives up to Colt and Arana’s test.’

Arana didn’t invent the guitar (that was another famous Spaniard) nor for that matter, did he reinvent golf course architecture. What he did was bring a Golden Age design ethos to some of Spain’s best properties and helped set the stage for what became a golf boom in his beloved country. His passing in 1975 coincided with the emergence of Severiano Ballesteros and golf would never be the same again in Spain. As Alfonso Erhardt states, all of Spain is forever in the debt of Javier Arana.

Fin