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  • Writer's pictureGolf on Costa del Sol

Rio Real Golf: Players Guide and Review

Updated: Feb 27

Rio Real Golf has been an important part of Spanish Golf since 1965. Designed by Javier Arana who is considered to be the finest European Golf Course Designer of all time. He is responsible for several courses judged to be amongst the finest in Continental Europe such as the Costa del Sol’s Guadalmina Sur (South) and Aloha.

Rio Real Golf is often the high point of the week for visitors enjoying golf on Costa del Sol. As I look around at the immaculate practice putting green, the tee boxes and fairways I can see why. It is clear to see that the management team takes pride in presenting Rio Real Golf to its guests in pristine condition.

Today John and I hope to give you a flavor of what it is like to play at this prestigious venue.


Just a 30 minute drive from Malaga airport Rio Real Golf is 5 minutes form Marbella, 20 minutes from Fuengirola and 40 minutes from Sotogrande.


  1. Driving range

  2. Putting green

  3. Chipping green

  4. Pro shop

  5. Buggies are included with the green fee 


  1. Bar

  2. Restaurant

  3. Snack menu

  4. A la Carte menu

  5. Group functions

  6. Terrace

Front Nine Holes at Rio Real Golf Club

Hole 1

Par 4, Stroke Index 15, 304m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

Rio Real Golf do things differently, there are no White, Yellow, Blue or Red tee boxes. Here you play the course from tee markers that tell you the length of the course. Today we are playing from the “61” tee markers denoting the course as played is approximately 6100m. Such a simple yet brilliant idea, you can choose the tee box that suits your game. The tee box options are 61, 58. 55 and 51.

The first hole is a Par 4, the fairway runs at an angle of about 22 degrees right to left with trouble up the left, meaning the closer you aim towards the green the greater the length of rough you have to carry. It is not a long hole, the clever design encourages you to make a decision about risk and reward.

Immediately in front of the tee and to your left is a deep hazard filled with lush mature vegetation, and trees. It does not come into play, but it sets the tone for the day. Rio Real Golf puts a premium on selecting the right tee shot for each hole.

From the tee you can see the green, there are green side bunkers both left and right as well as a fairway bunker located on the right side of the fairway about 70m short of the green. John took a line on this bunker and hit a great shot with a little draw finding the fairway and leaving himself with 76m to the pin. With no protection other than the aforementioned greenside bunkers John hit an elementary wedge shot into the green.

They say that good things come in small packages, an apt description of this green. A perfect putting surface running at around 10 on the Stimpmeter today. Each green has many contours and demands your full attention.

Hole 2

 Par 4, Stroke Index 11, 352m

The tee is set to the left and elevated above the first green. The view down the fairway immediately tells you that this hole is altogether tougher than the 1st. A dog leg right with out of bounds along the left and running parallel with the 17th fairway on the right. There is a fairway bunker alongside the right side of the fairway which will catch drives that are directed at the green.

The line to take is at the last of the big trees on the right. Hold your breath and pray for a straight one. The longer you hit it down here the wider the fairway becomes. If you miss right you have a line of trees separating the 2nd from the 17th fairways. No shot to the green from the tree line. If you really miss right and find the 17th fairway you have to play over the trees to the green. I failed. I spent several minutes racking up a big score pinging from tree to tree!

The green has bunkers behind, left and right making it a well protected target and quite difficult to find. Again a perfect putting surface utterly devoid of any pitch marks or blemishes, sculpted to flow in every direction.

Hole 3

 Par 3, Stroke Index 17, 135m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is supposed to be the second easiest hole on the course! From the tee you have a clear view of what needs to be done. It does not look easy!

Running directly in front of the green is the river that gives the course its name, the Rio Real. It’s about 15m wide and far too deep to contemplate retrieving the ball from the dry bed. When the river is in flow I imagine there must be a steady stream of golf balls being washed up on the beaches of North Africa on the opposite shore of the Mediterranean Sea!

You cross a bridge to reach the green, you have the width of the cart path between the opposite river bank and the greens front edge. This is a narrow but wide green, you have to hit the right number. Distance control is everything here. There are bunkers on the right and left with a little room further left. Senor Arana asks you one important question here – “Can you control your distance?” You are not badly penalised for being offline, but you will suffer if you are short.

Hole 4

 Par 4, Stroke Index 5, 386m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

Oh boy. Standing on the back tees surveying the hole ahead and I have an orchestral arrangement of doubt and fear playing loudly in my mind!

Playing directly out towards the sea with stunning views this is a very difficult dog leg left. The line directly to the green is obscured by impenetrable tree coverage immediately to your left off the tee. The line of trees becomes less dense the further along the fairway you go. The first half of the fairway points you directly at a house beyond the golf course boundary on the corner of the dog leg, this is the obvious line. The further along that line you go the narrower it gets. At 225m you will over shoot the fairway and find trees or the out of bounds markers, if you go to the right of the line the OOB and trees are closer. You cannot hit it left of the line because of the tree coverage on the left, the perfect solution is to hit a draw and shape it around the corner.

The widest part of the fairway is 180m from the tee. Obvious strategy is to hit whichever club gets you 180m, but then you are faced with a 200m second shot into a well bunkered and very small green with OOB both on the right and behind the green. A deliciously difficult hole. Unless you have the skill to hit a shaped tee shot of 220m or longer then this hole might be better played by taking 3 shots to the green and accepting that a bogey is a good result.

Hole 5

 Par 4, Stroke 1,  387 m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is another very difficult par 4. The Rio Real runs up the right of the fairway marked with red stakes and will consume all drives that are miss hit to the right. The fairway runs parallel to the 4th Hole meaning many trees lining the left side of this fairway. The only good option off the tee is to hit a straight drive.

The green is set atop a hill. The Rio Real cuts diagonally across the front of the green about 40m short of the green at the bottom of the hill and to the left of the green. Any shots coming into the green that miss short or left are likely to reside at the bottom of the river. There is a bailout which is to the right of the green and some room over the back of the green. If you go over the back you are faced with a dastardly chip down the steep bank on to the green running downhill towards the Rio Real! There are bunkers on the left and right of the green , finding the bunker will feel like an act of mercy. Such a difficult green to hit.

The green itself is fantastically contoured with some slopes at least a meter high.

The real issue before you get to the green is that you cannot see it! From the tee the green is hidden behind a hillock 225m from the tee and 120m short of the green. The best line from the tee is to lay up short of this hillock which leaves you with a totally blind wedge shot into one of the most difficult greens you will ever encounter.

The first 3 holes were benign, the first and third with a good tee shot are birdie chances. The fourth and fifth are two of the most difficult holes I have ever played. Escape these two holes with as little damage as possible and you are in great shape!

Hole 6

Par 3, Stroke Index 13, 164m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

From the tee this hole also looks intimidating. In fact the key feature of the hole is its large green. Big target, albeit with a steep tier running through the middle of it making 2 putts quite difficult.

A cliff face sits immediately to your right with an attractive apartment complex overlooking the green. Left of the green slopes steeply down a bank into terrible trouble. It is marked with red stakes to save you the pain of looking for it!

The apartments rising high above you and the steep bank running away to the left make the hole feel very tight. In fact this is not the case. You have to be straight, but then it’s a short par 3, it should not be that hard to get a short iron heading in the right direction! You can even miss short if you want, provided you are happy in huge bunkers!

This par 3 is in perfect contrast to the previous one. On the 3rd hole the premium was on distance control, here the focus is on accuracy, Javier Arana sets out to test every part of your shot making and game management as you progress through your round. It is a truly great design.

Hole 7

 Par 5, Stroke Index 3, 443m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

Another hole that requires a well planned and well executed drive. From the tee the hole drops steeply away to the left before rising towards the fairway. The dog leg left is guarded on the left by a thick copse of pine trees located on the steep terrain.

On the right of the fairway at the corner of the dogleg sits a fairway bunker, anything right of the bunkers is OOB. To reach the plateau of the fairway you need to hit your tee shot around 200m right at the bunker. If you want to have a go at reaching the green in 2 strokes you need to aim further left but bear in mind the further left you aim the longer the carry to reach the plateau. If you don’t make the plateau or if you go left you will be in the pine trees 20m below the fairway having a miserable time! The drive here will make or break the hole for you. Find flat ground. Be prepared to sacrifice distance in order to reach the plateau.

The second shot is not much easier! OOB right of the fairway all the up to and behind the green, Steep pine forest and bunkers beckon on the left. With the green tucked away on the left and well guarded by cavernous sand traps a mid or even a short iron lay up to leave a comfortable wedge is the best way to manage this hole.

Hole 8

 Par 4, Stroke Index 7, 398m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is a long and difficult Par 4. A hole that can easily shatter a good score.

We are teeing off from a highpoint close to the 7th green playing into the valley shared with the previous hole. A steep forested bank on your left with out of bounds on the right. There are a couple of fairway bunkers at driver length on the very edge of the boundary fence that might save an errant drive (it saved mine!)

The hole is dominated by the most incredible view across the Mediterranean Sea, extraordinary! The green is not visible from the tee which brings a certain tension to the tee shot, it is pretty obvious where not to go, i.e. don’t go right (OOB) and don’t go left (pine forest).

There is a candle shaped pine tree on the right half of the fairway clearly visible from the tee, this makes a good aiming point.

Both John and I made a mess of our drives and each found one of the fairway bunkers on the right. I was left with 160m from sand playing over a valley up to a steeply elevated plateau green. Desperate trouble on the right, steep banking rising on the left and a small green in the middle. A daunting shot. On this occasion I nailed it, a 6 iron right to the heart of the green. The small green meant that I had a makeble birdie putt. I missed it hopelessly, the greens here are so well contoured, every putt is an event!

There are no easy second shots into the green, a short drive will leave you on top of the hill requiring a shot of 160m or more having to fly the entire valley with no bailout area. If you are short it will roll a long way back down the fairway due to its steepness. If you hit a big drive you might find yourself with a tricky downhill lie playing to that tiny elevated green. There are more ways to mess this hole up than there are to make a par. A bogey here is a good result, double bogey will be common. Without doubt I would add this hole to my fantasy 18!

Hole 9

Par 5,  Stroke Index 9, 457m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

From the tee this hole just looks difficult! Most of them do. It is the way it has been designed to protect itself and make the player think.

The tee on this dog leg left is pointing you towards the nursery green on the right, the best line to take is in fact on the yellow villa just to the left of and beyond the nursery. A hedge runs from the tee 60m up the left edge of the hole blocking your view of the green. If you hit it left you will probably find a troublesome lie. The first fairway runs along the left of the ninth, but between the two are rough, mature trees and some steeply sloped areas.

Both John and I found the fairway and have a straight shot towards the green. A lay up is the prudent thing to do , leave yourself a favorite wedge into the green and have a putt for birdie.

It is reachable on two strokes, there are considerable elements of risk for you to consider. Not much room on the left between the green and the first tee, the flower gardens on the right are only a few paces off the green with OOB markets beyond them. Very little room over the back of the green either. Greenside bunkers left and right complete the obstacles.

The hole is telling you how it wants you to play it, it’s a good idea to take heed!

Rio Real Golf: Back Nine Holes

Hole 10

Par 4, Stroke Index 8, 330m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is a very interesting hole and is another example of how Rio Real demands that you play the right tee shot. Get your tee shot wrong here and you can rack up a big number very easily. Get it right and an easy par is yours for the taking.

This hole runs uphill from the tee. The apex of the dog leg comes at 200m at which point it turns 90 degrees to the right. On the right is a large wooded bank which obscures the green from the tee. It is not possible to drive over the corner. You have to hit the ball far enough up the fairway, a minimum of 200m to have a clear view of the green. For the long hitters the maximum is 240m before you run out of fairway.

If you do not reach the dogleg you have no possibility of reaching the green, you will have to play a chip shot up to the corner. I hit a 2 iron, poorly, I was on the right totally blocked by the bank , my only shot was a 45m chip away from the flag to reach the corner of the dogleg and then a 100m wedge into the green..

From the corner of the dogleg you are faced with a very simple wedge into a generous green. If you miss the green the gentle banking surrounding the green makes for an easy chip. All you have to do here to earn your par is deliver one good shot from the tee!

Hole 11

Par 4, Stroke Index 16, 321m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

You play from an elevated tee down into the valley. At the end of the fairway the Royal River runs in front of the green on its way to the sea. The trick here is to find the right cub to get you as close to the river as possible. Lightly wooded rough on the right will scupper off line drives, lots of room on the left, watch out for the fairway bunkers strategically placed over there.

230m off the tee will leave you an 85m wedge into the green. Sounds easy. The onus is on you to select the right shot from the tee.

Bunkers left, right and behind the sloped green do a good job of defending. If you are above the hole you will have a very fast and scary putt down the hill. Being left or right of the flag makes life difficult too, the slope makes for huge swings. Try to place your wedge shot below the hole.

Hole 12

Par 3, Stroke Index 14, 156m

A lake guards the left flank of this green and encroaches into the approach narrowing the access to the green considerably. Out of bounds if you go to the right means your only option is to hit a straight one!

The front of the green is the narrowest point, take an extra club and go for the centre or back, more room to land the ball. It is very important that you find the green.

When you look at this green you’re reminded again of what a high quality place Rio Real Golf is. In fact all of the courses we have visited on the Costa del Sol have provided very high quality playing surfaces. I think this depth of quality is what makes the Costa del Sol such an enduring favorite destination for golf holidays.

Hole 13

Par 5, Stroke Index 4, 496m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is a long dog leg left. The 15th fairway runs in the opposite direction separated by a row of tall Palm trees on the left of the fairway. The line to take off the tee is directly at a large white building visible on the hillside.

Johns drive dissected the fairway. He opted for a 5 wood second shot to put him in wedge range and another birdie putt. I pulled mine left on to the 15th fairway. Not good! I was faced with either punching something low between the trees or something towering over the trees, neither option was going to move me very far down the fairway. Rio Real Golf does not let you escape unpunished after a poor shot!

This is not a wide fairway. Precision is required with both the tee shot and second shot.

Greenside bunkers left and right border a small “hogsback” green. The centre section of the green is the high point falling away on both sides making this a challenging putt.

Hole 14

Par 3, Stroke Index 12, 168m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

Great looking hole! From the back tees you walk through an avenue of Bougainvillea and Mimosa. Running along the left of the hole are olive trees. The green is cut into a bank running steeply from right to left. If your tee shot is a lot right it will be OOB, a little right and the bank might kick it back towards the green. If you miss left nothing good is going to happen, just an unfeasibly difficult chip back to the putting surface.

Hole 15

Par 4, Stroke Index 2, 408m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

A very long and very tough Par 4. The fairway is narrow and makes an elusive target. The good news is that the 13th and 16th fairways both run adjacent giving you plenty of room for error. I would not suggest that missing the fairway is a good strategy, but it is difficult to hit, and for those of us not blessed with the skills of a sniper off the tee it is comforting to know that an errant drive is not immediately a disaster!

Beware, the first 160m from the tee is a narrow avenue of trees. Those trees on the left are a danger and will catch golfers that try to cut too much off the corner. Aim to the left of the fairway bunkers visible at the corner of the dog leg, the further left the better. The perfect shot would be a high right to left shape. Like many amateur players I can shape the ball both ways, but it all happens randomly! That’s what makes this tee shot so hard!

Unless you shape the ball you will run out of fairway at 235m with your drive. This leaves a second shot 175m. Most players, after a good drive will face a second shot somewhere between 175m and 210m! Compared to the drive the second shot is not difficult – just long – directly up the fairway at the green. The front of the green is open with bunkers left and right. The big one on the right extends 40m back down the fairway and will catch off line lay up shots.

Most players will play this as a 3 shot hole, either because they can’t hit the second shot far enough or because they missed the fairway with their drive and were prevented from reaching in 2 by the towering Palms that line each side of the fairway. A five here is a good result!

Hole 16

Par 5, Stroke Index 6, 502m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

A long drive aimed at the Pine trees on the corner of the dog leg will give you a chance of reaching this Par 5 with your second shot. Most of us will play it as a 3 shot hole. Missing the fairway either left or right from the tee will almost certainly deny you the chance of making par.

Rio Real Golf is a very fair test of golf. If you go offline from the tee you are likely to drop a shot. It won’t ruin you. The secret is to get your ball back on line for the next shot. If you try to battle heroically against the rough, the trees and the vegetation you will lose!

The fairway is lined by trees for its entire length. There is a fairway bunker 80m from the green on the right waiting for loose lay up shots and two large greenside bunkers right and left of the green.

Like all of the greens here, you have 1.5m of perfectly prepared apron before your ball finds the first cut of rough. The green side rough is very testing to deal with. Half of your ball will be above the grass and half in the grass. You need to focus on good chipping technique to extricate yourself. Any sign of deceleration coming into the ball and your club head will stick to the grass and barely make contact!

This adds another dimension to the complexity and thought that has gone into the design and maintenance at Rio Real Golf. if you play the right shots and execute them well Rio Real will be benign. If you try to dominate the course then be prepared for this wonderful layout to fight back!

Hole 17

Par 4, Stroke Index 18, 321m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is rated as being the easiest hole on the course. What a perfect time to find it. Having been beaten up by the most difficult series of holes the thought of a nice simple par 4, maybe even a chance of birdie comes as a real tonic.

This is a hole that you can attack. Absolutely rifle straight, you can see the flag. Lovely wide fairway with bunkers for the midpoint on either side all the way up to the green. Like all of the holes it is tree lined, but it is one of the most forgiving.

The green is small and guarded by two big greenside bunkers on either side. OOB is right of the green. Over the back of the green are the steps leading to the 2nd tee. All of these obstacles should not come into play, your shot into the green should be with a club short enough that you are confident of finding the middle of the dance floor.

Hole 18

Par 4, Stroke Index 10, 369m

rio real golf course review marbella costa del sol andalusia golf holidays malaga spain

This is a terrific finishing hole. You need to find just a few minutes more of focus and self discipline. Just two more good swings to reach the middle of this green and you will have completed a truly memorable round of golf!

This is a dog leg right. Whatever happens, do not miss the fairway on the right, it is not survivable. The line to take is on the tower block visible on the skyline.

You need to reach the corner of the dog leg to have a clear shot up the hill to the green. You need to hit it at least 200m to be able to see the flag. The second shot will be anything from 170m to 90m depending how far past the corner you can hit your drive. In this case being long is a big help. The green is elevated and protected by two very large and cavernous greenside bunkers, there is almost no chance of running the ball, it has to fly all the way.

Another small green re-emphasises the technical nature of this course. At every opportunity the golf course rewards you for making your next shot as easy as possible.


The beauty of Rio Real Golf and why so many of Marbella’s golfing aficionados choose to play here is that the golf course is not designed to humiliate you if you hit a bad one, it will punish you but not break your spirit! With each shot the design of the course tells you the right shot to play – follow its implicit instructions, be patient and you will be shaking your opponent’s hand on the 18th green with a broad smile! Ignore those instructions and you could, like me, spend a long time bouncing around in the rough!

Visitors to the Costa del Sol enjoying golf holidays in Marbella will discover that Rio Real is liked by almost all who play here. This is a testimony to the design, the management and the greens staff. There are no tricks here. The course guides you and will encourage you to think your way around. This is a technical golf course which asks you not just to play the right shot from the tee, but to manage your second shot too. Blasting away at the ball with every swing is not going to bring success here. This is not a long course, but through its design and its 50 plus years of maturity it cannot be overpowered, you must unpick each hole shot by patient shot. 

As obvious as it sounds, if you can control your game and manage your strategy so that you find most of the fairways from the tee and in turn get on or close to the greens then you will build a good score.

Rio Real tests players of all abilities from the high handicapper to the tournament professional, and it treats all of us the same. It gives us all equal opportunity to build a great score. This is the great thing about Rio Real, it has such a feel good factor, if you manage yourself and your shot selection well Rio Real will reward you!

If you have not yet played at Rio Real I urge you to do so. You will have a great day!

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Rio Real Golf players guide and review

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