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  • Writer's pictureGolf on Costa del Sol

Santa Maria Golf – The Fifth in Our Series of Challenge Matches

Updated: Feb 26

It’s a beautiful day. Mikel Artaza the Director of Golf here at Santa Maria Golf and Country Club has joined us for a pre match coffee on the clubhouse terrace from where we enjoy the inspiring view of the first and third fairways as they roll towards the horizon in viridescent splendour. I cannot wait to get started! 

JW and I are here to play the fifth match in our series of challenge matches. With three losses and one solitary win we are hungry for victory at any cost! Today our adversaries are my old friend Dean Symonds, the head pro at Santa Maria Golf Course and one of his proteges, a talented and ambitious golfer, Claudia Dunicsh.

Claudia has been under the tutelage of Dean since junior days.  Now aged 23 having graduated from University Claudia is embarking a career in golf. The four of us had our first game together about a year ago at Mijas Golf. On that day Claudia shot the lowest gross score of any of us and beat us comfortably! Since then her handicap has plummeted. I am excited to see how her game has evolved over the last 12 months.

Santa María Golf Club Marbella Spain Andalusia Costa del Sol

Dean and I have a friendship going back nearly 30 years. Dean’s Dad delivered Dean to me when he was just 17 and came to Spain to play golf and get a summer job. “Take good care of my boy won’t you Stuart” implored Symonds Senior. Look after him! I couldn’t keep up with him! He was a whirling dervish devouring every opportunity and experience that came along! I must have done something right, Dean has been here ever since and his reserves of positive energy are undiminished!

The Bet

“How much golf are you playing Dean?” I asked.

“Not much” he replied.

“OK how about you , JW and I play off scratch and we give Claudia 2 shots on each nine? said Dean, clearly trying hard to get a good deal for his player. “Losers buy the drinks”.

The game is on! Dean, JW and I are playing from the White (tournament ) tees and Claudia from the Ladies Tournament tees. We will be sampling Santa Maria Golf today at its very best!

About Santa Maria Golf and Country Club


Ideally situated in the village urbanisation of Elviria. Santa Maria Golf is just a few hundred metres from the beaches of Marbella. Malaga airport is only 35 minutes away by car, Marbella and Puerto Banus just a few minutes drive. A perfect golf course from which to enjoy the attractions that Marbella has to offer.


  1. Putting Green

  2. Warm-up nets


  1. Changing Rooms

  2. Lockers

  3. Showers

  4. Restaurant 

  5. Snacks

  6. On Course Refreshments 

  7. Fully stocked Pro Shop

The course:

  1. White Tees 6015m 

  2. Yellow Tees 5766m 

  3. Red Tees 5084m

  4. Designer – Antonio Garcia Garrido

  5. Opened –  1996

The Front Nine Holes:

Birdies Abound!

Dean stands on the tee and he is all about taking care of business. “The line to hit” he says is on the inside of the pine trees” and with a regal woosh that’s exactly where he went. Perfect drive for the Suffolk man.

JW addressed the ball and somehow did not look comfortable. He made a swing that resembled an involuntary convulsion rather than his usual silk. The ball climbed like an arthritic partridge and barely made it to the other side of the lake. My own effort came high out of the toe of the club and made its way towards the fairway bunker in the bank of rough on the right.

The ladies competition tee on the far shore of the lake gave Claudia a clear view of the fairway. A soundly struck drive saw her ball reach parity with Deans drive miles up the fairway.

JW dropped me off at my ball and went to play his. My plan was to hit a low, cut six iron under and around the pine trees and run on to the green. Clearly I had become confused between ambition and ability as the shot I hit was truly miserable, clattering into the trees 60m ahead of me. I trudged into the adjoining 3rd fairway to address my 3rd shot. Too ashamed even to go and get another club I punched the 6 iron again which this time came to rest on the back edge of the green.

In the meantime JW had smoked his magic 5 wood into the heart of the green, Dean and Claudia hit wedges to 4m.

Having taken three hacks to reach the back of the green and in order not to be a slow player I took a perfunctory chip at the ball again with the 6 iron and watched in amazement as it hit the pin 25m away and dropped in for an unlikely par! JW ever the matchplay wizard had a good go at his birdie putt from 15m making sure it got past the cup. Dean set the tone for the day by draining his birdie putt to take an early lead.

The second hole is a spectacular down hill dog leg par five that asks you to drive your golf ball through a narrow avenue of trees immediately in front of the tee box. Dean hit an absolutely beautiful drive on the perfect line. We followed up with less strident replies but were very much in the mix. From the ladies competition tee Claudia was able to get her drive up with Dean. The difference in tee positions has clearly been thought through and works very effectively here.

This is where it went wrong for Team Santa Maria! JW hit his 5 wood into the perfect lay up position, I know John’s game well enough to have been certain that his upcoming birdie putt was going to be a short one! I drilled a 3 wood onto the front apron of the green, we now have two strong chances for birdie. Claudia laid up and then bladed her wedge through the back of the green. Dean pushed a mighty 4 iron which bounced off the banking of the 3rd tee and was never again to be seen. Great matchplay from John and I and we are back to square!

The third is a similar hole to the first produced and produced very similar result. This time it was Claudia that dealt us the blow, a straight forward par net birdie was a statement to which we had no reply. Back to one down.

Three holes played, three birdies recorded! It’s going to be a tough day!

No Time to be Faint of Heart

What a little cracker of a hole the 4th is! A driveable par 4. Very narrow at the tee box it gets progressively wider and therefore safer as you get closer to the green. Out of bounds on your right, water hazard on your left. Beautiful thick vegetation everywhere. The only thing to fear here is fear itself! Drivers out – go for the green! No time to be faint of heart!

JW, overcome with the initial narrowness of the hole hit a scruffy drive up the fairway and left himself 60m which he placed 3m from the cup. Claudia laid up with an iron and also got pretty close in two. Dean and I did the gallant thing and lashed out at the green both finding the greenside left bunkers. My first bunker shot was not a total success, neither was my second one. Oh dear!

Dean splashed out to a couple of metres. This apparently easy hole did not yield any birdies and was halved in par. We remain one down.

A Santa Maria Classic

Dean describes the 5th hole as a classic Santa Maria Golf hole. He says that the holes here tell you how they want to be played. All we have to do is listen! He is right. This hole has trouble all along its right side and freedom all along its left, it wants us to play into the left half of the fairway. The green is framed by a delightful woodland landscape and looks as if it has been set in a forest clearing. Extraordinarily pretty. A half in fours kept the scoreline the same.

The view from the 6th tee piqued my sense of the surreal. On the horizon are the hazy Sierra Blanca mountains with the AP7 road bridge in the foreground. The columns supporting the bridge rise from the depths of the valley floor to meet the ribbon of tarmac as it arcs across the sky. This is a place of unending beauty. I am lucky to call this part of the world my home.

This short par 4 sixth hole is far more difficult than the number on the tee box suggests. Wide and only 305m long this should be easy. It is not. Dean tugged his tee shot into the lateral water hazard on the left, Claudia and I found the rough on the right, only JW made use of the fairway. The slope up to the green is steep and makes the second shot play much longer than you might think. Claudia and I left our second shots short of the putting surface. JW hit the middle of the green and left himself a tricky downhill birdie putt. JW has safe hands, a par secured a win for the men from Mijas Golf, we are all square.

The Legend of King Arthur

Legend has it that John’s 5 wood has magical qualities rather like King Arthur’s Excalibur. Every time it is pulled from his bag something special happens. JW selected his magic 5 wood for his tee shot on this 224 yard par 3 seventh hole, a guarantee of par or better. Shockingly John spooned a terrible looking push/shank 35 degrees to the right heading towards the thick barranca of olives and cork trees. Fortunately for us Dean hit a similarly uninspired shot which did not reach the putting surface whereas Claudia proved to be made of sterner stuff and rifled her tee shot directly over the flag onto the back edge of the green.

With supernatural powers JW’s ball had managed to avoid serious trouble and sat off the right edge of the green 45m from the flag. Some wizardry with his wedge saw the ball arrive hole side and stiff for a remarkable par. Excalibur had delivered again!

So rattled by this display of dark energy was Claudia that her putt for birdie remained short of the hole leaving her with too much to do to save par. One up for the good guys!

Risk and Reward

The view from the 8th tee is wonderful. Looking towards the Sierra Blanca mountain we can see the heathland around us in full bloom, a kaleidoscope of bright colours and natural patterns. Such care has been taken in positioning the layout of the course with respect to the countryside that it looks as though a golf course has always been here just waiting to be discovered. The quality of the maintenance is astounding. Everything is in its place. Everything is perfect.

“This is a classic risk and reward par 5 “ says Dean. “Downhill par 5, dog leg right, safety line is down the left side of the fairway, I won’t be bothering with that! Tiger line is over the trees on the right” With the match finely balanced we all excelled ourselves with our drives and 4 balls were bashed mightily towards the green.

JW and Claudia played lay up shots while Dean and I were able to have a lash at the green. Our courage was rewarded with a pair of birdies and another halved hole.

The Inferno

A very tough par 5 that needs members’ knowledge in order to successfully navigate it. Dean being a good egg briefed us fully on the tee. “Welcome to the inferno” he said, “the next two holes are going to be tough”.

The drive is the easiest shot here, so we blasted away. Three of us found the fairway. Dean went to the left and beyond the red stakes marking the mountain side. JW gave up halfway up this endless fairway. After a further 15 minutes of struggle only Claudia and I reached the summit of the mountain and both had birdie putts. Claudia nestled her birdie effort close to the cup and secured the win with a net birdie. All square after 9 holes.

The 10th is a downhill dog leg right of 420 meters is a tough hole. Dean hit a beautiful stinger 3 wood over the corner of the cart path. JW chose the safe line but tugged it a little left and was fortunate not to run out of fairway. Claudia hit a beautiful shot and matched Dean whereas I was out of the hole after my drive – an horrendous block to the right. Dean and Claudia from the perfect position had 150m to go. Both secured birdies to go one up.

The 11th and12th were both halved in par. The standard of scoring has been excellent aided by the excellent greens.

Death and Disaster

“This is not a risk and reward hole” Dean cautioned us on the 13th tee. “Death and disaster all along the left of the fairway until you get past the corner. There is no way to cut the corner. The line to take is the eucalyptus trees on the far right edge of the fairway. If you find the right half of the fairway you will have a view around the dog leg to the green , and if you can hit it far enough the green might be in range.

Looking up the fairway from the tee this is a mighty par 5 running uphill with clear problems on both sides.

A mature ravine filled with glorious rough and towering trees dominate the left side and emphatically prevent any chance of cutting the dog leg.

Dean pushed his tee shot to the right, missing the fairway and finding himself in the first cut of rough between fairways. JW hit one on the left side of the fairway slightly blocking his second shot. I hit a cracker at the eucalyptus with a little draw.

Dean, Claudia and John had no choice but to lay up and try for a birdie by way of a good wedge shot. I had 220m up the hill and had a lash with my 3 wood leaving myself 15m from the putting surface.The green is large and set in a horseshoe of beautiful plant and tree life, another green that looks rather like it was formed by making a clearing in the forest!

Unfazed by my tilt at eagle Claudia calmly went about her business and made a sterling par which proved good enough for a half. We remain one down. The pressure is building!

14th Hole

This is an interesting par 4 and requires some strategy to get that elusive birdie or par. Dean recommended a 3 wood off the tee aiming directly at the Mediterranean on the horizon, being careful not to go to the right as the slope will take you to the bottom of a valley and make your next shot difficult.

All of our drives found the crest line, each of our second shots duly found the dancefloor. A half in par. No one is making mistakes, although the birdie putts have stopped dropping!. The standard of golf today is good as befits the intensity of the competition between us.

Signature Hole

“This is the signature par 3 for Santa Maria Golf. “It’s such a great hole” says Dean “everything is clearly laid out, you can see the places not to go. Because of the elevation the tee shots will be coming in vertically, really you can just throw darts at this flag.” He is absolutely right, it is a great par 3. Finding the right club to cover the 166m is made more difficult due to the steep descent from the tee to the green, but this is a hole that will reward a good strike with a birdie chance.

All of us left our tee shots slightly short of the flag having been deceived by the elevation. No mistakes were made and another hole halved in 3. A sensation is building in our camp that we might be running out of holes!

The Cunning Moriarty

We stand on the16th tee one down, unable to wrest this lead from their grasp. I sense from Deans light step bounding up to the tee box that:

a) He is 20 years younger than me.

b) He has us exactly where he wants us!

This long narrow challenging par 4 is the final stroke hole for Claudia. Our opponents are more cunning than the evil Professor Moriarty and have played us perfectly thus far. One up, a shot in hand and only 3 holes to go. The plucky men from Mijas Golf are up against it.

The line from the tee is obvious, it’s a long thin straight par 4. Out of bounds all the way up the right of the fairway, water on the left. A long straight shot is the only solution. The pressure is on!

Dean hit a 3 wood for safety, his plan did not work, a pull to the left sent the ball on a path perilously close to the water hazard. JW and I both summoned satisfyingly commercial drives that found the fairway. The burden of responsibility weighed on Claudia’s slender shoulders as she addressed her tee shot. With an uncharacteristic mistake her ball finished out of bounds high on the right. In the course of three minutes the entire picture has changed!

Dean, JW and I all found the shoe-lace green in 2. JW and Dean on the back level with reasonable birdie putts. I was short of the flag on the lower level of the green with 20m for my birdie. Clearly this was not the time to leave any putts short so I gave it a hefty wallop. By some miracle it tracked absolutely on line from the moment it left my putter until it clattered the pin and disappeared down the hole! A birdie!! Shattered by my good fortune Dean had no hope of sinking his. We advanced to the 17th tee all square.

Karma Bites Me in the Bottom

JW and I hit crisp punch shots into the stiff breeze finding the front edge of the par 3. With only 4m each for birdie we reflected upon our resurgence as an unbeatable pairing. Our second consecutive victory only moments away.

Deans tee shot missed short and left, not a strike that he took any pleasure from. Claudia, also beaten by the wind, came up a little short. The buggy ride to the green was spent working on our victory speech when suddenly Dean chipped in from 40m for a sodding birdie. “Ha!” he said “That makes up for your flukely birdie on the last! Don’t you love it when Karma sorts itself out!!” With that cruel blow victory was snatched away from us, the best we could do was to win the last and avoid a defeat.

Valiant Until the End

“Its death or glory, now or never. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder on this 18th to avoid defeat. The ignominy of having almost certain victory snatched for our grasp (again) stings. We men of Mijas shall never surrender!” JW’s motivational words were rousing as we drove to the 18th tee.

Before us was a tight driving hole, out of bounds on the right, a lake and large tree makes the left a danger zone too. A straight drive is called for, it does not have to be long, does most certainly have to be straight.

Dean manufactured a commercial poke up the fairway, not pretty but got the job done. JW dispatched another fairway seeking projectile whilst under the cosh I made a total cock of mine, just short of the lake and underneath the tree on the left. Claudia, showing a previously unseen ruthlessness striped a drive up the middle.

I stubbed my 2nd shot trying to hack out of the tree and knifed my third well beyond the green. Within 30 disastrous seconds the hole was over for me, everything sat upon JW’s ability to find the pin. He did not disappoint, rather like golf’s most famous postman, Ian Poulter, JW has a knack for delivering upon demand. A stunning 7 iron covered the flag and came to rest 1.5m above and to the right of the flag!

Clearly unnerved Dean pushed a short iron to the right apron leaving himself 15m from the flag with a terrifyingly fast putt down the hill. With cool efficiency Claudia hit an iron shot perfectly into the middle of the green coming to rest slightly below the flag leaving a 2.5m uphill birdie attempt.

As expected Deans putt sped past the cup, no birdie. The danger to us was presented by Claudia. Much to my shame I said a brief prayer to the golfing Gods asking if they would intervene and allow Claudia’s birdie putt to slip past. My prayer was answered.

The match would be decided by JW. One and a half meters of slippery downhill right to left breaker for a birdie and preservation of our honour. The golfing Gods evidently mis-heard my earlier prayer and JWs putt also slipped by. The final hole halved in par bringing victory to our noble challengers. A terrific match played over a delightful golf course. The drinks are on us!


Perfectly presented and in tremendous condition Santa Maria Golf course is a very fair golf course. There is nothing at Santa Maria Golf that is designed to fool or ambush its members and guests. Every hole is honest and just. If you listen to the golf course then it will tell you how to play it. Interpret the signs, match it to your skill level and the golf course tells you when to play safe and when to take a little risk. This is the hallmark of a great golf course. It wants you to build a good score and have a great time! The fun factor is set to maximum whilst the frustration factor is low. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing here and will make a regular fixture.

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