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  • Writer's pictureGolf on Costa del Sol

The San Roque Club Old Course Challenge Match

Updated: Feb 26

Another in our series of matchplay challenges sees JW and I accept the challenge from Frank Spies the head teaching pro at Cala Nova and Dean Symonds the head pro at Santa Maria Golf and Country Club.

The Challenge Match Series has not gone well for us so far. It seems the pro’s don’t have much trouble in beating amateurs, who would have thought it! We are 5-2 down in the series so far with today’s match being the 8th in the series.

The Bet

Dean is a tremendous ball striker and Frank a tough competitor who always finds a way to get it up and down. Frank assumed the role of team Captain and entered into negotiations on bet and handicaps with JW. A seasoned match player, Frank is more than a match for JW when negotiating the handicaps. Moments later the deal is done. I am only getting 3 shots, JW is getting 7 and we all play from the back tees. The bet is a five euro nassau.

Introduction to The San Roque Club Old Course

Today we are lucky enough to play at the newly redesigned and reopened San Roque Club Old Course.

The Old Course at San Roque has been an awesome venue for the world’s great players for decades. For 15 consecutive years the Old Course was home to the toughest event of all, the European Tour Q School. This is where the dreams of our European golfing stars were either realised or crushed. The San Roque Club Old Course was a brutally hard golf course, unrelenting in its cruelty. 

The redesigned Old Course is a total success. They have taken a world class facility and made it better. It looks better, it plays better and it delivers a better customer experience.

The Old Course has lost none of its difficulty. Only the very best golfers will match par or better. The redesign has made it a lighter, brighter and more enjoyable experience! The Old Course still beats you up, but now the process is hugely enjoyable!

This course is open from the tee boxes and fairly laid out. It is not tricky, it is just hard. The fairways are not narrow. You will not be endlessly reloading your driver. To dominate here you need to find the correct half of the fairway in order to be able to find the easiest part of the green. For the very best players the level of skill required is epic. For you and I it’s a deeply satisfying bogey golf that will leave you in awe of this wonderful golf course and of all the great legends that have mastered it before you.

The San Roque Club Old Course is of exceptional quality in its design, its layout, and the level of maintenance. Everything is of the highest quality. The experience is almost surreal. It truly feels that we have stepped on to this championship course whilst a tournament is in play. This is as close as I’ll ever be to understanding what it might be like to play in a big tournament. This is what the San Roque experience feels like. This is proper golf!

San Roque is rated at 6300m which by modern standards is not a long course. However, such is the wonder of its design, layout and presentation that it feels much longer. If you are a high handicapper you will use up your shots and have a great day. If you are a low handicapper then you need to bring your A game.


The Course

Opened: 1991

Original Designer: Dave Thomas

Re-Modeled: 2020

European Tour Qualifying School 15 Years

Spanish Open 2005/6


  1. Clubhouse

  2. Restaurant

  3. Pro shop

  4. Changing Rooms

  5. Driving Range

  6. Short game Practise Area

  7. Putting Green

  8. Golf Academy

San Roque Club Old Course – The front nine holes

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 1

Par 5 Stroke Index 13

Tee 63: 479m Tee 60: 452m Tee 56: 442m Tee 49: 403m

All four of us stood on this first tee mesmerized by the condition of the tee box. None of us could quite fathom how perfectly and tightly cut the paying surface was. We discovered that all of the tee boxes appear to be cut as tightly as the greens. The fairways cut with a precision that none of us have seen before. This is as perfect as a golf course can be!

The opening hole is good par 5 offering a birdie opportunity for those happy with the risk reward balance.

The coin was tossed and the honour awarded to our young challengers. Dean stood on the box taking a line over the corner of the dog leg clearly intent on beating the golf course into submission. A lash of DeChambeau magnitude despatched his energised ball on its brief journey, moments later it hooked wildly and disappeared forever.

Frank clearly rattled, pumped one miles to the right into an adjoining fairway. JW did not fare much better. In a rare display of emotion, in this case fear, JW hit a stone cold top and knobbled it along the fairway.

I had nothing to beat. I barely beat it. With 230m into the green with my second shot I took on the challenge of hitting a straight 3 wood. The challenge proved too great for me and the resulting hook bounced twice off the boundary wall, ran up the cart path and came to rest on the front apron of the green. Frank and Dean looked stricken.

Frankie played a great iron shot back into the correct fairway leaving himself 80m into the pin. He stiffed it. Not a good sign for us. His surprise birdie was enough to give the Professionals an early lead.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 2

Par 4 Stroke Index 1

Tee 63: 403m Tee 60: 379m Tee 56: 372m Tee 49: 326m

This second hole is rated as the toughest on the golf course. A shot hole for both JW and I. We stood on the tee filled with wonderment at this amazing place and doubt as to how we would navigate this hole.

Dean again adopted the “alpha male” strategy on the tee box, this time blistering a drive on the perfect line over the trees on the inside of the “elbow” of this dog leg left. The rest of us hit mediocre drives on the dangerous right side of the fairway and the first cut of rough.

JWs drive finished in the front bunker on the right. I came to rest on top of the bunker, Frank kept on the fairway, just! In a courageous act John withdrew his magic 5 wood and crafted a low cutter which made a valiant effort to reach the green coming to rest a little short. From the back of the bunker I excelled myself and crafted a cheeky five iron punch which flew below the trees immediately in front of me and climbed above the next ones scrabbling its way to 2m from the pin! Feeling pleased with myself I floated back to the buggy!

After a long journey in the buggy we arrived at Deans drive. Judging by his huge grin he too was feeling quite pleased! He only had 60m to the green, his drive covered 330m! A decent wedge left him in a dangerous position above the pin. The resulting birdie putt was woefully short. Frank turned away in despair almost as though he had a premonition that my birdie would drop in, it did. We are all square.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 3

Par 4 Stroke Index 5

Tee 63: 363m Tee 60: 341m Tee 56: 334m Tee 49: 271m.

The tee box on this slight dog leg to the right suggests that you should aim at the bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Having the honor on this tee JW and I did just that finding the welcoming safety of a perfectly prepared fairway.

Frank, the redoubtable Walloon would have no part of the safety line “Holes are made for birdying” he exclaimed and bashed his drive on the tiger line directly at the flag which took him over the trees on the right side of the fairway. Dean hit another bazooka drive perfectly at the flag with a Hoganesque 5m fade.

Undaunted both JW and I played our second shots first and found the heart of the green. Dean managed to get his short approach within a couple of metres, alas to no avail, my birdie hit the middle of the cup and plunged into happy darkness! Unable to follow me in, we are one up!

Back to back birdies for me, lovely! It’s all gone quiet for Frankie and Deano!

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 4

Par 4 Stroke Index 11

Tee 63: 405m Tee 60: 388m Tee 56:382m Tee 49: 287m.

This dog leg left runs out of fairway at 270m from the tee. The tiger line, and therefore the only line that Frank and Dean will consider is over the olive trees on the left leaving him something short into the green.

A push to the right of the fairway is likely to find the OOB fence. This is a tough driving hole sufficiently intimidating to make you consider the safe option. Dean, in a crisis of confidence and much to the consternation of Frank elected to play safe with a 3 wood! He hooked it wildly out of bounds. Frank’s eyes were brimming with tears.

JW pushed one to the right finding the fairways edge leaving a long shot into the green.

Frank and I hit great drives and found ourselves perfectly poised. My second shot with a short iron was abominable. JW also did not trouble the green with his second shot. Getting up and down from around the green here at The San Roque Club Old Course requires a deft touch not possessed by either of us!

Frank was only one of us able to make par and squared the match.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 5

Par 3 Stroke Index 7

Tee 63: 161m Tee 60: 155m Tee 56: 144m Tee 49: 110m

A wonderfully crafted par 3. Its beautiful green with the large tier running through it means getting the tee shot into the right quadrant of the green, essential if you want to have a run at birdie.

All four of us over clubbed and found the back edge. This beautiful green proved too demanding for all but Frank who made a great up and down to save par.

JW’s scruffy bogey with a shot was enough to scavenge a half.

San Roque Club Old Course

Hole 6 Par 4 Stroke Index 15

Tee 63: 327m Tee 60: 313m Tee 56: 303m Tee 49:262m

Dean summoned a mighty blow. His drive came to rest on the right side of the fairway having carried the corner of the dog leg leaving him 50m into the flag. With the fragrance of victory in his nostrils Frank’s drive found a wonderful spot on the fairway just behind Dean, the professionals are sitting very confidently.

JW took the safe line directly at the bunkers on the outer edge of the dog leg and then thinned his 2nd shot just short of the green. From my tee shot deep in the cork oaks left of the green I was of no use to JW and after a few more hacks decided to conserve energy and wait in the buggy.

With no pressure upon them whatsoever the lads hit a brace of wedges tight to the hole.. They smiled at each other like star crossed lovers as they walked into the putting green.

Heartbreak Walker was not finished. From the front apron his pitch and run reached the back of the green before meandering back down the slope and finishing just a few centimetres from the cup for a well scrambled par.

Although only facing short putts, both Frank’s and Dean’s birdie efforts were extreme down hill and therefore excruciatingly difficult. A half in par.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 7

Par 3 Stroke Index 17

Tee 63: 156m Tee 60: 148m Tee 56: 125m Tee 49:107m

The green is framed in its parallel lines of cork oak. It is beautiful.

Frank found another green. I came up short. Dean hit it over the back along with JW. My uphill and cross green sliding pitch shot found the bottom of the cup for a birdie. Unfazed and sportingly applauding my lucky shot, Frank’s putt for a half terrorised the hole but remained in the daylight. It ‘s our hole! Unbelievably we are 1 up!

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 8

Par 5 Stroke Index 9

Tee 63: 447m Tee 60: 446m Tee 56: 389m Tee 49: 389m

Four big drives were pounded up the middle of the generous fairway posing a question to each of us.

“To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and lay up, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, win the hole?”

The green has a false front and a run off area on the left. A lake sits on the immediate right flank.So pronounced is the slope on the left that it appears to have melted, Dali-esque, creating one of the best par fives risk reward challenges that I have played.

Dean hit the strike of the day launching his second shot, a three wood pin high on the left of the green leaving a devilishly difficult putt or pitch up the slope for eagle.

Taking his driver from the fairway Frank too finished in the same collection area. A few minutes later I made it 3.

John elected to suffer the “slings and arrows” laying up with his second shot only to stuff his third into the same spot.

From the catchment area it took Frank a further 4 putts to finish the hole. His frustration brought forth a few self motivating words in one the the many languages at Frank’s disposal. We smiled. Dean and I were able to get up and down in 3 more strokes to half this amazing hole in par. We remain 1 up.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 9

Par 4 Stroke Index 3

Tee 63: 390m Tee 60: 367m Tee 56: 366m Tee 49: 309m

There were 2 shots available to JW and I on this 9th hole. All we had to do to reach the turn 2 up was not make a mess of it.

I have to say that on the tee I was brimming with confidence and lined up over the two Oak trees closest to the cart path on the left which denotes the tiger line and gave it a mighty lash. The result was a dreadful topped snap hook that rattled around the cork oaks having failed to advance any significant distance.

My antics do not usually bother JW.. He has become immune to my erratic style of golf. However on this occasion with me clearly in trouble and my shot wasted he did look somewhat wounded as he alighted the tee box. Always the rock steady match player and partner par excellence he mustered a fine blow down the centre line of the fairway.

Both Dean and Frank took this opportunity to dispatch enormous tee shots over the tiger line leaving themselves something small into the green.

I spent quite a while hacking about in the oaks that run the length of the left side of the fairway. After 4 blows I emerged into daylight near the green to see both Frank and Dean a couple of metres either side of the flag for 2 strokes and JW retrieving his second shot from the lake that guards the front right of the green.

San Roque Club Old Course The Back Nine Holes

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 10

Par 4 Stroke Index 6

Tee 63: 376m Tee 60: 357m Tee 56: 343mTee 49: 287m.

An iconic hole here at The San Roque Club Old Course with Tony Jacklin’s villa just to the right of the tee, and a row of breathtaking homes lining the right side of the fairway. This is a difficult drive.

Dean took a line directly at the green and hit a beautiful ball keeping the bunkers that line the left of the fairway out of play. Sadly for him the prevailing wind pressed his ball inch by inch to the right eventually succeeding in pushing the ball across the OOB line!

A few moments later we had fallen to the same fate. Two of us simply hit terrible slices and two were well struck and aided by the breeze came to a sad ending. We halved the hole by virtue of no one finishing it!

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 11

Par 4 Stroke Index 8

Tee 63: 418m Tee 60: 397m Tee 56: 391mTee 49: 306m

A fantastic par 4, a dog leg to the right running downhill from the tee. The obvious line is on a bunker set into the left edge of the fairway. The boys have the honour.

Dean bashed his a little to the right , Frank split another fairway, JW followed suit and I made a reappearance in the match and also managed to find a fairway.

Dangerous run off areas make the green difficult to hit, a crisp iron shot from JW found the centre of the putting surface, the resulting par restored our lead.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 12

Par 3 Stroke Index 18

Tee 63: 152m Tee 60: 130m Tee 56: 116m Tee 49: 92m

There was something about this par 3 that suited my eye. A devilish green to hit, large run off areas on the front and to the right add to the challenge. Yet somehow this hole appealed to me.

My 8 iron found the back of the right hand greenside bunker. JW’s drifted a little further to the right catching the run off area and finished at the bottom of the bank perilously close to the OOB fence.

Dean over shot the green leaving a painful chip back to the dance floor. Frank found a spot on the green just a fraction closer to the hole than I.

As I walked across the green towards my ball taking a good look at the line something clicked and I could see the line perfectly, I fancied this 15m pitch and run. In she went a few seconds later for a par, having hit the stick and sat less than 1cm from glory. Again Frank frightened the life out of us as his birdie putt came agonisingly close to snatching a win. A half in par, we remain 1 up.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 13

Par 4 Stroke Index 14

Tee 63. 343m Tee 60: 317m Tee 56: 274m Tee 49: 272m.

In my opinion this is the toughest driving hole at The San Roque Club Old Course. Out of bounds runs along the entire length of the hole on the right hand side. Densely packed cork oaks sit on the raised banking on the left. A narrow fairway is best hit with a shot that shapes from right to left.

Both JW and I pumped our drives OOB on the right. Schoolboy errors from the experienced duo.

Dean took a line on the left of the fairway and hit a miserable drive that hit the oaks and popped into the fairway. Frankie went even further left to find the heart of the cork trees with his drive. They both looked delighted with themselves. Dean pointed out “We don’t have to beat the golf course, we just have to beat you”. He was right, all they had to do was keep it in play!

Well earned pars from both Frank and Dean squared the match.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 14

Par 5 Stroke Index 16

Tee 63:466m Tee 60: 448m Tee 56: 408m Tee 49: 407m.

Reflecting upon the last few holes we all agree that the beginning of the back nine is exceedingly tough. Beautifully set up holes that simply demand your best golf! We are agreed that today has been an epic golfing experience! It is such a wonderful opportunity to play here and see what tournament golf really feels like!

Another great par 5 sits before us. From the tee there are no obvious lay up points along the length of the fairway, it is tempting you to hit two of your mightiest and straightest shots to get as close to the green as possible .

There is no landing area to play to, the fairway is equally as demanding all along its length which means you need to hit your straightest longest shot, there is no reward for caution!

Frank and John did not enjoy the best of drives. It was a duel between Deano and I. Two good drives forced each of us to take on the challenge of hitting the green on two. Dean’s second shot came to rest on the left edge of the green, mine in the heart of the putting surface. Two putts each earned an excellent half in birdies.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 15

Par 4 Stroke Index 2

Tee 63: 399m Tee 60: 390m Tee 56:284mTee 49: 284m

The right of this fairway is adorned with some of the most stunning homes available. Frank bombarded one of the most expensive looking villas alongside the golf course with an out of character slice. Dean blistered a drive along this narrow looking fairway, JW pushed one into an adjacent garden only for the ball to somehow make its way back into play.

My poke went low and left. Neither JW or I managed to find the green in 2 shots. Our 5 net 4 was a poor effort but enough to match the easy par recorded by Dean.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 16

Par 3 Stroke Index 12

Tee 63: 177m Tee 60: 172m Tee 56: 155m Tee 49:102m

Oak trees frame this hole beautifully. A bunker guards the front and mid left of the green leaving the right side of the green open. Missing the green leaves achingly tough pitch shots to scramble par.

The tail wind baffled all of us. My tee shot went 30m over the back edge of the green. The same fate befell all of us. The undulating putting surface makes a very difficult recovery. So difficult in fact that only Frank managed to save par.

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 17

Par 5 Stroke Index 10

Tee 63: 446m Tee 60: 441m Tee 56: 430m Tee 49:356m

“Cometh the moment, cometh the man” – Frank attacked his tee shot with savagery; the resulting drive was long and perfectly straight. So good was this blow that it caused JW and I physical pain!

Beautiful homes adorn the right side of the fairway, a stone wall marks OOB on the left.

Dean’s drive went to the right. JW found himself in the wood chips underneath the oaks on the left. Somehow I was able to summon a golf swing and placed my drive next to Frank’s mammoth poke in the centre of the fairway.

JW, from the wood chips with 267 yards to go, detested every part of the topped 3 wood that was his second shot, however it left him in a commanding position in the centre of the fairway with 150m to go. I sense a birdie might be on its way!

Both Frank and I have 200m left into the elevated green atop the rising fairway.It’s Frank to play first. His ball striking has been superb all day. I would not have guessed what would happen next! He blocked it right, not just a little right, but a lot to the right finishing in red staked rough 40m right and short of the green!

Surely the hole has been gifted to us. All I had to do was to slap a long iron towards the green. No. Not a chance. Welcome back to my old friend, the snap hook. My 2 iron went further to the left than forward before disappearing over the stone wall into oblivion! I dropped another, same result. I took the walk of shame and sat in the buggy. My only contribution on this back nine holes has been buggy ballast!

JW recorded a dogged 5 to half the hole with Frank. We head to the ultimate tee all square!

San Roque Club Old Course Hole 18

Par 4 Stroke Index 4

Tee 63: 403m Tee 60: 385m Tee 56: 304m Tee 49:304m.

With 420m of pristine golf course left before us we are all square and we have a shot! It’s coming home, we are poised to claim victory again!

Dean pushed his drive dangerously right.

JW hit a commercial drive, not one that invokes pride of a job well done, one he would rather not discuss but nonetheless achieved a decent result.

Frank hit a cracking drive under pressure right up the middle of the fairway. My drive pulled to the left in the first cut of rough with tree branches blocking my direct line to the green. I allowed for the wind, the elevation of the fairway, the flight shape I needed to generate to successfully get my second shot to the green. I settled upon a 4 iron punch shot. The ball left my club face like a rocket on a line directly over the gaping bunker on the right front of the green. The next I saw of it was some ripples on the surface of a lake behind and to the right of the green. No need to fret, JW is in control. JW hit his best shot of the day, a 5 wood screaming towards the green.

The bunkers guarding the front of the green, 2 on the left and one on the right, are deceptive. They do not guard the front of the green, but they sit in front of the runoff areas 20m before the putting surface. The effect of which is to make you question the yardage of your shot into the green. Very clever!

Frank’s second shot failed by centimetres to carry the front right bunker and plugged high in the face – joy overwhelmed me!

He managed to blast the ball from this impossible lie and finished with a bogey five.

JWs chip pitch and run ran achingly close to the hole before catching the downhill slope which gathered his ball and took him off the green. – such is the intricacy of these putting surfaces. A further 2 puts were required for JW to finish with a 5 nett 4.

Dean, the only one of us to find the putting surface in two strokes, was left with a steep downhill side breaking putt for birdie and a win. Dean’s birdie putt missed convincingly. He stoically tidied up for a par and halved the match.


All of us agree unanimously that this has been a day of golf beyond superlatives. Right now this is the finest test of golf and the best experience anywhere on the Costa del Sol.Playing here at The San Roque Club has been an epiphany. This is how good golf can be. This is beyond special. 

Everything here is open, nothing is closed, or tight, or nasty, or tricky or gnarly. This murderously tough golf course is completely fair. Therefore whether you are an elite golfer hoping to dominate this layout or a visitor here to enjoy a rather splendid golf course you are sure to have one of the finest golfing experiences available anywhere!

This has been an amazingly positive golfing experience. It is both the best and hardest golf course I have played . The memory of this round will stay with me for a long time.

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