Gecko Tour – La Canada and Marbella Club

The win at San Roque not only gave me some confidence, but maybe as importantly, it gave me some financial stability. I had been haemorrhaging cash since I had arrived back after Christmas and New Year. The money should be enough to keep me in Spain until the end of the British winter. A weight off ones shoulders.

See San Roque Tournament here

Bit more relaxed after getting a much needed cheque in!

I went into the next event, La Canada, with mixed feelings. I was obviously playing well and felt good about my new routine and the work I had been doing with Rod Bastard at the Marbella Club, but I had indifferent memories of La Canada.

The course was built by Jimmy Ortiz-Patiño. He is known as being the owner and honorary president of the golfing Mecca that is Valderrama. ‘Jimmy’ was determined to make Valderrama a very special, top class, five star venue. To complete his vision he had to keep it private and exclusive. To ease the local authorities’ intrusions and to appease the planners he decided to build La Canada next door. The concept was to provide a golfing facility for the locals to enjoy, thus take attention away from Valderrama. In fact, what he produced was rather good.

The original 9 holes is very good. It’s a clever design by Robert Trent Jones that weaves through claustrophobic cork trees. It has the same turf and feel as Valderrama but has more undulations and lacks the absolute perfection of finish that Valderrama offers, but this is no surprise as La Canada accommodates many, many more rounds.

The front 9, the newer 9, is not as good. Designed by Dave Thomas it is open and visually not as appealing. It is very playable and offers many good chances for birdie. Having said all this, the two things that stand out about La Canada for me is the playability to the average golfer, something lost amongst La Canada’s neighbours. La Resverva, Valderrama, Finca, San Roque and to a certain extent, Sotogrande, are all great courses and clubs, but for your average golfer, a 15 to 20 handicapper, they will just beat you up. This is a decent test, especially in the wind, but is fair and accommodating to all.

The second thing that stands out is La Canada’s work with the community. They do a lot of work with the kids in the area, people with disabilities, underprivileged people etc. So much so that they are the first sports facility in Spain win a government award for their good work.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I arrived with mixed feelings. Pre Christmas I had managed to get in a share for the lead through 26 holes with Raul Quiros. My parents then arrived. It is, conservatively, 15 years since they last watched me play golf. The first hole they watched me on was the 9th, a tricky par 4 with out of bounds left and a huge drop off right of the green, and it was playing straight into a strong wind. I pulled my tee shot into a bunker, tried to hook a 7 wood out and around a tree, it didn’t hook and went down the drop off right of the green. I proceeded to chip it up and down the big slope, hitting the trees on top before watching it roll past me, four times! I ended up making 9! Thanks for coming to watch mum and dad! With the nines switched for this renewal, the 9th would be our final hole of the event!

I implemented the same routine that had worked well the week before at San Roque. I didn’t touch a club on the Saturday and Sunday. Went to the course on the Monday and hit some balls and putted. The goal; to be fresh and looking forward to playing, rather than just going through the motions.

Day one was very windy. Club selection varied from 7 irons from 112 yards to wedges from 172. I played pretty solid. I hit 77% of fairways, 67% of greens but lost 2.3 shots putting. I shot level with 3 birdies and 3 bogies. Good enough for a share of 4th, three behind Gabrielle Canizares, but with some good players between us. I was left with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as I missed from 4 and 5 feet on the last two holes. On 17 for par and on 18, my old friend, for birdie.

Boring Manuel Quiros with probably another pointless story….

Day two was very similar. I played with two English guys that didn’t say much and with the wind causing play to be very slow again, there was a lot of time with my own thoughts. Not a good thing! I got off to a good start making birdie on my third hole, the toughest hole on the course playing straight into the wind, I failed to get up and down from sand on my 5th hole and dropped a shot. On my 7th I missed from 3 feet for birdie after a good approach and parred 8 and 9 to turn in level. I was now 4 behind.

I missed a good chance from 7 feet on the par 3 second, my eleventh, after hitting a nice 7 iron but then birdied the par 5 third and hit it dead on the par 3 fourth. Two good shots into the par 5 fifth saw another birdie and a 9 iron from 102 yards into the sixth to 6 feet produced the fourth birdie in a row. I was now -4 for the event and had a one shot lead.

On the seventh, searching for five in a row, I landed a utility wedge 5 feet from the hole. It took some spin, caught a slope and ended up rolling off into the water…. gutting. I managed to get it up and down for a bogey. Fortunately this coincided with Gabby, the overnight leader, not making birdie on either par 5 and bogeying 6. I still had a one shot lead. I hit two solid shots into the wind on 8 and made a valuable par. I would stand on the ninth, my nemesis, with a one shot lead.

The good news was the hole was playing straight down wind. I hit a rescue straight towards the bunker where my previous ordeal started. It just carried it but caught the tree just beyond, the one I had to try it hook it around before. It looked like a great break from the tee but when I got down there I could see my swing would be impeded by the trunk of the tree, but I had a backswing. I had 144 yards so tried to force a wedge to a front pin on an elevated green. I stone cold fatted it and came up short of the bunker protecting the front of the green. I had about 38 yards off a muddy lie. I managed to pitch up to 3 feet below the hole. Still a good test left for me. Short putts have plagued me this winter and the 9th at La Canada has never been my friend. I knocked it in the middle. Five minutes later I watched Gabby leave a birdie putt from 12 feet, to tie, short. Job done, two wins in a row. One from in front, one from behind.

Day 2 I had hit 77% of fairways, greens in regulation were up to 78%, effective greens 83.33%, scrambling up from 57% on day one to 75% on day 2, but still lost 1.27 shots putting. 5 birdies and two bogies were good for 68 (-3).

Nice to get 2nd win in two weeks…. and the ‘dodgy beard’ makes an appearance on tv!

Next up was Marbella Club. This where I practice and play when I am out here. I love it. I love the people that work and play there, I love the atmosphere, the course, the whole set up. It’s just a very cool place. I am very lucky and appreciative to be able to use the facility. I also have friends, Dennis and Hilde Holdsworth that live in a beautiful house on the left hand side of the first. I have occasionally been fortunate enough to stay with them and it is heaven.

The course itself is fairly unique. It is perhaps the hilliest course you will ever see, set up in the mountains overlooking Marbella, the sea, Gibraltar and Africa. The views are stunning. It is a Dave Thomas design and has a terrific variety of holes. I never get bored of playing it. Normally the course is in fantastic condition but this year, due to a lack of rain before Christmas, it is a little behind, but still wonderfully acceptable. It is improving everyday and the work they are doing on the course now will make it exceptional, once again, very soon. They certainly have the right guy, Rod Bastard, to oversee operations. Rod has also helped me a lot with my golf this winter and is a great player in his own right.

Marbella Club offers some great views, hole 18 with Gibraltar and Africa behind.

My preparation was off going into the event. As I mentioned, I was playing less going into events to try and enjoy, look forward and want to play more. This week I had Riaz Rattansi, my Sunningdale Foursomes partner, come out for a few days. We played on Thursday, the day after La Canada, at Marbella Club, 36 holes at Finca on the Friday, Valderrama on the Saturday and La Reserva on the Sunday. A nice few days but not ideal preparation. I also had one of the pros from Wentworth, Tom Reid, come and stay with me from the Sunday through the event. I played a practice round at Marbella Club on the Monday and all of a sudden I had played 9 rounds in 8 days.

In the first round I birdied 1 and 3, a perfect start. We then waited for ages on the next two holes. I bogied 4 and missed from 6 inches for bogey on 5. I was tired and bored. We were 3 hours 15 minutes for the front 9 and just over 6 hours in all. When I have been fresh on the course the last few weeks it would not have bothered me, but it got to me that day. I only missed one fairway but still managed to make 4 bogies and 2 doubles in an awful round of 76 (+4). I did have one pretty bad break on the par 5 7th, where I hit a drive on the perfect line only to hit a tree in the middle of the fairway and stay up there. It was incredible as it was in the branches of a cork tree, not the bark and not particularly thick. At least we managed to identify it so I could drop it on the fairway instead of going back to the tee.

Hole number 7, Marbella Club. My ball got stuck up the tree in the fairway.

The bad score was a result of nothing physical, all mental. I beat myself and was way down in 46th. Rod had played well, shooting 67 to be one off the lead. The coach leading the student by example!

Day 2 I was a bit more into it, mainly due to the Gecko’s great decision to do a one tee u-draw. I won’t bore you further with the details but it did wonders to speed up play. We were nearer 4 hours than 6. Again, I missed only one fairway, the 18th, by a yard, but my iron play remained appalling. 91.67% of fairways, 66.67% of greens. The key to day 2 was my scrambling rose from 33% to 88.89%. I shot an easy 3 under 69 with 5 birdies and 2 bogies. I finished 21st. Pretty disappointing.

Hole number 2, Marbella Club, missed this green twice with a 9 iron, iron play was poor all week.

The funniest thing, if funny is the right word, maybe ironic is better, is pre-event I said, “Driving is the key around here, you drive it good and you can shoot a score. It is intimidating from the tee but in reality when you are on the fairways they are pretty generous. You need to make your score from 6 through 14, they are the scoring holes.” I missed 2 fairways and played the stretch 6 through 14 in +6 on day 1! A little better on day 2, in 3 under.

A disappointing week when looking for a threepeat. My preparation cost me and that is something that is so easy to control.

Dona Julia this week. Starts on Tuesday.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *