La Cañada Golf School

La Cañada Golf School

By Brenda Padilla

Attracting youngsters to golf away from the competition of gameboys, playstations or other pastimes is a challenge La Cañada Golf Club is keen to accept. Club President, Pepe Gil, speaks about the club's amazing achievements from humble beginnings.

The Golf Foundation in the UK is a registered charity established in 1952 by Henry Cotton. The major governing golf bodies, The R&A, The PGA, the European Tour, the Ryder Cup Committee and Sport England support it. An extract from one of its glossy brochures states that "The Golf Foundation is committed to making golf more inclusive of all young people..." Fifty years after Henry Cotton initiated a schools coaching programme, the Golf Foundation has 327 starter centers across the British Isles and I'm sure every one of them could learn something from a visit to La Cañada Golf Club.

Official RFEG figures reveal that, out of 1,300 registered golfers, over 400 of these are juniors and children. And of that 400, one quarter are under 10 yrs old. Every night of the week 50 to 60 youngsters between the ages of 6 and 21 attend golf classes. These figures are enough for the Golf Foundation to read them and weep. In Spain, golf has still never achieved popular acceptance as a sport for the masses. How, then, has an unsung club in a land where golf has no tradition to compare with that of the British Isles, managed to make golf so appealing?

La Cañada holds a special place in Spanish golf, not only professional golfers (both touring and teaching) but caddies, greenkeeping staff and administrators. It has won national championships and is always buzzing with the sound of the kids' voices that reverberate around an impressive new clubhouse.

La Cañada Golf Club was the first municipal course on the Costa del Sol, although you should not make the mistake of assuming 'municipal' equates to the worst kind of municipal course managed by some local councils in the UK. The opening nine holes were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., while the closing nine are the work of Dave Thomas, no less. How this sate of affairs came about is worthy of examination.

Back in the mists of time when Sotogrande was still a sparkle in Joseph McMicking's eye, the good people of the nearest village, Guadiaro, earned their daily bread in the fields or through fishing. However, once Trent Jones had completed his first project in Europe, there was a call for caddies and workers to attend the wealthy visitors visiting the upmarket resort. Thus was the game of golf introduced to the ordinary people of Guadiaro. They took to it in such a way that a small rustic course was hewn out on public land beyond the drover's road (la caada) where the caddies would relax by copying the leisure pursuit of the ambassadors and business moguls whose bags they had carried. When Trent Jones returned in 1982 to transform Sotogrande's second course, Las Aves, into CG Valderrama, at the behest of Sr.Patio, the American designer learned of the rustic course and agreed to draw up plans for a proper nine-hole, grass course at no cost. San Roque Council and Sotogrande ceded land and Jimmy Patio provided know-how, machinery and seed.

Club President Pepe Gil, 51, remembers how the club was established, " We were a group of friends who used to meet in the village bars for a drink. Nearly all of us worked at Sotogrande and one night, after work, we had the idea of starting our own golf club. We began collecting subscriptions and called upon a few others for help. Then we managed to register ourselves with the Federation as a Club sin campo and negotiate with Sotogrande and Valderrama favourable rates for early morning tee-times." Pepe stops for a moment, "I really would like to take this opportunity to thank all the local clubs that assisted us in the early days. We had a vision, but without their help, we couldn't have got very far."

A fundamental part of the friends' plan was to involve children in the club and this they did from the very start. " Golf is a great way of laying the foundations for proper values that stay with you for the rest of your life." He continues, " For me, a child is like a sapling tree, treat it well when it is young and it will grow straight and true; if you neglect to look after it, it grows out of control. Children were, are and always will be, at the heart of this club"

One of the first things the band of amigos did was to contract Cadiz pros Bartolome and Juan Quiros to set up a golf school for local children. And the children responded. The individual, team and club honours garnered over the years on regional, national and international stages are far too numerous to list here. But, to cite a few examples, Juan Antonio Marin finished fifth in the 1992 World Junior Championship held in Japan. Alvaro Quiros came third in this year's Mexican International Open and runner-up in the 2003 Copa del Rey, which attracts the best amateur golfers from all over Europe. La Cañada has seven graduates of its school competing on the Spain's 2003 Pro Tour.

Bartolome still oversees the fellow pros, each with a specialist knowledge of physical preparation, sports psychology and learning techniques as they work with local kids.

"All the clubs and balls for the lessons are provided free of charge and the pros are subsidised through a grant from San Roque Council and membership fees," observes the President. Not content with the hundreds of local kids already introduced to the game, Pepe hopes for golf to be included as part of the physical education curriculum of schools in the area. Indeed, for the past eleven years, schools from the zone have been sending children along to the club for lessons. " Any children showing interest in the game, we want to help " says Pepe Gil, emphatically.

When Valderrama hosted the American Express World Golf Championships, the corporate sponsors nominated a charity to benefit from money generated, in this case, 'The First Tee Foundation'. The event provided the finance for a second nine-holes, designed free of charge by Dave Thomas on land adjacent to Valderrama.

First Tee, which works primarily in America with inner-city kids, has the following aim "to impact the lives of young people by creating affordable & accessible golf facilities primarily to serve those who have not previously had exposure to the positive values of the game". President Pepe Gil, and everyone at CG La Cañada did not write that mission statement - they live it in everything the club does. The UK has the Golf Foundation, the US, the First Tee Foundation, but Spain has Cañada Golf Club.

Long may its amazing successes continue.

PGA Professionals Introduced To The Game At La Cañada

  • R. Quiros
  • D. Quiros
  • JL Sanchez
  • I. Esquivel
  • S. Pineda
  • R. Heredo
  • A. Ajona
  • JA. Guerrero
  • S. Jimenez
  • JL. Quiros
  • D. Gil