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Tales From Pedreña

Although the Parador course in Málaga, dating from 1925, is the oldest course in mainland Spain, RCG Pedreña near Santander is considered the cradle of Spanish golf. Inaugurated three years after its Andalusian cousin, Pedreña has produced more professional golfers than any other club in Spain - possibly in Europe. Pedreña's most famous son is Seve Ballesteros, but there are many others.

María Acacia López Bachiller has spoken to a few of the 'others'.

"You could write a book about Pedreña, for golf there is nowhere else like it" so says Cantabrian professional José Manuel Carriles, 38, winner of three tournaments on the Spanish professional circuit.

Carriles, 'Chico', as he is known in the town, was born, grew up and learned his golf at the legendary RCG Pedreña, the St.Andrews of Spain. "The course is very good now, but I recall, as a kid, working here as a caddie when the rough was what you would call real rough - you could lie down in it and nobody would see you," remembers Carriles. "My father (Pedro, 66) started caddying here when he was 10, then he became a fisherman and later in life a blacksmith. A Santander family took him to Madrid and put him in a boarding school. At weekends he would caddy at RCG Puerta de Hierro, but, one day, he ran away and came back to Pedreña.

"My mother, Paz, also worked here mowing the greens and raking bunkers. Later, the lady in the changing rooms retired and my mother took her place helping my aunt. She, herself, retired two months ago and has been replaced by my cousin whose now doing my mother's job. "It's hardly surprising then, that I learned to play golf in the ladies' changing rooms. I used to putt between the lockers or, now and again, on the putting green. I must have been 7 or 8. From the age of 11 I was employed as a caddy. The first time I played the course was when I was 12. My father and brother got special permission and that is the only time I have ever seen my dad play golf. I turned professional at 19."

"I remember the first time I saw Seve, I was with my mother walking up the road from the entrance and there was somebody hitting balls on the range. I asked my mother who it was. 'Seve' she said, I thought to myself, 'So, that's Seve'. I'd heard that he was good. I hid myself amongst the rocks next to where his balls were landing, took them and wrote S and B in large letters then ran to catch my mother up."

José Antonio Rozadilla, nicknamed 'Chani' by his fellow professionals, recalled his time as a caddy at the famous seaside course on the Cantabrian coast close to Santander. "I began caddying when I was 14, and I remember my first pay packet for nine holes - it was 60 pesetas. " My father (Ramon) was a foreman at the club who worked with Marcelino Sota in charge of the workers. I used to caddy in the afternoons after a day at school. In those days in Pedreña, there were only two options, golf or going to sea to catch shellfish, crabs or whatever could be found. "There were three categories of caddy, I started in the third. When I was 17, I began my professional training, which I completed when I was 22. The first Spanish Open I played was at the Club de Campo in Madrid in 1982; Sam Torrance won it and I didn't make the cut.

"We used to have caddy championships and when I reached the first category I won it five or six years running. The driving range, the par 3s and the lower car park, that was all beach in those days, so the 30 or 40 of us who worked as caddies would play there. We used to play other games as well as golf, football and racing boats made out of grass from the dunes were popular. Also, we would toss coins to see who could land their duros (5pta coins) closest to a line in the sand. The one who finished nearest had to choose between heads or tails and could keep all the coins that came down on the side he had chosen. Marbles was the game for the caddy shack when it was raining. We were just kids, but what a laugh we used to have.

"I was always the worst behaved and most daring. My father and the caddy master were forever telling me off. Quite often, I would be suspended from caddying duties and given a week off. "I enjoyed playing football a lot. I played on the wing and was reasonably skilful, I used to love dribbling and taking people on. I could always get past Seve who was quite a clumsy player and didn't control the ball well. Like most of us, he grew up to follow our local team Racing de Santander. Seve didn't always join our games of football because he was always at the driving range, he would practice until all hours. I once saw him play a perfect bunker shot at the second hole - with a 3-iron! He could play the ball where he wanted and made everything look so easy. "As caddies, I've got to admit, we cheated a lot. We were told that we would be paid more if our side won the match, so, what were we to do? We would 'help' by giving the ball a kick. At other times, when we ran short of balls.