Golf News 2016
European Tour Returns to Valderrama in 2017
This year Royal Valderrama emboldened its already venerable history by hosting the Spanish Open for the first time. That tournament marked the revered Sotogrande club's return to its rightful place on the European after a five-year absence.
The inaugural Andalucía Valderrama Masters had been held at Valderrama in 2010, when Graeme McDowell was victorious just four months after breaking through for his first major championship title, the US Open.
The tournament returned the following year, and Sergio García made history as the first Spaniard to win a Tour event at Valderrama, remarkably after no fewer than 16 Volvo Masters, two World Golf Championships and the aforementioned inaugural Andalucía Valderrama Masters hosted by continental Europe's premier course.
Now, Valderrama has consolidated its renewed status as a regular championship venue, following the official announcement by regional minister for tourism and sport Francisco Javier Fernández that the club will host the Andalucía Valderrama Masters from 19 to 22 October next year, with plans to extend the agreement for five years.
As he was at the Spanish Open in April, García will be the co-host of the tournament through his charity foundation, and he is expected to be joined by a strong field of European and other globetrotting stars as it will be the final event on European soil before the end-of-season international countdown.
HOME TOWN DELIGHT IN MARBELLA
There was no doubt who was the crowd favourite at Aloha for the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España Femenino. Although now based in the United States, 28-year-old Azahara Muñoz was born in San Pedro Alcántara only 10 minutes from the host club - in Marbella's "Golf Valley".
Family, friends and local fans turned out in force to support her, hoping she would become the first Spaniard to win her home Open, which dates to 1982, when American Rose Jones won at Las Aves (now Valderrama). Azahara, a champion on both the Ladies European Tour and the US LPGA Tour, did not disappoint them.
One the eve of the tournament she admitted to being nervous but also excited. "It's amazing to play at home. I've only done it once before when it was at Los Flamingos, but it wasn't quite home. This one really feels like home... Last time I guess I took it the wrong way, like I was thinking too much about what people were thinking. This week, for some reason, I feel totally different."
When the serious business began, she was always in contention. She started with asolid level-par 72, four shots behind first-round leader Amelia Lewis from the United States, carded a second round 66 to secure a one-stroke advantagefor the weekend, slipped back slightly to enter the final day one adrift of American Beth Allen, then finished strongly for her fourth LET title.
"It's amazing," she said later."A victory is always a victory and it's nice but winning at home is incredible. You know, having everyone here, my family, my friends, I can't even describe it.
It means everything. I love playing at home and finally we got this tournament back and hopefully for many more years. To be able to play here and just sleep at home, it's amazing. It's been a hard week and at the beginning of the week I was so stressed out and so anxious and finally, when I got to the first tee on Thursday, I felt so much better. It is amazing to win in front of everybody and so many people came out, so I'm really grateful to them."
EUROPEAN TOUR DOUBLE FOR THE COSTA
The Costa del Sol is re-establishing its position as a prominent standard-bearer of European Tour golf. The first significant demonstration of the Coast's re-emergence came in April when Valderrama - Spain's most renowned club - was the venue for the 90th edition of the Spanish Open, hosted by the Sergio García Foundation.
Now the Ladies European Tour has announced that Aloha, in Marbella's "Golf Valley", will host the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open de España Femenino from 22 to 25 September.
One of Europe's oldest and most prestigious women's championships, the women's Spanish Open became a part of the LET schedule in 1982, when American Rosie Jones won at Las Aves (now Valderrama). Laura Davies was victorious when the tournament was previously held on the Coast in 2010 at Flamingos, and the most recent winner (in 2014) was South African Connie Chen at Golf Costa Adeje (Tenerife). Aloha hosted the men's Open de Andalucía (on the European Tour) in 2007, 2008 and 2012.
During the official presentation of the Andalucía Costa del Sol Open, Francisco Javier Fernandez from Turismo Andaluz (title sponsor of the championship) said, "We are delighted to welcome the Ladies European Tour to Europe's leading golf destination. A heaven for golfers, millions of visitors flock to Andalucía annually to experience the top-notch golf courses and white-sand beaches in year-round warm weather. This exciting tournament will bring together the world's best golfers so that fans and participants may enjoy the great beauty of the sport in an incomparable setting."
Andrew Johnston wins Spanish open 2016 at Valdererama
Last year Andrew Johnston finished 113rd in his first Open de España appearance, at El Prat. Twelve months later, he proudly held the same tournament's imposing trophy aloft after overcoming the trials and wiles of Valderrama - and a top European Tour field. It was the 27-year-old Englishman's first victory on the main Tour (he had two wins on the Challenge Tour and topped that circuit's order of merit in 2014) in his 63rd start, and his triumph was sealed with a solid closing one-under 70 for a one-over total over four hugely demanding days at the renowned Sotogrande course.
Second-placed Dutchman Joost Luiten had a chance to force a play-off on the final hole but hit his approach into a greenside bunker and could only scramble a par to finish one behind the champion, who is affectionately referred to as "Beef". Tournament host Sergio García moved through the field with a best-of-the day 67 to finish third another stroke back, while 2008 Volvo Masters winner (also at Valderrama) Søren Kjeldsen was joint fourth with defending champion James Morrison. They were followed home by overnight leader Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Martin Kaymer and Alex Noren, with Craig Lee filling out the top-10.
Valderrama reinforces its credentials in third round of Spanish Open
Valderrama continues to reinforce its credentials as a brutally unforgiving test for Europe's finest. Only two players broke par in the third round - Alex Noren (three-under 68) and Joost Luiten (70) - while the new leader, France's Mike Lorenzo-Vera, is one-over after 54 holes. If the winning score on Sunday remains over-par, it will be the first time this has occurred on the European Tour since Justin Rose was victorious in the 2013 US Open. "I'm very excited," said Lorenzo-Vera, who is seeking his first European Tour title. "I'm going to have a big nap tonight because it takes so much energy to stay patient here."
The Frenchman holed his approach to the iconic 17th for an eagle and managed to hold on to a one-stroke lead in spite of an 18th hole bogey, as other leading contenders stumbled. His nearest rivals are Joost Luiten (the only player in the field with two under-par rounds this week), dual Grand Slam winner Martin Kaymer and Andrew Johnston. Overnight leader Pablo Larrazábal slipped back to a share of seventh place after a 78, and tournament host Sergio García remained in a complicated - albeit not impossible - joint 17th position, six behind the leader. More>
Wind-swept second round of the 2016 Open de España
It's not often a top international tour pro will come off a course after a battling over-par round well-satisfied with their day's effort. But this is Valderrama, one of the toughest courses in the world, and only two players managed to card under par (both 70s) in the wind-swept second round of the 2016 Open de España. Another four with even-par 71s included tournament host Sergio García (who said he had never seen the course provide such a challenge) and Pablo Larrazábal, the halfway leader on three-under - two better than second-placed Andrew Johnston and a further one stroke ahead of first round leader Alexander Levy, defending champion James Morrison and Alejandro Cañizares.
"You've got to put it all into perspective," said Morrison. "I've shot four-over-par but I'm still in the top 10. Shooting 75 is like shooting 71 today." Added Levy, "It's a true test of golf, and this is real European golf and it's the way to play. It is one of the best five-over-par rounds I have played in my life." Johnston concurred, "You can't afford to get annoyed - I made double-bogey on the third, and I walked off like nothing had happened." More>
Levy leads after first day in the Spanish Open at Valderrama
Valderrama rarely gives players much respite, and the first day of the 2016 Open de España predictably proved to be a formidable challenge for the European Tour field. Frenchman Alexander Levy was one of the few able to "defeat" Europe's number one course, carding a five-under 66 to end the day one ahead of defending champion James Morrison, Alejandro Cañizares, Andrew Johnston and Stuart Manley.
German Martin Kaymer, one of two Grand Slam winners in the field (together with Paul Lawrie), enjoyed a return to form after a moderate season so far with a 69 for a share of seventh place.
Søren Kjeldsen, the only player this week to have previously won a European Tour event at Valderrama, other than tournament host Sergio García, opened with a par-71 to tie for 16th. The two highest world-ranked players, García (16th) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (29th), both carded 74s to finish the first round in 52nd place. More>
European Tour Action Returns to the "Costa del Golf"
The wait is over. Two years after the last European Tour event was held on the Costa del Sol (the NH Collection Open at La Reserva de Sotogrande) the International spotlight will once again be focused on Europe's premier golf destination - and in appropriately grand style. Valderrama, Spain's most renowned course, is joining forces with the country's leading player in the current world rankings, Sergio García, to host one of Europe's most venerable tournaments, the Open de España 2016, from 14 to 17 April. Read More>
From the Fairways of Andalucía to Brazil
Rio de Janeiro might be nearly 8,000 kilometres from Andalucía but this year the connection will be much closer - at least in a golfing sense. The sport is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, and at least two Andalucian golfers have strong chances of making the Spanish team.
Marbella-born Azahara Muñoz, who was rookie of the year on the US LPGA Tour (the world's premier circuit for women), currently holds the highest position (29th) among Spanish golfers on the international ranking (which will be used for Olympic qualification); while Miguel Ángel Jiménez is the second highest ranked Spaniard on the men's world list (after Sergio García).
It has also been announced that the captain of the men's team will be Manuel Piñero, a long-time Costa del Sol resident who designed La Quinta Golf in Marbella.
Spanish Tournament Schedule
The only European Tour event scheduled for Spain this year (so far) is the Open de España, from 14 to 17 April at Valderrama (the most recent edition in Andalucía was at Royal Sevilla in 2012); while the week of 28 April to 1 May has also been earmarked for a yet-to-be-announced European Challenge Tour event in Spain. Local fans will be hoping the stars (and sponsors) once again line up for Andalucía, and the region can repeat the success of 2014, when the NH Collection pen (an event co-sanctioned by both tours) was held at La Reserva de Sotogrande.
Links Between Marbella and Miami
Meanwhile, Marbella Town Hall is involved in ongoing discussions with Miami with a view to reaching a twinning agreement and possibly organising a joint open tournament, which would be an official event in both the United States and Europe and held alternatively, one year in each city.