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El Saler

El Saler

València, Comunidad Valenciana
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ArchitectBadgeJavier Arana
València, Comunidad Valenciana

Situated in the Albufera Nature Park on the shores of the Mediterranean, not far from Valencia lies El Saler, or Campo de Golf El Saler to be precise. Javier Arana designed El Saler and it opened for play in 1968 to a rapturous standing ovation. In fact, shortly after the course opened, it was acclaimed the No.1 layout in Continental Europe.

Arana built only ten Spanish courses in a design career spanning thirty years, from 1946 to 1975. El Saler, the ninth course that he constructed in a very high-class portfolio, is widely regarded as his crowning glory.

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The course is routed across extremely varied terrain with some holes flanked by umbrella pines and others by towering sand dunes with the aquamarine Gulf of Valencia never far away. It’s a very long and challenging course – somewhat links-like in places – and it measures 6,355 metres from the tips.

Well, it’s long and challenging for most people, unless your name is Bernhard Langer. Langer loves El Saler; he posted a course record score of 62 here during the last round of the 1984 Spanish Open… a remarkable 10 under par.

Actually, the two-time Masters champion returned to El Saler five years later to claim his second Spanish Open title, holding off a strong challenge from Spain’s José Maria Cañizares and Englishman Paul Carrigill to lift the trophy again. The Spanish Open has since been hosted by El Saler in 2001 (Robert Karlsson winning with a score of 277) and in 2013, when Raphaël Jacquelin claimed his fourth European Tour title in a record equalling sudden-death playoff that lasted two hours and took nine holes to complete.

Javier Arana has done a wonderful job, fitting the course to the terrain in a very natural and pleasing way. The raised and invariably elevated greens are tricky to locate and they are conditioned quite superbly. El Saler is quite rightly at the top of any visiting golfer’s agenda… it’s got everything going for it.

The following edited extract is from “The golf courses of Javier Arana” by Alfonso Erhardt Ybarra and is reproduced here with kind permission from the author:

The El Saler project brought together a cluster of unique, unrepeatable circumstances that enabled Javier to work without fear of interference. The Ministry of Information and Tourism had no interest whatever in getting involved in the architect’s role, so Javier enjoyed complete freedom. The oblong-shaped plot purchased by the ministry from Valencia city council ran to about seventy hectares. It was a dream property for any golf course architect, bounded by the beach for an entire kilometre and combining an open area of gently rolling sand dunes with Mediterranean pine forest standing on flat ground.

Javier had worked at El Prat and Neguri on ground sharing several of the characteristics of El Saler. In all three cases, the property features an open seaside area combined with a pine forest further inland; and, at the earlier two courses, the front nine adjoins the seashore, while the back nine threads its way among the pines. At El Saler, however, Javier found a different solution, interspersing seaside holes with forest holes throughout the front and back nines. The outcome is a splendid routing that exploits the natural setting to the full, with each loop masterfully combining the sand dunes, the pinewood and the transition between the two.

One of the key features of the of the routing is the ever-present use of triangulation; no two consecutive holes are orientated in the same direction, so the player must continually adapt his game to the prevailing wind conditions, hole by hole. Although El Saler has some brilliant holes, one of the vital features of the course is the solid nature of the whole, with no holes letting down the experience. As Simpson [Javier’s one-time architectural partner] said: ‘It is not individually great holes that make a great golf course. It is rather the relationship that exists between one hole and another’.

The greens at El Saler are without a doubt the finest that Arana has left to us and only the most skilled putters will come away unscathed. They are generally vast in size, at over 700 square metres each, and an average forty metres long. This size lends the course immense versatility, since holes play very differently depending on the placement of the pin, albeit at the cost of demanding greater accuracy from approach shots if overly long putts are to be avoided. Arana used various resources to create challenging green surfaces: false fronts, tiers, convex greens and small promontories surrounded by minor slopes of closely mown grass.

Another highlight is the presence of more than a hundred bunkers, contrasting with Arana’s philosophy of not having more than about fifty. The average size of each sand trap is far smaller than the rest of Javier’s courses, particularly within the area of influence of the greens, where he aimed to emulate British ‘pot bunkers’.

One might say El Saler is a compendium of Javier’s design philosophy, in that it encompasses all his hallmarks as a golf course architect. But the solutions to which he usually resorted are used in subtle ways, with no monotonous resemblance among holes or any sense of repetition. The result is a course that barely lets the player catch breath from the first hole to the last.

If you would like to find out more or purchase “The golf courses of Javier Arana” then click the link.


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Course Architect

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Javier Arana

Javier Arana, nicknamed ‘Cisco’, began playing the game at the age of ten, practicing on the old 11-hole Neguri course which had been laid out close to the family home on the banks of the Gobelas River.

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