Since 1968, the Real Golf de San Sebastián has taken root in Hondarribia, a stone’s throw from the Bidasoa River and the French border. The course has a lot of trees, a lot of hills and a lot of charm. A members’ club, it is wide open to visitors, which is one of the reasons why it has joined the Golfy Network.
By Claude Granveaud-Vallat
In 1910, golf was already being played in San Sebastian at Lasarte, but it was not until 1968 that the Real Golf de San Sebastian took possession of some fifty hectares in Hondarribia, just a drive from the French border.
The current course, perfectly integrated on the slopes of Mount Jaizkibel, is the work of Pierre Hirigoyen, the Basque sorcerer who forged so many swings on the Biarritz golf practice range, starting with that of Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, the muse of French golf who dominated the European women’s circuit at the end of the 1980s.
In San Sebastian, the fairways follow the slope with a relative smoothness, the slopes are frequent, you have to know where to put the ball. The design meanders between clumps of oak trees, offering in places narrow perspectives for putting. The greens are vast, not too fast, protected by small English-style bunkers as they were designed in the 1960s. Pierre Hirigoyen was inspired by the work of his friend, the Englishman Cecil Blandford, with whom he had designed the Arcachon golf course.
The course makes two loops forming the wings of a butterfly – in a very graphic way – while some holes cross each other near the club-house installed in the old Borda-Gain farm, in the purest style of Basque houses. All along the course, the views follow one another, both uphill and downhill, as on the 5th hole where the silhouette of the Rhune peeks over the horizon of an endless fairway. It’s like being in Chantaco, on the other side of the border, even though the Basque country is one with France and Spain. From the green of the 14th, a photo is needed to immortalise the moment in front of the Jaizkibel, this modest 545-metre peak which nevertheless dominates the ocean and the Bidasoa. The last par 3 of the course, the 18th is not the easiest, the climb lengthens the distance, the driver is not useless despite the 171 metres! However, the club-house is in sight with its delicious tapas, its Basque beer with patxaran and its cake with cherry jam… prepared with passion by the chef Yon Marie Grao and his team.
It is impossible to talk about the Real Golf de San Sebastián without mentioning the great names that honour this century-old club. First of all, the Arruti family, three generations of teachers and champions who are inseparable from the Basque Country. First, Jesus – who recently passed away at the age of 83 – and José, the twin brothers, former caddies who learned the game on the job before passing on their knowledge of the swing between two games of cesta punta played in Jostaldi, on the village fronton. Then José Maria Arruti, who played on the European Tour for many years, as well as her cousins Marina and Amaya on the Ladies European Tour. They have all left their mark on this club.
But the most emblematic champion, a two-time winner of the Masters, remains José Maria Olazábal. At the club, Jesus Arruti taught him the basics of the game from an early age. His grandfather lived in the house at the top of the fairway on the ninth, which is now home to the caddies. When his tournament winnings allowed him to do so, José Maria built himself a beautiful house set back from the green on the 7th, where he lives with his parents – Gaspar, his father, was the club’s greenkeeper for many years – and his sister. When he is not playing in tournaments, he can recharge his batteries by indulging in his two passions, hunting and trees, from which he has always drawn his strength and energy. Of a reserved nature, José Maria Olazábal does not mind greeting visitors when he is in the clubhouse, but there is no question of bothering him at home. That’s private… let’s face it!
By joining the Golfy Network, the Real Golf de San Sebastián has taken on a new dimension. It also opens the way for other Basque clubs along the coast to welcome Golfystadors all year round, before they go off to quench their thirst in the tapas bars in the alleys of San Sebastian.
Real Golf de San Sebastián
Chalet Borda-Gain – Barrio Jaizubia
Tél. : +34 943 61 68 45.
18T : par 71, 5962 m., Pierre Hirigoyen (1968).