He has the honour of being mayor of the Spanish municipality with the most golf courses per capita and third when it comes to the total number of courses. And that fills him with justified pride, as he himself is a great fan of this sport, which he has been playing – albeit not as much as he would like to – for more than 20 years. José Antonio Mena Castilla also holds the position of president of the Association of Western Costa del Sol Municipalities (Mancomunidad), whose territory encompasses the vast majority of towns in Málaga province that make up Europe's leading golf tourism destination, popularly known as the “Costa del Golf”. A lawyer and keen sportsman, with a jovial personality, he is a motorbike enthusiast and – as to be expected – loves everything about Benahavís.
That love is reciprocated by most of the town’s residents, as attested to by the fact that he has been elected mayor on three consecutive occasions.
Living in Benahavís (around 7,800 inhabitants) has many advantages. Apart from enjoying its numerous attractions (stunning natural landscapes, wide variety of restaurants, charming town centre...), golfers have an enviable added bonus: children receive free lessons at the municipal golf academy and adults can play for free at selected local golf courses.
After Marbella and Mijas, Benahavís is the municipality with the third highest number of golf courses in Spain, 10 in all spread around seven clubs: three courses at the Villa Padierna resort, two in La Zagaleta and one each in La Quinta, Marbella Club Resort, Los Arqueros, El Higueral and Atalaya (Old Course).
International professional tournaments that have been played at top courses in the municipality, such as Flamingos and La Quinta, include the Ladies European Tour's Open de España Femenino, and the Seniors Match Play and Benahavís Senior Masters on the European Senior Tour.
This year, the Old Course at Las Zagaleta will host the Junior Solheim Cup, as part of a major international event headlining the Costa del Sol golf calendar in 2023 – its “big sister” the Solheim Cup, to be played a few days later in September at Finca Cortesín.
Golf is one of the pillars of tourism in Benahavís. How important is it for the municipality?
Golf is a vital part of our municipality. Practically 80 to 90 per cent of its activity is linked to this sport, and that is why the town hall works hard to promote and develop golf. We always aim to participate in events held in the municipality. Last November we had the Open de España Femenino, and this year will be equally important, with the Junior Solheim Cup in La Zagaleta.
Are there plans for any new golf courses in Benahavís?
Yes, work has now started on the construction of Real de La Quinta, a stunning project set around a lake, and we are also awaiting the extension of El Higueral (it currently has nine holes). Golf courses are always welcome here.
Benahavís has the advantage that it is one of the largest municipalities on the Costa del Sol and throughout the whole province of Málaga...
True, and it is also one of the municipalities with the highest relative population growth in Spain. In addition, urbanistically it is experiencing significant development, bearing in mind that only five per cent of its surface area can be developed. The municipality is vast and two-thirds of its surface area is specially protected: i.e. absolutely nothing can be built.
What attractions, apart from golf, would you highlight in Benahavís for a tourist who has not yet visited here?
Benahavís has many attractions: its climate; its location in the heart of the Costa del Sol, with nearly 80 per cent of the municipality offering views of the Mediterranean Sea; its wide range of accommodation and restaurants – we are known as the “Gastronomic Corner of the Costa del Sol”; and its beautiful natural landscapes, being the municipality that contributes the second largest expanse of land to the Sierra de las Nieves National Park... In short, great quality and variety in all leisure activities, including golf, of course.
The town has had a municipal golf academy for many years. What is your assessment of its contribution to Benahavís?
Benahavís is proud to have this academy and its driving range, located in the municipality’s sports facilities next to the town centre. It is hugely popular, and not only among children who form part of the academy, but also with adults, as they can take classes in the afternoons.
The academy is also a nursery for promising young Spanish golfers…
Since the academy opened, several young stars of the future have emerged, especially girls, who are the ones currently enjoying success, and some at a particularly high level – such as Julia López, who is in the United States. For the first time an amateur from Benahavís, and the Costa del Sol, is going to play in the Augusta National Women's Amateur. (The winner of this tournament, which includes the 45 top amateur women golfers in the world ranking – Julia was 14th in February – will receive invitations to play in three professional majors). So we are delighted.