Juan José Hidalgo (born in Villanueva del Conde, Salamanca, 1941) is, in addition to being one of Spain’s leading businessmen in recent decades, a keen golfer. The chairman of the Globalia holding company, he is especially enthusiastic about a tourism and residential mega-project in Estepona, the municipality where he holds the title of “Adopted Son” and where last year he acquired a golf course. It was actually by chance that Hidalgo purchased Estepona Golf, as the course borders the huge estate where, through his company Grupo 1941, he plans to develop the complex.
We spoke to him shortly before he set off on foot to play this stunning course on the Costa del Sol. His official handicap is "22 or 23", and he plays golf often – but not in competitions.
"I don't play in tournaments," he says, "because I play for the walk, I play with friends and I don't want to have any fights. There are friends who play for money, but I don't like that. I like to play for a coffee or a few balls or a glove, things like that, but I have fun – I love it.”
How did your love of golf begin?
A golf course was founded in Salamanca in 1988, built by some friends. I didn't know what golf was, but I bought some shares and started playing. In 1991 I went to Mallorca with the Air Europa company and there I continued playing, always badly, because golf is very difficult. You play a good hole and it seems like you already know what you’re doing, but you have to do seven things at the same time on each shot, getting them all right and not failing with anything, because as soon as you make one mistake you don't hit the ball well. It gets you hooked, and I'm hooked because it's the only sport I play. I play every day I can because I walk and it gives me fresh air, and that gives me life.
Which club do you feel most comfortable with?
With the putter, on the green. I'm not a bad putter – I'm quite consistent. Then playing off the tee, and – on the fairway – with a 3-wood.
Of all the courses you have played, which one did you like the most?
One that I partly did myself: Maioris. In Mallorca there was a project to build a golf course with other partners, a design by (José María) Olazábal. And in the end I made a few tweaks in my own way. There was (in the original design) a lot of distance between holes and I made cuts to reduce the distance so that people could walk less. Today that course is an absolute success.
I believe that courses should be designed according to the people who play them. For example, Estepona Golf is for me one of the best courses. It is not because it is mine – one of my companies bought it a year ago – but because of the design.
Many of the holes face the sea and in summer there is always a breeze. Also, it is very difficult to find a course with the vegetation that there is here, more than 1,500 palm trees and more than 2,000 olive trees... everything around each hole is charming.
This is not a course for major competitions like Finca Cortesín or Valderrama, which are more professionalised, but rather it is a course for the average player, the player of a certain age, to enjoy golf without the course placing a lot of pressure on them. This course is exceptional as it offers a warm and friendly welcome and each hole is fun to play. The courses I like are not the most competitive ones, but those that are easier to play, where people waste less time, with easy tees, clean fairways, good grass, adequate greens and few hazards so as not to waste the player's time.
Why did you buy Estepona Golf?
It was by chance. Twenty-two years ago I bought the property known as Herencia Nadal, 1,500,000 square metres, to develop a major project. That project did not include golf, although it did include a large sports area. The golf course is a perfect fit for this estate because they are adjacent to each other, and that is why I bought it. So, adding the two plots of land together, there are about 2,300,000 square metres. I'm very satisfied now, especially because I thought the golf course was going to cost me money and, although we spent a lot on updating it as it wasn't in the best condition due to the pandemic, now we have an average of one hundred players a day and we are very happy. It is a very well-prepared course and people like it a lot – and they come back.
What does this major development planned for Estepona Golf consist of?
There will be a large hotel, tourist apartments, a lake with an artificial beach, a residential area and a sports area, as well as large recording studios for television series and accommodation for all the filming crew. For the latter alone, 300,000 square metres have been earmarked. The sports area will occupy 400,000 square metres and will have football pitches, tennis and pádel courts, indoor facilities, etc. The estate extends over 1,500,000 square metres, and more than 300,000 square metres have already been approved, half for tourism and half for residential use.
What is the overall investment and what is the planned time frame for completion?
The idea is to start this year, and full completion could be a reality in four or five years. It is a very large investment, almost €1.2 billion euros.