One of Spain's most internationally renowned chefs, Dani García (born in Marbella, 1975) is an atypical case among his haute cuisine colleagues. In 2019, he decided to close his Michelin three-star restaurant in Marbella and take his avant-garde culinary vision out to the whole world.

In December 2021, another of his restaurants, the Smoked Room in Madrid, was rapidly awarded two Michelin stars barely six months after opening – a recognition that no establishment had achieved since 1936. 

After training initially at the La Cónsula restaurant and hospitality academy in Málaga, and then with Spain’s most highly honoured chef (a total of 12 Michelin stars for his restaurants), Martín Berasategui, the talented chef from Marbella founded the Dani García Group in 2014. The emporium currently has 20 restaurants in half a dozen countries and more than 1,200 employees. Comprising the brands BIBO, Lobito de Mar, Leña, Dani Brasserie, Smoked Room, Babette, Alelí, Kemuri, Casa Dani, Tragabuches, La Chambre Bleue, La Gran Familia Mediterránea and El Pollo Verde, the group has establishments in Marbella, Madrid, London, Paris, New York and Doha, and soon plans to open others in Budapest, Amsterdam, Dubai and Miami.

In addition to his devotion to cooking, Dani, who was awarded the title of “favourite son of Andalucía in 2020”, enjoys (and suffers from) another very different passion: golf.

A handicap 28, he plays when his multiple professional obligations allow him to do so. He tries to play when travelling, but there are times when he can go more than a month without picking up his clubs. He makes the most of his stays in Marbella, the golfing capital of the Costa del Sol, where he is a member of Royal Las Brisas. And there are other courses "that I love", such as Royal Sotogrande and Royal Valderrama. 

In other distant latitudes, one course is particularly special to him, although his clubs have not yet savoured its famous fairways and green. "If I had a golfing wish list, the first, second and third would be the same: to play at Augusta National, even if it's just to hit one shot on the first tee – that would make me happy."

When and how did your love of golf come about?

I have always had an interest. Being born in Marbella, it's quite difficult not to know someone who has something to do with golf. I always thought that I would play golf so that the day I retired I could play it tranquilly. It's something that has always been in my head. So it was obviously accelerated by the confinement. COVID meant that, when I started to be able to go out, I began to play golf, and then Noemí Jiménez (Ladies European Tour player) got in touch with me to ask me to collaborate with her, to see if we could do something for a foundation she had. And that's when I started to play more often – with her, Laurita Gómez (also on the LET) and Ángel. Laura gave me her clubs and I started to play with them, and in the end I was more and more drawn into the game, I took some classes and I bought a Las Brisas share, and that's how it all began.

Which clubs do you play best?

I'm good with hybrids, and the wedge and putter as well. I have more trouble with irons... the higher degrees, the better I play, and the lower degrees, I’m worse – and I have my moments with the driver. There are days when I go out on the course and I say to myself, I know how to play golf, but when I come back I realise that you never know how to play golf.

What has been your greatest joy on a golf course?

These are probably very absurd things for an experienced golfer who knows a lot about the game – I know very little – but when I start to see the ball fly or when I hit a driver 220 metres, which for me is already a lot, I’m tremendously happy. In any case, what motivates me most is hitting a wedge and hearing the bounce on the green, and above all else repairing the pitch mark, because that means that I've done something right. It's something I'm very excited about. Obviously over 18 holes a lot of bad things happen, especially when you don't know much, but when the good things happen you have a lot of pleasure.

And your biggest disappointment?

There are always holes that you get stuck on, but when I started I didn't even get to finish holes. I pìcked up the ball because there were always people behind me and in that sense I am quite respectful. Don't take 12 strokes – just pick up the ball and move on. Fortunately, for some time now that has not happened to me and I usually finish all the holes, almost every time.

What do you appreciate most about a golf course?

Even if I don't know how to play well, I love complicated courses. Some people have a hard time at Valderrama, but I really enjoyed the day I played there because I like those kinds of more complex courses. I think golf depends on how you approach it and how well you are able to move the ball. If you have a tree in front of you, well, man, what are you going to do? You hit it onto the fairway and try to play a third shot as accurately as possible. I like complicated courses, and the most impressive I've seen live is Augusta. The fairways are tremendous. I think one of my bad drives wouldn't come off, at least on the first.

Do you see any similarities between golf and the cuisine you create?

You could compare golf to haute cuisine, which is full of nuances. For any dish, any movement, any touch, a little more salt, a little more of one thing or another, a little more poaching time or reduction, etc., changes the dish in a radical way. From a seven to a 10. The golf swing is exactly the same. Various nuances that, if you successfully bring them all together, make it wonderful but, if one of them fails, missing a little salt, lacking some reduction, the dish is overcooked or not cooked enough... In the end there is a tremendous similarity.

Are the golfers you know true gourmands or do they prefer simple dishes?

It's a shame, but the truth is that they are not gourmands. I think something needs to be done there. The few I know are more attracted to a single product… meat, steak, hamburger. Gastronomy in the world of golf is actually quite standard. I think that in the end it's also a question of speed, the way of eating, but of course ultimately it's like at an airport, with sandwiches and hamburgers, and obviously gastronomy is so much more. I would like there to be a higher culinary level than what is generally provided nowadays.

Has it ever crossed your mind to create a special dish for golfers, an alternative to the club sandwich?

I was really impressed, I'm not saying it wasn't tasty, but it's more the branding and concept of Augusta as well. Once there, I said to myself, if I were in charge of the gastronomy at a golf course the first thing I would do is try to make a thread linking the world of golf in general, because I think that at every golf club in the world there should be a pimiento cheese sandwich, in honour of Augusta, and so on and so forth. I think a lot needs to be done so that gastronomy can have a much more direct connection with golf, above all else on a philosophical and conceptual level, than it does today.

Be honest and don’t hold back… which restaurants would you recommend to the tens of thousands of golfers who visit Marbella every year? 

From a golfer's profile, probably Lobito, Leña and Tragabuches would be the most suitable. Maybe Aleli too because it's Italian pasta and so on. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Tragabuches, which fits more with golfers’ tastes.