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Golf Rustico

All are welcome at this open-land golf club overlooking Madrid
Golf Rustico

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On most days around 9 a.m., Pablo Lucas Rodríguez arrives at the top of a scrubby hill and begins the usual tasks. First he clears the empty bottles and cigarette butts from the previous night’s botellón near the meager sheet-metal main building. Next he treks out into the bramble, hunting along the dusty paths for more basura among the brown, unkempt native grasses. Along with his trash bag, he carries weather-beaten pin flags and tattered squares of faded green artificial turf. Such is daily course management for the Club de Golf Pozuelo.

From the sixth and seventh tee boxes of this makeshift nine-hole course, players have an unspoiled view of Madrid’s four iconic skyscrapers. Even closer is the wealthy neighborhood of La Finca, home to glittering stars like soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo. It is the jewel of the municipality of Pozuelo, the richest in all of Spain. And yet—on a strip of unincorporated land belonging to, but not regularly maintained by, the Pozuelo city council—this decidedly low-budget golf course has been in play since the 1980s.

Golf Rustico

Rodríguez, a former locksmith and the current president of the club, is not quite emblematic of Pozuelo’s loose membership of men and women. Yes, many of those who find time to play during the week are retired obreros. But on weekends, former factory workers, plumbers and construction hands walk alongside well-off middle-aged folks and younger players who belong to proper golf clubs. They love the gritty novelty—some even play in plus-fours and use hickories—and genuine fellowship of this open-land golf.

“It’s surely the most democratic course in Spain,” said photographer Joseph Fox after attending one of the group’s Sunday open tournaments, which have men’s and women’s divisions and plenty of post-round vermut and tapas.

Known as a campo de golf rustico, Pozuelo is one of many open-land courses throughout Spain. In a country with one of the longest average life expectancies in the European Union, the number edges even higher in this municipality. There are myriad factors in this, but the benefits that golf at this club provides—a good walk, a vibrant social circle—are evident. “Playing well or playing poorly is secondary,” one member once told the Madrid newspaper El País. “But the little time you are here is wonderful.”

Although the club was initially created in secret, away from the prying eyes of Pozuelo city leaders who might find it illegal, today it’s seen as a steward of this shared land that some residents use to walk dogs and fly kites. Teenagers and other interlopers regularly enjoy clandestine parties out here, but Rodríguez and his fellow members dutifully clean up the trash every day. The club has made use of its talents, with plumbers building a small dam to create better flow in a stream and provide some water to the club to wash hands and stay cool on hot days. Members, some of whom pay a few euros per month into a kitty to offset maintenance costs, have also planted peach, apple, pear and other fruit trees over the years. They do what they can to make sure the course is playable, including dragging an old piece of carpet behind them to keep the sand greens flat. 

Despite lacking what many would regard as even basic playable conditions, no one denies Pozuelo is a special place. “I can see why they enjoy being up there,” says Fox, “hitting a ball towards the city and imagining it reaching Gran Vía if you caught it sweetly.”

It may be dustier than some of the fancy country clubs nearby, but you can’t beat the view. From its sand greens (and tee boxes), Club de Golf Pozuelo boasts unobstructed panoramas of the four spires of Madrid’s downtown skyline (opposite, top). It’s a team effort to make this course on public land work, with members cleaning up trash from the non-golf crowd and dragging the greens to get them as true as possible. The club, which has been in operation since the 1980s, gives working-class locksmiths, plumbers and factory employees a place to call their own. Home to young, old, male and female, Pozuelo has been called “the most democratic course in Spain.”