Finca Cortesin in Andalucia will host to the 18th Solheim Cup from September 23-25 — the first time the best female players from Europe and USA teams will fight it out for the title on Spanish soil.

Ahead of one of the biggest events on the golfing calendar, Golf Digest Middle East caught up with the man with the plan — Finca’s General Manager Francisco de Lancastre David — as he puts the final touches to preparations ahead of the ladies’ arrival.

“We are getting there,” Francisco tells us during a brief time out from overseeing the logistics of putting on such a competition. “We are now very close to getting all the infrastructure in place and ready for the big day.”

But before we get too far into the big build-up, it is worth noting the journey Francisco has taken to get to this point — a journey at saw him take in two stints in the UAE.  

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Francisco was never one to turn down an opportunity, and that meant he was — relatively speaking — never in one place for too long before taking on a new challenge. This took him from Spain to Portugal and then back and forth between his home country and the UAE for almost 20 years before settling back at Finca Cortesin in continental Europe’s golf capital — Andalucia.

“After my Masters in Golf Course and Resort Management in Madrid, I started as an intern at a company in Madrid that developed golf courses,” he explains. “I was there for about 12 months when Monterrey Golf Club in the Algarve was being developed and I got chatting to the guys in charge of development. When they were close to opening, they called me to say they were recruiting. They invited me over and the rest was history.

“I was there for five years, right from the beginning, when the opportunity came to move to Dubai and the Els Club, which I took up for three years before coming over to Finca Cortesin as Director of Golf. Another three years later I found myself back in the UAE at Saadiyat as Group Director of Golf — and as General Manager of the three Aldar properties in Abu Dhabi [Saadiyat, Yas Links and Abu Dhabi Golf Club]. I spent a total of five years in Abu Dhabi overseeing the three clubs when the opportunity arose to come back home to Finca as GM as the course was awarded the 2023 Solheim Cup.

“During my time in Abu Dhabi, we had hosted a lot of big tournaments — the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Ladies European Tour, Gary Player Invitationals — and that was something I loved. Obviously, the Solheim Cup is one of the biggest events in the world and it was too big an opportunity to pass up.”

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While being surrounded by all things golf throughout his 17-year career, Francisco has certainly sampled contrasting lifestyles in the UAE and Spain.

“I loved life in the UAE, having lived in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he says. “It was a different experience as me and my wife were in very different moments in our life.

“The first time, it was just the two of us, but the second time around in Abu Dhabi we had our son with us. So we got to enjoy the ‘eclectic’ life in Dubai before the family lifestyle in Abu Dhabi.

“I think for the golf and hospitality industry, the UAE is a great place to be, to learn — I have learnt so much during my years.

“In Spain, Finca Cortesin is an amazing property, but next to us we also have Valderrama, Sotogrande, La Reserva, Zagaleta, it is a cluster of really high-end resorts, and there is a different mindset in terms of what you are trying to achieve with your product.

“In our case, because we have a residential component and hotel component, the golf club is part of a bigger strategy to develop all the areas of the business. Whereas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi the clubs are more like individual businesses.”

Although Francisco is relishing the immediate challenges in Spain, he confesses there is one thing he really misses about the UAE.

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“The weather,” he says with a chuckle. “I miss those UAE winters when the weather is just perfect. Here in Spain, even though we in the Costa del Sol, it is not the greatest weather in winter.”

However, on the flip side …

“We have very little traffic — a far cry from Sheikh Zayed Road, so the peace and quiet is much easier to find over here.”

Finca’s greens are greener than most, and the resort’s drive for sustainability saw it recently awarded the GEO Certified label.

Since opening in 2006, it has always had the environment in mind, placing emphasis on the preservation of the surrounding area, including the use of recycled water, eco-friendly grasses, and even the introduction of bees to the property to help pollinate the region.

“Since we opened 16 years ago, sustainability is something we have always been conscious about, being irrigated with recycled water since day one — something that is quite rare in Europe,” Francisco says. “We also changed our grass to Bermuda, which uses 30 per cent less water. The award is really important to have, but we have been following all these practices for a long time already.”

The course itself has undergone a revamp for the Solheim Cup, with the ladies playing a different route to that of the usual members, adding to the spectacle.

“The course is undulating with a lot of elevation,” Francisco tells us. “This means fans [75,000 are expected] can see multiple holes and greens from a single viewpoint.

“We have changed the route of the first six holes. Hole No. 4 is iconic here — downhill par-4 with water, but certainly drivable. It will now become No. 1 for the Solheim, because everyone in the grandstands can see the entire hole from one spot. From player point of view, they have a big decision to make from their first shot if they want to go for the green on a wonderful risk-and-reward hole.

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“Hole 11 will come down from a par-5 to a par-4 to accommodate and area for spectators, so this is more of a logistic than strategic change.

“Around holes 16 and 17 we have most of the hospitality as that is where 80 per cent of the matches are expected to finish. That is where we are expecting a lot of the drama as the sessions come to a close.”

Both teams will be staying under one roof at the on-site five-star hotel, something that was a key aim for Francisco.

“That is going to be a great experience, as very rarely do both teams stay in the same place,” he says. “I think this may be the first time ever. So it will be a different experience. One of the biggest goals for us was to give them all the same world-class experience we give to all our guests. 

“Oh, there will be two separate dining areas for the teams — just in case they are needing to discuss tactics in privacy.”

When the action gets underway, Francisco admits he is looking to cheer on some local flavour at his home course, with Spaniard Carlota Ciganda confirmed on Suzann Pettersen’s 12-strong team.

“We actually sponsor two Spaniards — Ana Pelaez and Nuria Iturrioz — but they didn’t quite make it. But to have a Spanish player would be great for the atmosphere and the home fans. I think Carlota will be a great addition as she has great inside knowledge of the course here. 

Maybe Francisco will pass on a few Finca secrets of his own to Pettersen and Co.