Palmares: Revolution on the AlgarveFebruary, 2012
Andy Waple is one of the first to return to Palmares, in the west of the Algarve, to report on the course’s transformation by Robert Trent Jones
THOSE familiar with the original course at Palmares, built in the 1970s, were a little perturbed to hear a couple of years ago that development plans were about to engulf one of the favourite visitor tracks in the Western Algarve.
While the course was not exceptional, it offered plenty of interest, some tough holes and surely one of the finest sea views from any clubhouse in Europe.
Indeed it was a bold decision of Portuguese businessman Jose Carlos Pinto Coelho to take on a multi-million Euro project in a tough economic climate and turn Palmares into a prestigious 27-hole course, more than doubling the green fees in the process.
Yet Sr Coelho, a shrewd businessman and head of the Onyria Corporation, had clearly seen more in the rolling landscape than most golfers had, and he put his vision to world-renowned course designer Robert Trent Jones Jnr.
Between them they have produced a superb course and even the cynics must confess that the gamble has paid off and the new Palmares is worth every cent of its green fee, particular if you book a two-round high season packages at Û155.
The creation of a prestige course in this far-western tip of the Algarve has done a favour for the handful of surrounding courses.
This is the most charming part of Portugal’s southern coast, yet for golfers it lacked a course of serious merit to attract those on tour.
With the new Palmares, groups can now look forward to playing a top-dollar course at least once in the week away from home, while being able to enjoy the delights of the other, cheaper, but very worthy, nearby courses at Boavista, Morgardo and Alamos without having to travel too far.
They can also choose to base themselves centrally in Lagos, a thriving sea town full of life, good bars and excellent restaurants, which knock soulless Vilamoura into a cocked hat.
Trent Jones’ philosophy is to allow the natural environment and typography to dictate his layout rather than him imposing his footprint on the land. Onyria has a master plan for Palmares, which, when the Portuguese stuttering economy and the global recession allows, will see the creation a five-star hotel, a new clubhouse, plots for individual villas, a beach-club exclusive for residents and a great number of sports and leisure activities.
Trent Jones Jnr is an amiable, relaxed man who is clearly at one with nature.
His philosophy is to allow the natural environment and typography to dictate his layout rather than him imposing his footprint on the land.
As a result, his course running down the hillside at Palmares to the ocean is still dotted with derelict farm buildings, ancient olive trees, pines, a host of wildflowers and a virtually untouched coastal garrigue.
Only a rickety-looking railway track dissecting the course diverts the eye from the natural beauty of the land.
Trent Jones Jnr is not short of ideas however when it comes to putting a course together and he is smart enough to know golfers like a challenge, variety and options, depending on their ability and weather conditions and their mood on the day.
So here you will find some long par 4s and others which will entice the big hitters to have a go for the green from the tee, a number of long and short par 3s, 5s offering birdie opportunities and large, undulating greens which will keep everybody on their putting toes.
The result of his work is three distinctive loops of nine holes Ð Alvor, Lagos and Praia Ð each with beautifully manicured tees and testing, rolling greens.
Of the new holes only one in my opinion closely resembles its predecessor Ð the par-3 21st (it used to be the 4th) which runs through the dunes near the beach.
Alvor (holes 1 to 9) is described as predominantly parkland, on the highest area of the site. The majority of holes are perched on hillsides or dropping down valleys, most with fabulous sea views. The first few holes seem a little ordinary but it gets better from the gorgeous par-5 4th.
In the middle are the nine holes of the Lagos loop, featuring some testing par 3s, the only two water hazards and a very tricky hole, the 13th, a long par 5.
Without doubt though, the masterpiece of the transformation is the Praia course, which has turned the old course’s Achilles Heel into an absolute gem.
Before Trent Jones came along there were five links-like holes among the dunes near the beach which, except for the 5th (now the 22nd), were somewhat disappointing, especially the two consecutive short par 4s.
The architect immediately saw the potential of the land, and has turned the five holes into four and they have become the highlight of what is a very good set of nine indeed which together with the Lagos loop would make my favourite 18 holes.
Where to stay
Hotel Cascade Resort
This new 5-star complex is an ideal base for golfers, close to the courses and the delights of Lagos town centre. Well-appointed rooms and an excellent restaurant reward weary players. Golf packages available.
Tivoli Hotel Beach and Golf Resort
Set in the heart of Lagos, this hotel is close to all of the townÕs amenities. Portuguese in character, it features a lovely rooftop pool and cocktail bar. Golf packages available.
Le Meridien Penina
A little further afield, 20 minutes from Lagos, this hotel oozes class Ð and its own courses. The hotel has the feel of a top-rate traditional English clubhouse and is very popular with the English golfing set. The renowned Henry Cotton championship course is another bonus for a stay here. Golf packages available.
Where to play
Onyria Palmares Beach and Golf Resort
Monarch Airlines fly to Faro from Birmingham, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £38.99 one way (£67.99 return).