Golf in Portugal: The lowdown on the Algarve
This year sees the Algarve celebrating half a century of golf and this blessed region has never been a more appealing destination to the holidaying golfer.
There were nearly 1.2 million rounds of golf played here in 2015, with numbers for 2016 anticipated to soar even higher. It is certainly not difficult to understand why.
The Algarve region in the south of Portugal comprises 150 miles of small coves, bays and inlets, all with pristine, golden sand beaches.
Since Penina opened its doors in 1966 to become the original Algarve course, a further 40 layouts have been added to the area’s portfolio, many of which are firmly established among the top-ranked in Europe.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Monte Rei, the Oceanico Old, Amendoiera Faldo, Quinta do Lago (both North and South) and Quinta de Cima are just a few of the iconic names likely to top your own personal Algarve bucket list.
Factor in the perfect climate for year round golf and reasonably priced flights from across the UK readily available to Faro Airport and you have a recipe for a great golf holiday.
It is not unusual to bump into a film star or famous sportsman while hitting the sun-drenched fairways or relaxing by the pool in one of the region’s many outstanding hotels.
The Algarve is also the ultimate destination for fans of the professional game. The Oceânico Victoria Golf Club in Vilamoura is the current host venue to the European Tour’s prestigious Portugal Masters, taking place from October 20- 23. And November will host the EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) Algarve Open for the third year.
With so many top-quality courses, whether it’s a luxurious golf retreat or a great-value hidden gem, the Algarve caters for everyone. In fact, there is so much golf that the only problem you are likely to encounter is narrowing down the choice.
Golf in Portugal
Europe’s most south-westerly point, the Western Algarve is a glorious mix of golden beaches, dramatic coastlines, quaint towns and, most importantly, excellent golf courses.
There are tons of quality layouts to choose from and Lagos and Portimão are great bases to set up camp. One such course is Espiche Golf. A relatively new addition having opened in 2012, it’s a beautiful but challenging layout.
Onyria Palmares, designed by the great Robert Trent Jones II, features three returning nine-hole loops – Alvor, Lagos and Praia – and nearly all the holes offer breathtaking views of the Atlantic.
For the players who like a daunting challenge, hitting your ball across a ravine on holes six and eight at Boavista Golf Club is a must. Pestana Golf Resort’s portfolio features four superb courses in the Western Algarve – Alto, Vale da Pinta, Gramacho and Silves – all with their own unique characteristics.
Set in a stunning valley with fantastic views of the Monchique mountains, the long Morgado Golf will test your endurance and also your putting skills with its large greens. Morgado is set beside its sister course, Alamos, which complements it perfectly with its tight fairways and smaller greens.
For a taste of history, Penina’s championship course, designed by Sir Henry Cotton, will whet the appetite as it was the first 18-hole course to be constructed in the Algarve.
Designed by Sir Nick Faldo, the Amendoeira Faldo Course demands careful positioning to score well and is complemented well by the neighbouring Amendoeira O’Connor Jnr Course – which feels like an oasis with its various water features and exotic palm trees. Salgados, located near Albuferia, calls on players to concentrate with so many water obstacles dotted throughout.
The Central Algarve has long been popular with golf travellers and it’s not hard to see why. Purpose-built golf resorts offering a selection of stunning courses to suit everyone and some of the finest beaches around, this is what holidays are all about.
Oceânico Golf’s portfolio of stunning courses in Vilamoura – Old Course, Pinhal, Laguna, Millennium and Victoria – are major courses on the Portuguese golfing scene.
The Frank Pennink-designed Old Course and its parkland style layout is well protected by the various imposing pine trees. Pinhal opened seven years later in 1976 and has some outstanding holes, including the par-3 8th which is played across water to a two-tiered green.
Lakes come into play on 11 holes at Laguna, acting as hazards, emergency water reservoirs and home to a variety of wildlife. Opened in 2000, the Millennium is particularly open, although some holes are narrower and require great accuracy.
The stable’s newest addition, Victoria, opened in 2004 and was designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer. The championship course plays host each October to the European Tour Portugal Masters. Teeing it up at Pine Cliffs is an unforgettable experience.
The 9-hole track is built on cliffs overlooking Falesia beach and the Atlantic. The par-3 6th, the Devil’s Parlour, is a hole that every golfer should try. Vale do Lobo’s Ocean and Royal courses, with their jaw-dropping sea views, have twice been host to the Portuguese Open. You will do well to keep focused on your round at hand on the Ocean as the Atlantic stretches out before you.
While there are few better feelings in golf then firing a shot across the ravine at Royal’s cliff-top signature par-3 16th. Players of all abilities will find Pestana Vila Sol’s three loops of 9 holes a thought-provoking challenge.
The holes have been cleverly designed; the many sand and water hazards are expertly placed to catch out poor shots. San Lorenzo, set alongside the Ria Formosa Estuary, is one of Portugal’s best courses.
The 18th is a tricky par 4 with water and a semi-island green. It rewards the plucky golfer and is a magnificent way to bring the curtain down on a top course. Quinta Do Lago’s South, North and Laranjal courses are popular destinations for golfers of all abilities.
The original course – The South – was opened in 1974 and has hosted the Portuguese Open eight times. The North, re-designed by Paul McGinley in 2014, is a popular course. It is home to a treacherous par-4 12th which doglegs round a lake, meaning accuracy and bravery are essential. A great addition.
Opened in 2009, Laranjal’s reputation is growing. The various orange groves dotted around the course make this a special place to play.
The western and central regions of the Algarve gain the most attention with tourists but the quieter and more traditional eastern side should not be overlooked.
Less developed than the other two regions, but arguably just as beautiful, the east boasts some top courses as well as gorgeous scenery.
Monte Rei features a championship course, set in 1,000 acres of countryside between the dramatic Serra do Caldeirão mountains and the Atlantic, designed by Jack Nicklaus.
This world-class course features water hazards aplenty and some of the best bunkering to be found anywhere. The Seve Ballesteros-designed Quinta do Vale will challenge even the best of players with tough doglegs and various hazards.
If you are in need of a brush up, the driving range, putting and chipping practice areas as well as the golf academy will allow you to hone your skills.
Benamor Golf, the maiden course in the east when it opened in 2000, enjoys spectacular views of the mountains as well as the ocean.
The water hazards and trees will test a player’s strategy and ball-striking. Castro Marim Golf offers three distinctive courses – Guadiana, Atlantico and Grouse – as well as top-quality practice facilities.
The courses are teeming with wildlife, including wild boar, birds rabbits and even the elusive Iberian lynx. Quinta da Ria and its sister Quinta da Cima are wonderul golfing havens.
Both can be found in the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, which offers players a truly unique experience. There is a lot of water in play at Quinta da Ria and many holes offer views over the local harbour.
Quinta da Cima is a different challenge with its wide fairways, well placed bunkers, lakes and streams. It calls for a good deal of precision and the right club selection.