“Pars in the Algarve”
Portugal’s Algarve region is blessed with some of continental Europe’s finest golf courses…
Lively coastal resorts spill over ribbons of golden sand along an Atlantic coastline punctuated by sculpted sandstone coves, turquoise waters and picturesque fishing villages. This is the Algarve in southern Portugal – the country’s playground province and one of the most popular year-round holiday destinations in southern Europe. The Moors, who dominated the Algarve for over 500 years from 711, called it the ‘Al-Gharb’ or the Sunset Land, and during the last few decades, countless visitors and especially golfers, have been waxing lyrical about this colourful and laid-back coastal region.
Ever since the mid-1960s, when quintessential Englishman and renowned golf course architect Sir Henry Cotton first designed and oversaw the construction of Penina’s Championship course, the Algarve has become synonymous with the quintessential golf break in the sun. Dotted along a 240 kilometre stretch of Atlantic-washed coastline running from Sagres in the west to Vila Real de Santo Antonio in the east, are dozens of diverse top-drawer courses to tee it up – from big hitters like the Nicklaus-designed Monte Rei and Quinta do Lago’s ultra-manicured 54 holes, to lesser-known layouts such as Salgados and Morgado Golf & Country Club. As an added bonus, the region is blessed with a mild winter climate and 300 plus days of sunshine which means you can play all year round.
Away from the golf courses its not just about the unashamedly extrovert coastal resort towns like Albufiera and Lagos, with their trappings of beach culture, buzzing nightlife, casinos, water sports and bars. For starters, how about wandering Faro’s (the region’s capital) venerable Cidade Velha (Old Town) set within a circle of medieval walls, walking nature trails at Parque Natural da Ria Formosa (an extensive lagoon, sand dune, marshland habitat that is a sanctuary for birds), and exploring traditional coastal villages like Ferragudo, Salema and Benagil where you can dine on fabulous seafood including locally-caught octopus, squid, prawn and the ubiquitous grilled sardine?
Moving further inland, there’s Loulé’s colourful weekly market bursting with fresh fish, cheeses, red chilli peppers, sweet figs and golden honey; the elegant and picturesque riverside town of Tavira (with its Roman bridge and 40 churches), the Sierra de Monchique mountain range enveloping the hillside spa town of Monchique, and Silves, once the grandiose capital of the Moorish province of Al-Gharb surrounded by lush orange groves and dominated by the ochre ramparts of its huge castle.
One of the big advantages of an Algarve golf break is that getting there is easy and inexpensive. You can fly from most European cities with all the budget airlines into either Faro airport or alternatively Lisbon airport (then hire a car and head south). Here’s a half dozen selection of places to ‘play and stay’ to get your Algarve golf break underway…
This par-73 layout designed by three times British Open champion Sir Henry Cotton in 1966 is the Algarve’s spiritual home of golf and a marvellous example of golfing architecture. Cotton transformed what was once an old rice plantation into lush fairways lined by towering pines and eucalyptus trees which give the course a unique character unmatched in the region. The layout features an unusual grouping of par 5’s, with four of the five arranged in pairs in the beginning and end of the back nine, producing a par 38 instead of a more typical par 35.
A few of the standout holes include the dogleg 5th, with its canal, lake and contoured putting surface and the 13th (voted one of the best 500 holes in the world), a testing par-3 with water all the way from the tee to a sloping green, guarded to the front and left by a pair of dangerous bunkers. As you head up the memorable closing hole, the classically-styled and luxurious 5-star resort acts as backdrop to a three-tiered green framed by an amphitheatre of trees. Although less demanding than the main course, there are two other tracks here – the 18-hole Resort course and a nine-hole Academy course. www.penina.com
Morgado Golf & Country Club
Situated within a 980-hectare estate a few miles inland from the pretty coastal town of Portimão (Algarve’s sardine capital), this new golf resort is an excellent choice for those looking for a quiet and comfortable rural retreat with two excellent 18-hole courses and on site practice facilities. The flatter front nine of the Morgado Course is routed around a scenic reed-fringed lake, while the more challenging back nine meanders into the hills and features plenty of elevation changes and three excellent par-5s.
The Álamos Course is a shorter but trickier layout set within a rolling Mediterranean landscape and boasts splendid views over the surrounding Monchique mountains, lakes and farmland. Fairways are lined with olive trees, with each hole separated from the rest which provides a splendid feeling of isolation. The golf hotel itself has 98 spacious rooms with sweeping views over the Morgado Course, lounge bar, restaurant, spa centre, four swimming pools and an outdoor terrace to enjoy that cold 19th-hole beer. The Morgado Golf Resort was home to the Open de Portugal 2017, a European Tour event won by Englishman Matt Wallace. www.nauhotels.com
Monte Rei Golf & Country Club
Situated about a 40-minute drive of Faro, in the picturesque foothills of the eastern Algarve with sweeping views of the Serra do Caldeirão mountains to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, Montei Rei is a serious contender for the Algarve number one spot. Yes, you need deep pockets to play, but with the level of presentation and attention to detail second to none, it all adds to the exclusive golfing experience. This Jack Nicklaus creation rambles over 6,567 metres of ever-changing terrain, with a wonderful variety of holes where each one is as memorable as the next.
Fairways and greens are bordered by several lakes (water comes into play on eleven of the eighteen holes), and interspersed with indigenous trees, plants and native grasses. If you can steer you ball into the right positions, and stay away from the water hazards, it is the classic green complexes surrounded by distinctively shaped and sculpted bunkers, plus the slick and undulating putting surfaces that are Monte Rei’s main defence. But it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, the immaculate conditioning of the course, the resort facilities and the fabulous scenery make certain of that. www.monte-rei.com
Located between the coastal towns of Armação de Pêra and Albufeira west of Faro, the Salgados course has been laid out adjacent to a protected bird reserve in low-lying wetlands near Praia de Gale beach. When you first set eyes on its lush green fairways dotted with palms and water, you can be excused for thinking you have been transported to a course in Florida or the Caribbean. This dramatic layout is packed with more water hazards (the wet stuff features on 16 of the 18 holes) than any course in the Algarve – and you need to plot your way strategically around to achieve a decent score, especially with likely Atlantic breezes adding to the challenge.
One of the star holes is the 6th, a par-5 dogleg right where the fairway is flanked with the nature reserve on the left and water on the right. Once you are safely on the short stuff, it’s a case of advancing your second shot as far as you can, otherwise it will be a daunting mid-iron over water to a large green featuring a pronounced back to front slant. A Bubba Watson drive away from the course is the five-star Salgados Palace offering guests an authentic oasis atmosphere in verdant, extensive gardens, with several swimming pools nestling amid palm and olive trees. www.nauhotels.com
Quinta do Lago
Situated just 15 minutes drive from Faro airport, and set in 2,000 acres of verdant countryside and pine forest bordering the Atlantic and the Ria Formosa Nature Park, Quinta do Lago (named ‘Europe’s Best Golf Venue’ at the 2015 World Golf Awards) has been at the forefront of European golf since opening in 1972. The five-star resort features three award-winning 18-hole championship courses – the South Course, Laranjal and the widely-acclaimed North Course, co-designed by Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley. On site facilities include Europe’s only Paul McGinley Golf Academy and the only TaylorMade Performance Centre in Southern Europe.
The jewel in the complex’s crown is the South Course which has hosted the Portuguese Open on several occasions. Plotted around umbrella pines, lakes and wild flowers, this superbly manicured track requires the correct positioning of shots to score well. Basically the same style as its sister course, the North is noted for its four excellent par-5 holes and numerous dog-legs that require accuracy off the tee. Featuring the same consistently high quality from tee to green as the other two layouts and built on ideal, rolling terrain around five attractive lakes, the Laranjal course which opened in 2011 completes 54-holes of stunning golf. www.quintadolago.com
Vale do Lobo
The luxury Vale do Lobo resort is a quality complex and home to two special courses – the Ocean and the Royal. Based on Sir Henry Cotton’s original design concepts and re-developed by respected American golf architect Rocky Roquemore, both courses have twice been host to the Portuguese Open. The Royal Course is famous for one of the most photographed holes in Europe – the par-3 16th. Set amid orange, fig and olive trees with rolling pine-covered terrain on one side and orange rock cliffs on the other, a well-struck tee shot (over 200 metres from the championship tees) is required to carry a series of precipitous cliffs before the green. Another excellent par-3 is to be found on the Ocean Course, and the scenic 15th which runs tight to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean would receive a lot more attention if not for the fact that it is overshadowed be the signature 16th on the Royal. Both courses are equally top-notch, and if you have the time you are advised to play both. www.valedolobo.com
Climate: You can play golf in the Algarve all year round – the temperature never strays below 10C.
Getting There: From most European cities you can fly to Faro or Lisbon with all the budget airlines. This is a big advantage for Portuguese golf breaks – getting there is easy and inexpensive.
Instead of taking your own golf clubs to the Algarve, consider using a club hire service such as 18Store. Avoid the ever-increasing carriage costs charged by airlines to bring your own clubs, and they even deliver directly to your accommodation and pick it up too, saving you time at the airport. Try out the latest golf equipment from the world’s leading manufacturers such as Callaway and TaylorMade. Avoid the hassle of transporting clubs to the airport and your own clubs being lost or damaged in transit. For more information visit:
Article by: Andrew Marshall
Photography by: Paul Marshall
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