Although I try to play golf all through the winter, it isn’t straightforward in Scotland and often, today for example, it’s simply not possible. We woke this morning, as did much of the country, to see a blanket of snow covering the ground. We have a couple of inches probably. It looks very pretty and, although it’s not enough to cause any major disruption, it certainly means no golf.
I always laugh how easily snow can screw things up in some of the more populated areas down south. We have snow in Aberdeenshire fairly regularly, often over a foot and sometimes more. A couple of winters ago the drifts were up to the windowsills of our cottage and we had significant amounts of lying snow for over two months straight. But we barely received a mention in the news and pretty much just got on with it.
But, if there’s the slightest hint of a flake over the Midlands or, heaven forfend, the South East, the BBC and other news organisations go to DEFCON 5. The levels of fear mongering would suggest the approach of conditions akin to the next ice age. You read headlines like, “UK braces itself for Arctic weather.” Oh my god, it’s going to be like that film “The Day After Tomorrow,” where Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal survive tsunamis, 40 feet of snowfall and temperatures of -150C. Batten down the hatches, it’s every man for himself, fill the store cupboards, don’t leave the house, burn your furniture for warmth and whatever you do, don’t book a train journey.
Then the following day, there’s some sheepish coverage of the actual weather that hit. I’ve just read that, “Cambridgeshire received a ‘light dusting,'” and that “As much as an inch fell on Nottingham.” A full inch! Holy smokes.
The fact is our weather is pretty tame really. Consider the residents of the Siberian town of Oymyakon where the average temperature in January is -46C. Or, the town of Mt Baker in Washington State where there’s an average annual snowfall of over 50 feet. That would really be quite tough to cope with.
Having said that, today’s conditions are a little boring given the weather I was enjoying last week when I flew down to Faro in Portugal to cover the Volvo Matchplay Championship Grand Final at Vale do Lobo.
The tournament ran all through last season, with an entry fee of just £20 and knockout rounds for both singles and pairs. Those making it through four rounds travelled to regional finals where the top 50 or so competitors earned starts at Vale do Lobo.
The weather down on the Algarve was absolutely fantastic. It’s only a three-hour flight from Prestwick, but it was like travelling to the other side of the world. Temperatures every day were around 20C with clear blue skies and barely a breath of wind. The courses were in immaculate shape, flowers were in bloom and everything generally seemed rosy.
It was also an excellent tournament with competitors completing four rounds: two over Vale do Lobo’s Ocean Course and two over the Royal. There was some brilliant golf played in both the pairs and the individual event with John Hughes, a five handicapper from Prestwich coming out on top in the singles and Ben Rozenbroek (4) and David Tarbotten (3) from Hull triumphing in the doubles. (More on the tournament itself in a forthcoming piece in the magazine.)
It was a great event though, demonstrating the quality and passion of Britain’s club golfers. Although there was camaraderie amongst the competitors, there was also a distinct desire to play well and to win. But this competitive side was tempered with true sportsmanship. Each of the players encouraged their opponents on to record the best score possible and it seemed to me some lasting friendships were forged. It was greatly heartening.
Organised by David Hughes and Mike Laney, the event is run fantastically well and I was impressed by the relaxed, yet efficient way David and Mike ensured everybody knew exactly what was going on and that they had the best time possible. If you haven’t entered this event before, I recommend you do so this year.
Things progressed so smoothly, I even found time to get out for a knock on the Ocean course, albeit with a set of hired clubs. Although I played pretty desperately, it was quite a treat to enjoy a round, at this time of year, playing in shirt-sleeves with the sun on my back. The Ocean Course is a fabulous layout that peaks when the holes skirt the edge of the beach with wonderful views up the coastline towards Vilamoura.
Vale do Lobo is a classy and expansive resort with a huge array of off-course activities. There’s a fine tennis centre, children’s play clubs, the stunning beach, spa facilities, multiple restaurants, bars and cafes. Although it’s all one resort, each of those restaurants and bars is run independently so there’s a proper character to the place and, since Vale do Lobo has been there for over 40 years, there’s an established community and great variety among the properties on site.
January seems to be the time to go. The weather is perfect, the courses are in great shape and there’s, basically, nobody there. Each day at lunch I had the beach bar practically to myself. There would have been no trouble getting tee times and the roads were supremely quiet. Apparently in the summer months it becomes frantically busy. Some people will prefer it that way, but I’d have to say I was happy having the run of the place.
I’m now left staring out at a blizzard, dreaming of blue skies, golden sands and lush green grass. Perhaps I could get a flat out there? I’ve just looked at the Vale do Lobo property prices online and, perhaps not!