With scores of fine courses and direct flights from 30 local airports, the Algarve is the perfect spot for sunshine golf
Golf In The Algarve – The Ultimate Sunshine Golf Destination
A￼s a holiday destination, the southern coast of Portugal ticks many boxes: year-round sunshine, natural beauty, accessibility, and miles of golden beaches.
For golfers, there’s an array of wonderful courses, many of which have become household names. But the real beauty of the Algarve is the short direct flight time from the UK from 30 airports right across the country.
Today, golfers are spoilt for choice, but it takes more than good weather and beautiful views to attract holidaymakers.
A recent Post Office Holiday Money Report declared the Algarve as the best-value holiday destination in the world in 2017. In the report, meals and other essentials were found to be cheaper on the Algarve than in 44 other popular holiday spots.
All of which paints a positive picture for the region’s future.
With average annual temperatures of 17.5˚C and 150 miles of sandy beaches, it’s not just golfers who flock to this part of Europe. But its low-cliff coastline means 3,065 hours of sunshine a year, making it perfect for golf across the seasons.
More direct flights make it easier than ever to get to the Algarve, whether you’re based in London, the north of Scotland, the west of Ireland or anywhere in between. Algarve Tourism’s ‘golf4all’ project ensures it is promoted as a fully inclusive destination too, so everyone, whether beginner, junior, male, female, senior or disabled golfer (or even non-golfing partner) will enjoy a rewarding experience.
Off course, there are numerous activities for the whole family such as snorkelling, sailing and water-skiing on the coast, while walkers will enjoy the many beautiful nature reserves. Cycling, rock-climbing and quad-biking are also popular, and the area is rich in history and architecture, with many ancient towns, castles and museums to explore.
There are many restaurants catering for all tastes and it’s hard to beat the seafood and a glass or two of local wine. Evenings can be enjoyed into the early hours in one of many late-night clubs, casinos or bars. Whether you want a golf trip, a weekend getaway, or a family break, the Algarve has it all.
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Where it all began
Far from it being only resort-style courses, golfers enjoy a choice of links and parkland, as well as woodland and mountainside. That’s why golfing parties travel here year after year – to play old favourites and discover new gems.
The juices start to flow the moment you arrive at Faro airport. If you don’t see someone wheeling a set of golf clubs, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Golf in the Algarve started just over half a century ago in the western region with the creation of Penina on a former paddy field just north of Alvor, a wonderfully peaceful fishing village.
Penina hosted the Algarve’s first European Tour event, the Portuguese Open, in 1973. Over the years it has been regularly upgraded, and the course provides a thoroughly enjoyable parkland test, winding its way through tree-lined fairways to elevated greens. Penina’s nine-hole Resort and Academy courses are ideal for beginners.
From here, head up into the foothills of the mountains and you’ll find Morgado and Álamos, neighbouring courses of contrasting style, both under the European Golf Design umbrella. The former, a par-73 layout, presents a game of two halves.
The front nine is flat but with water hazards as a constant threat, while the back nine rises and falls over dramatically undulating terrain.
Álamos is shorter, but with narrower fairways and smaller greens. The views out over the reservoir and adjacent vineyards will have a calming effect if your game happens to be off!
Espiche, close to the harbour town of Lagos, is a dramatic course surrounded by beautiful countryside and vineyards. The opener will certainly live long in the memory with a drop of 80 feet from the tee to the fairway, before a similar climb back up to the green. It sets the scene for a hilly test that serves up wonderful views throughout, especially from the clubhouse.
It’s a course that can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Boavista, an undulating layout designed by Howard Swan 15 years ago. It’s hard not to enjoy the views out to sea here, even if the elevation changes keep the heart pounding a little.
Those glorious vistas are matched a little further along the coast at Onyria Palmares, although it’s the wonderful variety over its three very distinct nines – Alvor, Lagos and Praia – that wins most of the plaudits here.
Onyria Palmares dates back to 1975, but benefited enormously from a Robert Trent Jones II renovation in 2010, which elevated it to one of the most talked-about courses in Portugal.
Pestana has a portfolio of four courses in the west region including Henry Cotton’s Alto, where the 623-yard 16th was once Europe’s longest hole. It was his final design, although sadly he did not live to see it realised. His goal was to create “a course for those who like challenge in their game. The undulating terrain makes each hole a new challenge, from mastering the double-dogleg to softly putting the tiered greens.”
Gramacho and Vale da Pinta were originally designed as an 18-hole set-up with 27 greens. Each nine was subsequently expanded to a full 18 holes, and they have been kept in fine order with a number of very strong holes, although the latter presents a slightly sterner test.
Meanwhile, Silves, which lies in the foothills of the Monchique Mountains, has an excellent selection of par 3s and serves up yet more stunning panoramic vistas. It offers the perfect blend of thrilling golf in the most peaceful and unspoilt of settings.
Some of the biggest names to have ever played the game have left their mark on the Algarve too.
Oceânico Faldo is one of two fine courses at the Oceânico Amendoeira Golf Resort, the other being Oceânico O’Connor Jnr.
Faldo’s is the more undulating of the two courses, with the six-time Major winner’s trademark expansive bunkering one of its key defences. The O’Connor Jnr layout may be easier to walk, but water hazards come into play on at least half the holes.
The two largest cities in the region – Portimao and Lagos – are both well worth a visit.
Portimao features a beautiful promenade, converted from its busy dockland. It’s the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a meal. The centre of historic Lagos is enclosed within largely 14th century walls. Nearby, sun worshippers will find some of the very best spots to lay down a towel in the entire region, which is saying something given the numerous golden beaches in the Algarve.
Simply world class all-round
The centre of the Algarve is a golfing hotbed in itself. As well as featuring a number of household names, the region is packed with interesting towns and activities. Just a few miles from the lively town of Albufeira, Salgados is an easy- walking layout alongside a nature reserve teeming with wildlife, with the marshes home to many species of bird.
No visit to this part of the Algarve is complete without stopping at the Martin Hawtree-designed Pine Cliffs, a delightful nine-holer on the cliff tops where you’ll find scoring a little easier than at some of its more illustrious neighbours. Its famous hole is the Devil’s Parlour, a par 3 played across a chasm of ochre-coloured cliffs.
Dom Pedro has five courses in the Vilamoura area including Millennium, a favourite with holiday golfers thanks to its forgiving layout.
There’s plenty of water, but it’s the final two holes that pose the greatest test. Neighbouring Laguna on low-lying marshland, however, presents more of a water-based challenge. The best advice is to stock up on balls and enjoy the test; hopefully, you’ll overcome your fear of water and walk off with your supplies still largely intact.
Later this year (September 20-23), the Portugal Masters returns to the Victoria Course, where the likes of Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood have tasted victory in the past decade.
It was designed by Arnold Palmer and is a fascinating hybrid of marshland golf and holes running through ancient trees. Its large and undulating greens are a very distinctive feature.
The Old Course is Vilamoura’s original crown jewel. It’s the second oldest course in the Algarve and one of the finest in Europe.
Perhaps the best compliment you can pay is that every single hole is a joy to try and conquer, and even if you fail, it’s impossible not to appreciate the design.
Every shot demands careful club selection and total commitment as you fight to avoid the pines, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable and certainly one for the ‘must-play’ list.
Vilamoura itself is a bustling seaside resort with a lively marina and a number of busy restaurants and bars. For many holidaymakers bringing their golf clubs, it’s number one on the list, with no shortage of hotels and evening entertainment to complement their days on the fairways.
Pinhal is another popular addition to the golfing itinerary. It’s also one of the Algarve’s oldest layouts. Robert Trent Jones Senior reworked it in the 1980s, and since then the umbrella and Atlantic pines that line the fairways have matured greatly to provide a key defence.
There’s a plethora of other fine courses throughout the central region too. Pestana Vila Sol has three nines named according to their difficulty. The main course comprises the Prime and Challenge loops, with the Prestige billed as an academy course, though it’s by no means easy.
Henry Cotton also made a lasting impact at Vale do Lobo, a sporting estate popular with professional sports teams and athletes thanks to its first-class facilities. Vale do Lobo Ocean has holes that run between villas to the beach, with the par-3 15th a stunning highlight. The breathtaking 16th on its sister course, Vale do Lobo Royal, which runs along the cliff edge, is another
Quinta do Lago North has a sandy subsoil and the bunkering is superb following a major renovation undertaken by Paul McGinley and American architect, Beau Welling. Its visual appeal and playability certainly elevates it into the ‘must-play’ category.
Meanwhile, Quinta do Lago South, which opened in the mid-1970s and frequently hosts the Portuguese Open, is highly regarded. Doglegs are a prominent feature at this first-class resort course where strategic hazards must be negotiated carefully.
A fine alternative exists at Quinta do Lago Laranjal, which runs over a vast orange grove, from where it gets its Portuguese name.
The par 3s are particularly testing, as are a number of thrilling long holes that make super use of the rolling terrain. It’s not just the fairways that undulate either as the contoured greens present a further test.
Three loops of nine can be found at Pinheiros Altos – the Pines, the Olives and the most recent addition, the Corks. They all share similar characteristics, but with enough variation to also give each a distinct feel.
San Lorenzo, designed by American architect Joseph Lee, is another of the Algarve’s most charming and admired courses, and it’s easy to understand why from the moment you arrive. The par-5 8th is possibly the best long hole in the Algarve, and the feature-packed challenges keep coming at you, especially those bordering the estuary and the salt-water lagoons – just don’t forget your camera here, or anywhere else in the Algarve for that matter. It’s a golf haven.
East is Eden
The eastern Algarve’s 30-mile coastline runs from Faro Airport to the River Guadiana.
The course at Castro Marim opened in 2001 and has three loops of nine, with the main challenge being distance control into the elevated greens.There is also an abundance of wildlife to enjoy on your stroll through the pines.
The late, great Seve was responsible for nearby Quinta do Vale, which features his trademark collection of six par 3s, six par 4s and six par 5s. As the course approaches its tenth birthday, it’s perhaps still one of the Algarve’s lesser-known tracks, but one that is well worth a visit.
Another Henry Cotton design lies close to the ancient city of Tavira, a wonderful place full of artistic ambience and Portuguese charm.
Benamor may not have opened until after Cotton’s passing but the design follows his masterplan, blending into the natural surroundings and offering stunning mountain and sea views.
Monte Rei, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course that is often rated Portugal’s finest, lies in the rolling hills not far to the east, set among some 1,000 acres of glorious countryside.
Despite its deep and often punishing bunkers, the course has a very natural appearance. Risk and reward is evident throughout and it’s typical Nicklaus that water should pose a major challenge courtesy of several sizable lakes. Each hole blends effortlessly into the natural canvas here.
Heading down from the hills and back towards the sea, two more coastal gems loom in the form of Quinta de Cima and Quinta da Ria.
The former was designed as the tougher of the duo, with its final three holes, where water is in play, presenting a real challenge.
The latter isn’t lacking in water trouble either, with five lakes bordering greens. Arguably, the pick of the holes here is the par-5 16th, where even a defensive strategy is far from easy to master.
Find more info – visitgolfalgarve50years.com
Take flight to the Algarve – it’s easier than ever before with direct flights from 30 local airports, sunshine golf is little more than two hours away