This area is home to one of the undoubted Europe’s courses of 2011 – as well as the venue where the golf travel boom began.
So you’ve arrived in Faro and it’s not cost you much in the way of time or money – because budget airlines fly there from so many UK airports, there’s bound to be one near you.
The good news is, even if you are playing in the most westerly resort we are featuring, you are little more than an hour away from unsheathing your driver on the 1st tee. Golf Escapes made this exact journey, to Boavista Golf Resort, in 2010 and we were astonished at how quickly we were taking our clubs out of their flight bag. A new motorway runs the length of the south coast and it works in the manner which was surely envisaged for all motorways when they were first created; they allow you to drive quickly but safely to your destination. Throughout our week on the Algarve we were on and off it constantly as we zoomed along the A22 betweencourses and a tight tee time schedule.
Never were we crawling at 25mph and never were we infuriated by lanes blocked by articulated lorries/inconsiderate drivers. If our next course was 15 miles away and 12 of them were on the A22, we knew we’d be there in less than 15 minutes. So even if Boavista looks like a bit of a trek from Faro when you look at our mapon the last page of this special Algarve section, it really is nothing to be concerned about – not least because the entrance to the resort is just a couple of hundred yardsfrom the A22.
In this respect, Boavista benefits hugely from being in this less populated western section of the Algarve; it is located just a couple of minutes away from the motorway yet is secluded in a haven of tranquillity with absolutely no evidence – in sight nor sound – of the nearby A22 whatsoever. The Boavista complex is situated betweenLagos and Luz and is an incredibly wellpriced complex – it blows out of the water the suggestion that golf breaks in the sun are too expensive these days.
The course has several difficult driving holes but the greens are fairly big and putt beautifully, so a good score can be made. This Howard Swan design course is an unsung hero of the Algarve and it is plenty good enough to entertain any standard of player. Stretching to over 6,600 yards, its lofty location means it is sometimes buffeted by winds whipping off the Atlantic.
The 7th is a lovely par 4 set against the Atlantic with exhilarating panoramic views from Praia da Luz round to the hills at Monchique. On the back nine the par-5 13th and the short 14th are the pick along with the 17th, a classic risk-andreward challenge.
On the other side of the delightful town of Lagos is Palmares, one of the most talked about courses in Europe last year. Palmares will be known to readers already, having been popular with visitors and expats on the Algarve for many years. But owners Onyria decided they wanted something really, really special and so bucked the global trend by seriously investing in a golf course. The totally remodelled course only opened last year – but it went straight in to No.26 on Golf World’s Continental Top 100. We were given a tour of the embryonic new course as far back as May 2010 and even then, with a year’s worth ofgrowth still to occur, it was clear this was going to be something special.
When you rip a course up and start again, it is always a risk, but when you employ Robert Trent Jones Jnr, you significantly reduce the gamble. The top designer is delighted with the results.
“This is my idea of what the new Olympic course in Rio de Janeiro could be like; it could be a hybrid of inland and linksy holes just likePalmares is,” the legendary American told Golf Escapes. As RTJ suggests, there are three loops of nine with different characteristics.
The first, Alvor, starts high up in the forested hills, as the old course did, but now there is also a stretch of holes down at the bottom which are linksy – The Praia – in nature and add a unique aspect to golf on the Algarve. You enjoy panoramic views across the Bay of Lagos from the Alvor and Lagos (parkland, with two lakes) nines.
The newest course in the Algarve, it is already vying to be the very best. Next we move to Penina and it is surely obvious by now that the often under-exposed western section of the Algarve really does warrant your attention when you are planning your trip here this year. After great-value Boavista and Top 100 track Palmares, this is where the Algarve’s enduring love affair with golf began. It was Sir Henry Cotton who created the Championship course here in 1966, one of a quintet of layouts the legendary Englishman created in the Algarve.
The whole complex oozes class, from the characterful hotel to the children’s club (making it ideal for a family holiday)... but nothing more so than the course. Cotton’s layout weaves between mature trees which are part of the flora forming a delightful backdrop to the challenge of a course stiffened up by water features.
Host of the Portuguese Open on 10 occasions, Penina remains a quality, challenging course nearly 50 years after it was established. The first couple of holes are relatively open and a welcome chance to settle in because after that virtually all the fairways are lined with a myriad sun-loving trees.
Water is in play on several occasions, whether it is guarding the front of the 2nd green, splitting the two-tier fairway of the 5th or running alongside the short 13th. The best practice facilities in the Algarve, including three fl uent English-speaking pros, mean this is ideal for serious and casual golfers.
Oceanico’s Faldo course – known as Amendoeira – is recognised as a demanding layout and its quality was evident when it remained in Golf World’s 2011 continental Europe Top 100 list. Some fi nd ‘The Faldo’ too diffi cult to enjoy and it is true that if you play it from tees which aren’t comparative to your ability, it will seem a long, challenging round.
It is bursting with cacti, wild herbs, spartan Holm oaks, ancient olive trees and crushed limestone bunkers. ‘The Faldo’ covers undulating terrain, linking two of the highest points on the expansive Amendoeira estate. Strategy is always important and players have to place each shot carefully. From the fi rst
hole, a challenging uphill par 4, to the last, a magnifi cent par 5, the hills and undulating ground are used to the maximum to create a course to challenge the mind as well as the skill.
Its stablemate the Oceanico O’Connor weaves its way through valleys with lakes and bunkers creating an American-style challenge.
Designed by the hero of Europe’s 1989 Ryder Cup victory, the challenge here – laid out in a fertile valley – are the lakes and strategically-placed bunkers. Lakes and streams feature on nineholes and indeed a glance at the course map makes it appear like a golf course built in Venice. This includes the 3rd, where water surrounds an island which is home to a landmark moorish relic. Multiple tees make the course enjoyable for players of all standards. Pestana Alto is located between Alvor and Praia da Rocha, and is another Cotton design whose rolling fairways are reached by several elevated tees.
Located between the picturesque village of Alvor and the bustling resort of Praia da Rocha, Alto is highly popular. Designed by Cotton, the rolling fairways and elevated greens test the low-handicap golfer while providing an enjoyable experience for the average player. Water hazards cleverly come into play at driving distance off the 3rd and 4th tee while a huge lake dominates the par-5 16th. Located close to numerous stunning beaches and a wide variety of restaurants and bars, Alto Golf has a perfect location for a break in the sunshine. Pestana Gramacho is the work of former Open champion Nick Price in collaboration with the wellrespectedarchitect Ron Fream. It is therefore unsurprising that they have created a classy course which offers a thoughtful challenge thanks to its clever bunkering.
Laid out in three loops of six, the middle section from the 5th to the 13th is the tightest stretch. Lakes are incorporated but more for aesthetic appeal – this is far from a tricked-up layout and one for the connoisseur. Fream was also involved at Vale da Pintafi ve-time host to the Seniors tour. Two lakes influence play on four holes while the bunkers are many and varied in shape and size.
Finally, Pestana Silves gives you food for thought right from the start with not one but two water hazards to contend with. It is a big course with big challenges. Silves is a serene spot, but this man-made American-style course encourages attacking play.