Portugal

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Since an Englishman took the game to the Algarve in the 1960s, it has developed into one of the most powerful destinations in world golf.

It seems entirely appropriate that so many British golfers view the Algarve as their favourite destination for a golf break in the sun. After all, it was one of their compatriots who took the game to this wonderful corner of Portugal.

That it was the quintessential Englishman, Sir Henry Cotton, who began the golfing revolution in the Algarve feels almost like symmetry. It is almost organic; a Briton starts the golfing life of an area, his countrymen and women reap the rewards of his labour.

Of course, Sir Henry cannot take all the credit. While his course at Penina was the catalyst for the riches which now exist on the southern coast of Portugal, it required others to take up the baton.

But one wonders how the Algarve landscape would look today if Sir Henry had not gifted such a stylish first course to the area?

Penina remains one of the Algarve’s finest venues – but what would have happened if he had produced something modest? Something which did not capture the imagination of both local and visiting golfers.

Given the circumstances, it would have been easy for such an eventuality to unfold; Sir Henry was in the Algarve to enjoy the fruits of his labour, not to throw himself into a career as a pioneering architect.

Having won The Open three times, gained entry to the World Golf Hall of Fame and played and captained in the Ryder Cup, there was nothing left to achieve in the game for this urbane Englishman. But by selecting the sun-drenched Algarve for his retirement, he inadvertently set himself on the route to arguably his biggest contribution to golf, a legacy which still remains as strong as ever.

After his outstanding work at Penina – which has progressed into one of the world’s leading golf resorts – and continuing with four other first-class courses, this golfing Knight of the Realm set the Algarve on the way to becoming arguably the most impressive golfing area in Europe... and possibly the world.

This is an area which continues to strengthen its hand – despite the advances made by other countries with voracious appetites to secure a slice of the golf travel pie.

Golf travel is now much, much more competitive than it was 10 years ago. More countries (in our 2011 Continental Europe Top 100 Courses list, 18 countries were represented) and more courses (there were a remarkable 16 new entries in the 100) are trying exceptionally hard with their product, and in this environment – as in any aspect of life and business – often the traditional powers lose their appeal.

It is to Portugal’s great credit they have not only held their own, but made advances. In that respected list, the Algarve had six entries – the most of any region in Europe. So, while the Algarve may justifiably have a reputation as a fun, sun-drenched golf destination, it also needs to be known as a destination full of worldclass quality; San Lorenzo, Onyria Palmares, Quinta do Lago, Oceânico Old Course can stand comparison with any region’s courses in the world.

Penina was unfortunate to miss out on the 100 but like Oceânico Victoria was named in the ‘Next 50 best’ category.

The remaining 27 in the area are hardly unimpressive, boasting great variety – from links to parklands to woodlands. Such is the quality and quantity, it is remarkable to think that prior to Sir Henry’s involvement, golf was an insignificant pastime in Portugal, often played on oil-sand greens (used because they were easy to maintain).

Such rudimentary conditioning now seems bizarre when one considers the immaculate nature of tees, greens and fairways in the area.

Step on the 1st tee in the Algarve and you do so in the knowledge you will thrust your tee into pristine grass which would pass for greens in most other parts of the world; you will strike your approaches from beautifully-manicured turf; and you
will roll your putts on pure surfaces.

Needless to say, the greens staff can take some pride from what is on offer – but even they would surely concede they are helped manifestly in their work by another of the Algarve’s key attractions – its climate.

In short-haul terms, there are very few destinations which are as impressive all year round. In this corner of Iberia, spring is delightful, summer is hot and autumn is dry and warm. Apart from between November and March, you can travel to the Algarve expecting to leave your umbrella and jumper in the boot of your hire car.

Many golfers, indeed, religiously return to the Algarve in the spring every year, knowing that temperatures can be seriously nice as early as April – and that flights, accommodation and green fees offer even more value than in mid-summer.

Another big attraction of the Algarve is its accessibility. Being favoured by so many golfers from northern Europe, the area caters for their needs seamlessly. That means, firstly, lots of flights into Faro airport by all the low-cost airlines from airports all over Britain and Ireland.

Once at Faro, getting to your hotel or villa is really easy due to the new A22 east-west motorway which gives excellent access to the golf clubs and means you can be at even the most westward resort, Boavista, in little more than an hour.

As you drive westward, you smile as you pass the signs for famous courses at almost every junction. At the top end of the market, inevitably the green fees are fairly expensive; teeing it up at the ‘big names’ is no matter what country you are in – yet playing the best courses in the Algarve is cheaper than doing so in Britain or Ireland. And even some of the names you know very well are available for less than £75, while you can play the next tier of courses for less than £60.

And beneath these bigger names, there are lots and lots of top-class courses available for around £40. What’s more, if you plan in advance, golf tour operators offer packages for early bookings so you can often enjoy bargain prices, making a trip to the Algarve affordable to groups on a budget.

Indeed, your biggest problem is deciding where to play; there are over 30 courses which would make you very happy, so narrowing them down is no easy task. To help, we’ve split the area into three – West, Central and East – and highlighted the leading courses.

The West

This area is home to an exciting, fairly recent development in the Algarve – the completely new course at Onyria Palmares. This course was always very pleasant for visiting golfers as well as the large ex-pat community in Lagos. But it is now different... and undoubtedly superior.

Owners Onyria decided to create one of the area’s finest courses by inviting legendary designer Robert Trent Jones Jnr to rip up the previous course and start again.

Trent Jones and his team have created three loops of nine – one of which includes a fabulous linksy stretch among the dunes at the bottom of the property – which all return to the clubhouse.

The results of the two-and-a-half year project are spectacular and the cerebral American is understandably delighted with what’s been created.

“I am proud of the links holes,” he says. “You can really imagine how the wind will come into play and that’s why the fairways are wide and why I’ve twinned some fairways. This is what you get when owners leave the designers to do their job and when there are no planning issues.”

Just to the west of Onyria Palmares on the other side of the lovely town of Lagos is Boavista. This superb complex is situated between Lagos and Luz and is the most westerly of our featured courses. It is an incredibly wellpriced complex and playing here helps to make for an extremely economical yet high-quality golf break.

The course itself has several difficult driving holes but the greens are fairly big and putt beautifully, so a good score can be made at Boavista.

As we know, Penina is where it all began when Sir Henry created the Championship course in 1966, one of a quintet of layouts he designed 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.

Sir Henry’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 plenty of water features.

Oceanico’s Faldo is known as a demanding layout and was recognised for its quality when it moved up to 64 in Golf World’s 2011 Top 100 list.

Its stable mate, the American-style O’Connor weaves through valleys with lakes and bunkers. Pestana Alto is located between Alvor and Praia da Rocha, and is another Cotton design whose rolling fairways are reached by several elevated tees. Pestana Gramacho is the work of former Open champion Nick Price in collaboration with Ron Fream and is known for its bunkering.

Vale da Pinta was also laid out by the aforementioned respected American designer and is a five-time host to the Seniors Tour. Finally at Pestana, the Silves course asks you to avoid two water hazards right away and is a big course and a big challenge.

Central

Vilamoura’s Oceanico Old Course was originally laid out by the revered Frank Pennink and remains as relevant today as it was when it opened in the late ’60s. It has relatively narrow fairways as the avenues of pines seem to encroach on every drive while the slick, small greens can be hard to hold with longer clubs in your hand.

Its fellow Oceanico course, Victoria, burst onto the world golf scene when it hosted the World Cup in 2005 and its profile remains high as a result of hosting the Portuguese Masters. An Arnold Palmer design, it is resort golf with a touch of class and is joined in the Oceanico stable by the terrific Pinhal, Millennium and Laguna. Pestana Vila Sol is home to three classy loops of nine which finish in front of a stylish and welcoming clubhouse.

Vale do Lobo is a quality complex with two special courses, Cotton’s original design being split to provide the basis of both, which were crafted by American Rocky Roquemore. The Ocean and Royal courses here are both superb and it is impossible to determine which is the better. In short, you are advised to play both.

San Lorenzo offers lovely views of the Ria Formosa nature reserve and was recognised as the finest course in Portugal in our 2011 Top 100, taking 24th spot. There are thrilling elevated tees but the fairways are not as wide as elsewhere in the area and there is a good deal of water around.

Laranjal at Quinta do Lago is a delightful layout which is part of a 54-hole complex with a history as significant as its challenging golf. Quinta do Lago North, formerly known as Rio Formosa, sits in a natural woodland setting of pine, gorse, heather and wild flowers. The South course at QdL is the jewel in the complex’s crown; host to the Portugal Open eight times, it is plotted among umbrella pines, lakes and wild flowers.

Pine Cliffs is laid out in a spectacular pinewood setting and was designed by the R&A’s preferred architect Martin Hawtree.

The East

Benamor, to the east of Faro, was designed by Cotton in the foothills of Barrocal with no residential developments. Castro Marim is the Algarve’s most eastern course and the Atlantic course incorporates lakes and undulating fairways. Quinta do Vale was designed by Seve and offers lots of dog-legs and views over Guadiana River.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

For more details about these courses and golf friendly hotels, visit www.algarvepromotion.pt/golf

COURSE FACTFILES

Boavista Golf: www.boavistagolf.com

Onyria Palmares Golf: www.onyriapalmares.com

Penina: www.lemeridien.com/penina

Pestana Alto Golf: www.pestanagolf.com

Pestana Vale da Pinta: www.pestanagolf.com

Pestana Gramacho: www.pestanagolf.com

Pestana Silves Golf: www.pestanagolf.com

Oceânico Faldo: www.oceanicogolf.com

Oceânico O’Connor: www.oceanicogolf.com

Pine Cliffs: www.luxurycollection.com/golfalgarve

Oceânico Old: www.oceanicogolf.com

Oceânico Pinhal: www.oceanicogolf.com

Oceânico Laguna: www.oceanicogolf.com

Oceânico Millennium: www.oceanicogolf.com

Oceânico Victoria: www.oceanicogolf.com

Pestana Vila Sol: www.pestanagolf.com

Vale do Lobo Ocean: www.valedolobo.com

Vale do Lobo Royal: www.valedolobo.com

Quinta do Lago South: www.quintadolagogolf.com

Quinta do Lago North: www.quintadolagogolf.com

Quinta do Lago Laranjal: www.quintadolagogolf.com

San Lorenzo Golf: www.sanlorenzogolfcourse.com

Benamor Golf: www.benamorgolf.com

Castro Marim Golf: www.castromarimgolfe.com

Quinta do Vale Golf: www.quintadovale.com

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