Golf’s Golden Coast
Golf’s Golden Coast
Blessed with more annual sunshine than anywhere else in Europe and with 150km of stunning coastline, Portugal’s Algarve region is one of the world’s top golfing destinations.
Portugal may be suffering from the European economic downturn, but its southern coastline known as The Algarve continues to be the most desirable destination in Europe for golfing holidays with a host of great courses and superb hotels dotted along the coast.
Visitors arrive at Faro International Airport, just a two and a half hour flight from London or Paris, and the best way to enjoy a golfing trip to the region is to rent a car and venture out from one of the resorts to discover the different courses. Most of the courses are within a 1-hour drive of each other with an excellent highway running almost the full length of the coast.
The Algarve has a varied geography with long beaches backed by sand dunes and natural lagoons in the east and picturesque rocky coves with protected beaches in the west. A rich history dating back to pre-Roman times holds ancient ruins within historic towns and cities. One of those cities, Silves, with its own Moorish castle, was once the capital city of the region when much of the Iberian peninsular was under Moorish occupation between the 6th and the 13th centuries.
The west coast is characterized by magnificent beaches where the open Atlantic ocean creates a backdrop of rolling waves that make the area into one of Europe’s top surfing destinations. The Algarve is also a paradise for gourmets with excellent local produce such as fresh seafood from the Atlantic and although little is known internationally about the region’s wine, this is changing fast. Small wine producers have made considerable investments over recent years and the Algarve is fast gaining recognition for quality as opposed to quantity, where some are now calling it the new California of Europe.
From east to west, there are over 30 championship golf courses, an important aspect of the region’s economy, creating a golf tourism market that combats the seasonality of beach and sun tourism during the summer.
The Algarve’s top courses
Which course would be considered the best in the Algarve is arguable, and like anywhere else, the judging depends as much on criteria as on the quality of the course itself.
For the pro golfer or low handicapper one the best is no doubt the Oceânico Victoria Course in the Vilamoura Resort. There are four further courses in the resort, not to mention a 1000-berth yacht marina, but the Victoria is the most recent of the five courses and has been home to the PGA Portugal Masters Tournament every year since 2007 hosting great players such as José Maria Olazabal, Lee Westwood and Miguel Ángel Jiménez.
The course, covering some 90 hectares of parkland terrain is the most recent project in Portugal from Arnold Palmer, and is of a par 72 championship layout, measuring 6609 metres from the back tees.
For sheer beauty, also matched with a challenge for the low handicapper, there are three courses that stand out above the rest. Palmares in the western Algarve offers breathtaking scenery that can be appreciated from most of the course, with views over a river estuary, beaches and the nearby bay of Lagos. On the outward 9 of the 5,961 metre par 72 course, five of the holes are authentic links set amongst the sand dunes with the other holes extending through hillsides and valleys with almond and fig trees, palms and pines and lofty views.
The Vale do Lobo Resort, just 20 minutes from Faro International Airport, has its famous Royal Course with the cliff-top par-3 16th officially dubbed the most photographed hole in the world.
Nearby, within the exclusive Quinta do Lago estate is the San Lorenzo course.
This magnificent Joseph Lee and Rocky Roquemore 18-hole layout scores high in the ratings of Europe’s top courses and comprises several scenic and testing holes culminating in the memorable 18th with an exhilarating approach to the well defended green across a lake. Much of the course is set alongside the stunning Ria Formosa lagoon and natural park.
These are just four of 30 courses in the region and there really is something for everyone.
Where to stay
In Quinta Lago and just a stone’s throw from nearby Vale do Lobo is the brand new Conrad Algarve Resort. This is a modern luxury resort hotel of exacting standards that opened in September last year and has already claimed its place as one of the top properties in the region.
Some 20km to the west lies the Pine Cliffs Resort and the Luxury Collection Sheraton Algarve Hotel with its own excellent 9-hole course that boasts the famous “Devil’s Parlour” a stunning hole demanding a shot from the tee across a chasm in the sandstone cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Often regarded as the most exclusive luxury resort in the Algarve is Vila Vita Parc. Set roughly half way along the coast if has its own pitch and put course but more importantly is within easy reach of courses to the east and west. A member of Leading Hotels of The World, Vila Vita Parc also has one of the only two 2-star Michelin restaurants in Portugal and its own Bentley to whisk guests from the airport.
No article on golf in the Algarve would however be complete without mention of the Penina Resort, the birthplace of golf in the Algarve and where the charming Le Meridien hotel makes up for what it lacks in high-end luxury with traditional old-world style and hospitality. The resort features its own Championship course designed by the legendary Sir Henry Cotton. Opened in 1966, the resort also offers a further two 9-hole courses.
- www.algarve-golf.com is a good resource for information on courses in the region
- Faro Airport offers direct flights to London and many other major European airports. Airlines include Easyjet, Ryanair, Monarch and British Airwars to the UK, Lufthansa and Germanwings to Germany and TAP Air Portugal.
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