You’ll need to fly into the middle of the Atlantic to the Azorean island of San Miguel to find Furnas but to play this course only once is worth the trip in its own right. The Azores has a delightful temperate climate but it can have all four seasons in one day, so take your waterproofs.
Furnas is set in a most gorgeous spot close to the lake and its thermal springs. It started out in life as a nine-hole course, designed by Philip Mackenzie Ross, a former partner of Tom Simpson. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these nines were a laid out in a rudimentary fashion. They were not. These nine Mackenzie Ross holes rank amongst the earliest holes created in Portugal but they also represent the best nine-hole collection in all Iberia.
Bob Cameron and Chris Powell had the responsibility of extending Furnas to 18 holes and in 1990 the new Furnas was ready for play. This is what Cameron and Powell had to say: “When we were planning and designing the new 9 holes we were extremely careful to try to avoid the mistake – made on so many extended courses – of imposing alien design characteristics onto a naturally beautiful and classical golf course.” Cameron and Powell were on a hiding to nothing to blend the old with the new; after all, the old nine was flanked with mature trees including stately Japanese cedars. But the design duo did a truly remarkable job and, when kindly Nature has taken its course and the new tree planting has matured, the two nines will zip together yet further.
With smallish plateaux greens, which are wickedly contoured, you’ll need a sharp short game to score well at Furnas. Only those in the know appreciate how good this course actually is, so mum’s the word.
I’ve played most of Portugal’s top ranked Algarve courses and those around Lisbon and they are excellent tracks but Furnas is simply sensational. Only the Old course at Vilamoura pushes Furnas in terms of sheer quality and design. In short it’s an absolute gem with rolling fairways and devilishly tricky greens that are inherently fair but they are quite small and tough to hit, especially those raised on slight plateaux. The par3 2nd is one of the best one shotters you will find anywhere in the world. It plays over water and is quite forgiving in that the lie of the land kicks the ball onto the green, but only the most accurate tee shot which finds the green has any chance of getting close to the stick. The medium length par4 4th is also a brilliant hole. I’d come back here to play Furnas again as it alone is worth the trip to the Azores.