The Pestana hotel chain is one of the main tourism and leisure companies in Portugal and it manages a number of golf complexes that includes, apart from here at Gramacho, other Algarve courses at Vale da Pinta, Silves Golf and Alto Golf.
American Ron Fream originally laid out nine holes in the early 1970s – around the same time that he was setting out Pinheiros Altos – and golfers used two different sets of tees to play an 18-hole round before the Gramacho course was subsequently doubled in size when the architect teamed up with former world number one Nick Price to create a full 18-hole layout.
The fairways of the opening and closing four holes are routed around housing with the remaining holes occupying a more rural setting around rocky outcrops, old dry stone walls and lovely stands of native trees.
All four of the par three holes are daunting – none of them are under 190 yards from tee to green – but the toughest is undoubtedly the 10th, where the tee shot is played to an island green.
Many golfers regard the short par four penultimate holes on each nine (at the 318-yard 8th and the left dog legged 17th) to be the most engaging on the property.
Ron Fream, course architect, provided us with the following, exclusive comment:
Gramacho was almost an afterthought to the design of the nearby Vale da Pinta eighteen. The land available was limited and the owner needed a good building lot to count. I had designed what I called "boutique" courses, compact in area but big in playing power and the then owner accepted my suggestions.
The owner found selling the apartments and villas easy, as many buyers enjoyed the faster pace of play when doing only nine, but they also had the beauty of a very scenic course.
Gramacho became very popular with players who wanted challenge but not of the same magnitude that we put into the Pinta design. This boutique – compact but challenging – concept has even more basis today as land and water become scarcer.
Gramacho is decent, it has a healthy mix of holes (if a little short) and some nice scenery. It feels more geared towards retired locals than tourists, so it can be overpowered but the greens are fast and tricky. There are some really cool greens, 16 has a bunker in the middle of it whilst other holes have 2 targets which presumably mix things up.
It’s reasonably hilly. I didn’t get a cart and I don’t think one’s necessary, but some slopes are steep. Much of the back nine played around and above the lake and large fountain you’ll see in adverts, that part of the course is a highlight. The finish is lovely too, 16 has some old stone ruins, 17’s a short par 4 with a lake and 18 plays uphill to the clubhouse. It’s a great view to enjoy with a drink afterwards.
I prefer Gramacho to its sister Pinta next door. It’s not worth basing a trip around (although Pestana offer value) but worthwhile if you’re in the area or want a shorter practice round before tackling the Algarve’s championship courses. Allow some extra time for slow play, though.