Tucked away in the south west corner of Spain, on the coast between the city of Huelva and the Portuguese border, lies the resort of Islantilla which includes a 204-bed luxury hotel complex as well as a 27-hole golf course.
Designed by Enrique Canales and Luis Recasens in 1992 within 180 acres of pine forest on the Gulf of Cadiz, this parkland course was considered good enough to host the Spanish Masters tournament in 1995 (won by Alex Cejka) and has since held a number of European Challenge Tour events.
The beauty of having three 9-hole layouts is that golfers can choose to play the two loops that either takes their fancy or best suits their ability. The combination that gets ranked is the Blue/Green course with the former considered the toughest nine holes on the property. The Yellow course is thought to be the easiest nine holes, though it is ideal for practice when competitions are in progress.
Each and every one of the 27 holes at Islantilla is kept in immaculate order from tee to green, offering a superior golfing experience here on the “Andalucian Algarve.” Indeed, it’s a pity more golfers don’t head east when they exit Faro to play at Islantilla as it is actually closer to the airport than many of the more well known Portuguese courses to the west of their disembarkation point.
We played the green/blue combination twice on successive days. This is definitely resort golf, in fact it is very hard to believe that a European Tour event was held here.
The greens are excellent, true, and in terrific condition. Fairways and tees are a bit rough.
The green course, which was our front nine is pretty bland and unmemorable, although the par 3 2nd is an excellent mid-distance uphill hole, very difficult to club. On the blue course there are a couple of really good holes, the par 3 2nd, a longish carry across water to a shallow tiered green, and the very good uphill par 4 9th.
In the main the fairways are narrow, and this could not be called a driving course.
No more than OK, but the hotel is nice enough and the area is easily accessible from Faro airport.
However, we will not return. El Rompido, just down the road, has two much better courses and is a smarter hotel.
I checked the “Pocket Guide to Golf Courses for Spain & Portugal” before visiting Islantilla as there were no reviews on this website as a point of reference. The book indicates the Yellow nine is a little wacky in places, though I would still have liked to have had a look around that particular loop if time had permitted.
The Blue nine makes a promising start, with the first four holes rising and falling dramatically across rather hilly terrain, with the next hole only revealed after playing the preceding one, which is always a joy. The 4th is a brilliant par four, its fairway pitching and rolling along a narrow ledge towards a small front to back sloping green which is obscured by a rather large tree placed right in front of the putting surface – the caddiemaster told me later the club’s unable to remove this imposing obstacle because it’s a protected species. The remainder of this loop seems very claustrophobic because dense rows of apartments line both sides of the fairway on many of the holes and there hardly seems like there’s room to breathe, never mind play golf – the front door of the housing units beside the 9th tee are less than ten yards from the tee box!
Thankfully, there’s a bit more space on the Green nine, though the housing immediately behind the downhill 4th hole is a reminder that the residential element at Islantilla is never far away. Best hole on this circuit is the 3th, a big doglegged par five that hurtles downhill, past a copse of trees, to a green that’s benched into the hillside on the left.
Ponds (such as those in front of the greens at the 2nd and 6th holes on the Blue) never come into play on the Green nine so the inward half feels less penal for the ordinary golfer. Overall, this is an enjoyable course that’s a bit tight in places but it’s one that will keep you thoroughly engaged from start to finish.