Portugal has many excellent golf courses. I am indeed fortunate to have played a good number of them and of those I have played Monte Rei is in my view the best and the ‘jewel in the crown’, and arguably one of the best layouts in mainland Europe.
From the moment you arrive, the service and attention to detail is of the highest order, the stylish clubhouse is delightful and the practice facility is simply outstanding. But it is the Jack Nicklaus designed golf course that emphatically delivers.
Every golf hole is in its own private arena, from which other holes or other golfers are rarely visible. The green fee is quite high, buggies are essential and with 12 minute intervals between tee times, it is ‘millionaires’ golf’. The stunning hillside terrain set up high a few miles back from the coast, and very near the Spanish border, adds to the feeling of a very special place.
Nicklaus courses are known for the way each hole and it’s challenges are clearly set out from the tee with generous fairways and large greens with only moderate slopes. They are fair, the only drawback in my opinion being the obsession with bunkers some of which are huge and can seem like an endless vista of sand as you approach the green. Water is present on a number of holes particularly on the back nine, and is strategically placed so as to offer a fair risk and reward dependant on the challenges undertaken with each golf shot.
All the holes are good and many quite exceptional. None of the five par3s is over 180 yards from the standard ‘Signature’ tees, there are also five par5s with uphill holes numbers 6 and 16 needing three meaty strikes to reach the putting surface. My favourite holes are the beautiful 3rd and 13th, both challenging and unusual downhill par4s, and the dogleg par5 18th. This is played around a lake and requires a steely-nerved finishing shot to make the narrow green over water.
I have now played the course seven times and still relish the challenge. Despite having only one course on site, it is called the North Course and opened in 2007, the creation of a second course, the South, has been planned since then. Indeed the Peugeot Golf Guide to Europe’s Top 1000 Courses of 2008/09 refers to the second course as being ‘under construction’, but nothing has yet appeared. I was however informed that Jack Nicklaus himself visited as recently as in 2019 to make final preparations.
The resort is remote and the route to it circuitous, so it probably needs a similarly mouth-watering second course, for as reported by the last reviewer the place is very quiet. A whole village of up-market villas has been built where we have stayed twice, there are some modern apartments constructed alongside the 18th in the last 3 years, and a hotel is planned, but one gets the feeling that for whatever reason the property take-up has been very slow. But day-tripping golfers who will make Monte Rei the highlight of their holiday won’t worry about this, and will surely want to come back to play golf here time and again.
Date: October 10, 2020