Madeira – “the pearl of the north Atlantic” – is a popular holiday choice for many and visiting golfers make full use of the two top golf complexes on the island; the 27-hole Santo da Serra layout that Robert Trent Jones designed and the wonderful 18-hole course here at Palheiro, where the tree-lined fairways are routed in a figure of eight from an impressive clubhouse that overlooks the layout.
Laid out by Cabell Robinson, the course is set within a beautiful 200-year old property that sits a few miles to the east of Funchal, overlooking the sparkling waters of the bay and the distant uninhabited Desertas Islands. Holes wind through pine forest and around botanical gardens in the Palheiro Estate where frequent changes in elevation offer great ocean views.
Four of the five par five holes are played on the back nine so it’s not surprising to learn that the inward half plays more than 700 yards longer than the front nine. The 140-yard 13th is the only one of the five par threes that plays uphill and it heralds a tricky run for home that ends with a pair of stout par fours and a downhill par five at the 18th.
This was my first experience of golf on the island of Madeira, and it was most certainly an unforgettable one. The rolling hills surrounding Funchal offer spectacular scenes as you battle the slopes of Palheiro Golf Club.
We teed off at the crack of dawn, and even with the 30 degree midday temperatures, we had to wrap up as the sea breeze hit hard and the dew was still fresh on the fairways to give us a brisk welcome. It's a constant battle with club selection here with the wind coming in hard and severe elevation changes on every hole - a real test of golfing ability!
The highlights of the round for me came for me during the front 9 on holes 3 and 6. The 3rd is a severely downhill par 3 offering a panoramic view over the city played 180 yards from the Whites but only needed a 9 iron - truly one to take in. The 6th is a long but reachable par 5 with a green that's heavily guarded with bunkers. It was a tester that rewarded those who went after it.
The course was a joy to play - admittedly, conditions could be better, and if you can only play one round, be sure to try Santo de Serra, but it was a really enjoyable round. I'd definitely recommend stopping by here if you get the chance to play twice on your break!
** A note on the club - if you are staying in a hotel in Funchal, the chances are you can get a hefty discount from them, so be sure to book before playing!