American architect Rocky Roquemore has designed plenty of good golf courses on the Iberian peninsula over the years but one of his more recent projects, at Vila Nova de Cacela, on the Sotavento coast in eastern Algarve, may well turn out to be one of his very best.
Located within the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, one of the major advantages of this 36-hole complex is that there are no distracting housing projects to get in the way of enjoying golf in an unspoilt natural setting – and that cannot be said for too many other courses further west along the coastline!
The sister course here is the Quinta da Ria and it lies to the south of the Quinta de Cima, closer to the coast, and is a very good parkland course in its own right with over three hundred transplanted Olive and Carob trees to add character to its landscape.
The Quinta de Cima course has been designed with tournament play in mind and its inbuilt degree of difficulty is designed to attract the more accomplished amateur as well as the professional golfer so its not exactly holiday golf!
A stream runs across the fairways of holes 4 to 6, but it only presents a real problem at the first of these, the 368-yard, par four, 4th where it cuts across right in front of the putting surface. The challenge here really steps up a gear going into the last third of the course where there are three long par fours to be negotiated from holes 13 to 15, followed by three holes where water plays a large part in determining the final mark on your scorecard.
At the par five 16th, a stream runs diagonally across the fairway starting 180 yards from the green and this feeds into a pond to the right of the putting surface, adding pressure to the approach. The tee shot at the par three 17th must carry a pond in front of the putting surface so anything short is dead. Finally, water cuts across the fairway and runs into a pond to the right of the green at the 18th so both the tee shot and second shot have to remain dry before reaching the putting surface – a trio of finishing holes for stout hearted golfers!
Quinta de Cima is a spacious open parkland course that has enough challenges to keep the golfer on his toes throughout. At nearly 6800 yards from the Club tees, strong driving is the main pre-requisite to hit wide and mainly flat fairways, but the greens are well protected by many large bunkers. There is a natural creek which comes into play on several holes and a lake which is an ever-present hazard on holes 16 17 and 18 in what is a tremendous climax to the round.
The course is part of a 36 hole complex built 20 years ago in the Eastern Algarve. It is about a mile inland, and the fairways are bordered by orange groves and ancient carob trees, which means that the Atlantic is not visible from the course. On the day we played, the wind was no more than a gentle breeze.
The round starts quietly but comes to life with two short par fours at holes 3 and 4. Both are gentle right-to-left doglegs, and the approach to the 4th is made more testing by having to cross the creek that flows just in front of the green. I believe the best par five is at 6 where after an uphill drive, there is a big dip in the fairway before a daunting approach to a raised green, seemingly surrounded by bunkers. After this the holes are steady if a bit mundane until the terrific finish.
The par five at 16 is the signature hole with a large lake on the right hand side of the green. The approach shot has to be kept left of the flagstick but mercifully the large waiting bunkers are probably further back than they need to be. For my part, I pushed my 9 iron approach off a downhill lie straight into the watery grave. 17 is a delightful short hole of 175 yards playing across the same lake into a green set into the side of a hill, while 18 requires a long second shot with water all the way down the right.
Course maintenance is good, the greens roll well at an average pace and the numerous well-kept bunkers are filed with plenty of good quality sand. The Algarve has a number of excellent golf courses and Quinta de Cima is pleasant to play with a lovely laid-back feel. But it lacks the wow factor that would get me to rush back.
I struggle to remember the difference between Quinta da Ria and da Cima. They're both nice course, perfect for a round on holiday in buggys. They're both as good as each other, and the condition of both was really good. Better places to play in the area, but if you're after some casual golf then these two courses are a good stop.
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