The Portuguese island of Madeira is known as the “pearl of the north Atlantic” and it’s a floating tropical island garden that is warmed by the Gulf Stream making it a popular short holiday destination. A chain of mountains, reaching up to some 4,000 feet, make a strong backbone for the island and Santo da Serra Golf Club is located in these foothills in the southeast of the island.
Madeiran golf started at Santo da Serra in the 1930s on a rudimentary nine-hole layout. But the course we play today – or rather courses we play today – were fashioned by the famous American architect Robert Trent Jones. In 1991, the Machico and Desertas nines opened for play and seven years later, in 1998, a third loop called Serras completed the Santo da Serra project.
There is no doubt in our minds that the best combination is the original course – Machico and Desertas – but 27 holes is a nice number to tackle for a day’s golf and the shorter Serras loop is certainly a good warm-up prior to playing the Machico and Desertas course, which is the venue for the Madeira Island Open.
Pray for a clear day when you play Santo da Serra. Perched at some 1,000 feet above sea level, the course can literally have its head in the clouds. On a clear day the dramatic views across the bay of Machico are simply glorious.
The Machico is perhaps our favourite and this loop is not only challenging but unforgettable. With four tees to choose from, there’s one for all abilities, so you can choose to relax or take the 6,200-metre challenge which is normally reserved for the pros.
Santo da Serra combines a stroll through a botanical garden with a mountain adventure. Throw in a series of truly dramatic golf holes and you have one of the best holiday golf venues in Europe.
A very typical Trent Jones design with lots of elevation ups and downs, big, well positioned bunkers and deceptively generous fairways. As most people will do we played Machicos and Desertas 9s, as these offer the best views. However we had the atmospheric cloud cover drifting in and out so they weren’t always visible.
Course layout is good, nice variety and some interesting challenges and decisions to be made. The 3rd on Machicos is particularly fun with a real risk-reward decision on your 2nd shot. A couple of holes look as though they are really very tight, but as with many TJ courses the landing areas are actually quite generous. As with everything in Madeira the course is perched on the side of a hill. This leads to some pretty steep climbs, particularly at the end of the 9s. Club up! I carried my clubs, which is a brave choice. If your fitness isn’t great a buggy is definitely a good option. We played in July and there was a promotion of a round for 2 with buggy for €115 - a good deal for this standard of course.
Course condition was generally good, although the fairways and tee boxes needed a cut (loses half a point for me). It’s definitely much more lush and green than the other course on the island, Palheira, not doubt down to the elevation. Green are large with decent undulations, without being silly. They were running reasonably slowly but very true. Bunkers were very well filled with nice fine sand.
Overall a really enjoyable holiday course. Fun with some good challenges, but not stupidly hard. If you want a real challenge play off the back tees. This really extends the length and makes tee shots much more challenging. I play of 11 and went off the yellows which were absolutely fine. Red tees get a decent advantage and also provide some good bail out options.
Even if the course offers some picturesque holes and benefits from a spectacular location, Santo Da Serra is just a good golf course.
The general conditions of the course are ok and i can not say the round offered me any great souvenir. I would recommand to play Palheiro better than this one !
Played the Machico and Desertas loops and I thoroughly enjoyed the championship Santo da Serra layout. Unfortunately I couldn’t see much of the first few holes due to low cloud but when the cloud burnt off it was truly magnificent. A proverbial walk in a tropical cloud garden is how I would describe this place. There is a stunning par three that plays across the corner of a seemingly bottomless ravine which is a complete cracker. Would like to go back and play the first three or four holes on a clear day!