The Pinhal is one of the older courses at the sprawling Vilamoura golf complex, opening as a Frank Pennink-designed layout in the mid-1970s. A decade later, Robert Trent Jones was called in to revamp the Pinhal so it’s one of a select few European courses to bear the stamp of the American master golf architect.
Holes are draped over a rolling landscape with many of the fairways lined by canopies of umbrella and Atlantic pines. Consequently, some of the holes can feel a little tight in places as the playing corridors have narrowed over time. Water hazards, in the shape of a stream and some small ponds, come into play at a handful of holes but they never threaten to dominate proceedings.
There’s a demanding start to the round at Pinhal with a couple of lusty par fours and a pair of long par fives to tackle in the first four holes. The par three 8th is also a tough nut, played across water to a two-tiered green protected by four bunkers.
On the back nine, the short par four 11th doglegs 90 degrees to the left, followed by two par threes at 12 and 14 that play either side of a testing, uphill par five where both the drive and second shot are blind.
The Pinhal course was the first of three Dom Pedro tracks I played at Vilamoura last month. On arrival, you can’t help but be impressed by the huge practice area, studio and fitting centre next to the clubhouse. If you’re here to get your game sorted out, rather than just playing the course like me, then this is the place to do that under the guidance of David Moura, the Director of the Dom Pedro Golf Academy and long-time FPG coach.
Knowing the architectural pedigree of the course, I came expecting to find a well-built layout and that’s exactly what the PInhal is, designed as two returning nines within a large residential development – it’s also the first time I’ve ever played a course with (albeit discretely positioned) housing down the left hand side of every single fairway, though the playing corridors on the course are wide and the numerous pine trees bordering the fairways largely mask the outside world.
The par five 1st is one of the best holes on the course, playing slightly downhill to a raised green and this opening hole sets the standard for what’s to follow. It’s high-quality parkland golf from start to finish, with plenty of interesting elevation changes, the occasional splash of water, and twists and turns along the way. After crossing a road, the next half a dozen holes are laid out within a couple of little self-contained compartments.
The slightly left doglegging par four 4th is probably the best of these holes, edging gently downhill past a lovely pond which also sits to the right of the green on the following par three 5th hole. The next short hole, the 147-metre 8th is a great one-shotter, played from an elevated tee over a pond to an angled green that slopes down from left to right – it was one of many good par threes I played in 54 holes at Vilamoura.
The back nine gets off to a good start at the strong par four 10th, with a blind tee shot leading to a downhill fairway that narrows as it reaches the green. The following three holes didn’t do much for me: a severely left doglegging par four, a rather vanilla par three then a par five marked in my notes as “an uphill slog.” Thankfully, the par three 14th revived my spirits, played to a raised green with a couple of large, imposing trees guarding the entrance.
The 15th’s a terrific short par four with a little stream slashing diagonally across the fairway 50 metres short of the green so driver is not always the best option to hit off the tee. The 17th was probably my least favourite hole on the layout, swinging sharply right with a reverse camber, but negative thoughts about this one were quickly dispelled at the last, which plays downhill to an offset raised green that’s well protected by sand on either flank.
I stayed at the Dom Pedro Marina hotel, one of three 4-star hotels operated by the company and an ideal base for golfing at Vilamoura, offering a very convenient free shuttle service that links the courses with the comfortable accommodation. I didn’t get to play the Millennium course which had just reopened after covid closure and the Laguna course is shut for a major refurbishment which is not due to finish until next summer. Still, it’s always good to know there’s something to return to another day maybe…
Much like the Old course, Pinhal is nice but nothing special. Theres are some good holes (8, 10, 11, 14 and 15), but for the most part is average and forgetful holes throughout. Like most Algarve courses, the treelined fairways become repetitive and make it hard to remember half of the holes.
The condition is good though, but you're better off travelling to Palmares and playing 27 holes there.
There are five courses in the Dom Pedro Golf offering at Vilamoura (Old Course, Pinhal, Laguna, Millennium and Victoria). Pinhal was designed by Frank Pennick and opened in 1976 and refined by RTJ Sr in 1985. We played Pinhal in March 2018. It starts with one of best holes on the course, a straight par five with a relatively open and inviting tee shot and approach down a valley and back up to an elevated green with the signature Atlantic pines all around, which are a feature of the entire course. The par four 2nd and par five 3rd holes weave through the pines with flat and twisting fairways reminiscent of Harbour Town in that the threat of being blocked out is real if the fairway is missed in the wrong place.
The 4th and 5th are in a little pocket of undulating land across a quaint residential area and are two good holes, the 4th in particular - a downhill dogleg left par four with a pond short right of green, potentially also in play off the tee if downwind, but if into the wind a precise tee shot is required to find the right position on the fairway. The 5th is a slightly downhill par three with three bunkers around the green. After heading back across the road for the 6th and 7th, the 8th is one of the signature par threes of the Algarve, over a pond and bunker to a large diagonal green. The 9th is an undulating par four with a bunker cutting in on right side of the fairway forcing you left and three dangerous bunkers at the green.
The 10th and 11th are par fours that dogleg in opposing directions, the 10th a great hole with a blind tee shot up over a hill, which if on the right line will leave just a flick back down the hill to the green, although the approach is not easy as the green is elevated and very narrow, therefore missing it in a bunker or on the slopes around will leave a difficult up and down. The 11th is a very sharp dogleg left with a pot bunker at the corner and a runout to trees in reach on the far side, so the tee shot needs to be well placed for a short iron to the green. The 12th is a solid par three with bunkers all around and a steep drop off to the right that must be avoided.
The great start to Pinhal's back nine is enhanced further by the next three holes. The 13th is a tough uphill par five that evokes the 8th at Augusta owing to its demanding tee shot into the upslope and second shot played blind up and over the hill before flattening out in the approach to the green. Whilst the 14th is the shortest of the par threes, two tall trees in front of the slightly elevated green provide a bit of intimidation. The par four 15th is not unlike the 4th in that it is a downhill tee shot tightly framed by the pines that does not necessarily ask of the driver, in this case a creek cuts across the fairway and a tree short of the green forces a tee shot laid back to avoid being too close it to complicate the approach shot. By this point you should be sold on the quality of Pinhal and the variety of its holes and shotmaking required.
The 17th was the only hole that I would have any element of complaint with. As a par five it is quite inventive use of a tight space of land, doglegging sharply to the right around the 11th, which is out of bounds to prevent anyone taking a short route to the green, but you are forced to leave driver in the bag unless you want to risk cutting the corner and not finishing up O.B. or in the pines. From the fairway it is a solid hole, not too narrow but with plenty of bunker trouble around the green. The 18th is a great finishing hole, a par four curving to the left up and over the same hill that features on the 10th. The approach sweeps downhill to an elevated green complex that is well guarded by small traps.
Overall a great mix of opposites, the challenging and inviting, flat and undulating, short and long, left and right, with the Atlantic pines cheering you on the whole way around.
Pick of the holes: Par 3 - 8th; Par 4s - 4th, 18th; Par 5 - 1st.
Another average Vilamoura course - perfectly fine for Societies, but not a destination to "tick off".
This is not a "big" course, it doesn't have the panoramas or huge sense of scale you get with most modern resort courses. Instead, Pinhal feels compact, with its tight fairways lined with pines... the clue is in the title.
Although some of the playing corridors feel very narrow, almost claustrophobic at times, the ground beneath the trees is clear, which gives you the opportunity to play a recovery shot from the pine needles (or pine straw if you're from Augusta). In fact, it’s probably worth practising low punch shots and shaping the ball when warming up on the excellent range.
Pinhal isn’t penal, but with ponds, streams, trees and decent length it’s no pushover. I found it attractive and enjoyable.
My wife and I played this course in Oct 2019, having paid just over €110 each (buggy is extra €45), it was not the first time we had played Pinhal, indeed we have played it on numerous prior occasions.
We were both very disappointed in the quality of the greens, bunkers and surrounding areas. It is clear they get many golfers here but few seem to repair pitch marks, and the greens staff clearly have done little to remedy them leaving greens unsightly and very bobbly. Grass around bunkers had not been cut for weeks by their appearance meaning an errant shot did not roll into the bunker but got got lodged in the grass but being so long, playing out if it was almost impossible to play out from.
Clearly the course is trying to save money, charging a high price to play and cutting back on maintenance.
This is a great shame, the course layout is fairly good, most fairways lined by pines but if you miss the fairway you may lose a shot but not your ball. Some holes cause you to think, due to the odd steeam or dogleg, making it a strategic course not just hit and hope. The range is long and wide, though it could do with a better pitching area. Staff are friendly and pleasant such a shame most of this is lost in the greens poor maintenance.
I really liked Pinhal. It's not built on the same scale as many of the newer courses on the Algarve, but it feels more natural (or maybe traditional). It's an easy walk and playable for all standards. There is more room off the tee than the tree-lined would have you believe. A number of memorable holes and good value too.