Golf in the Algarve – Sir Henry Cotton’s legacy
There’s no doubting the strength in depth of golf courses in Portugal’s Algarve region
There can be absolutely no doubt about the quality of the golf courses that are strung out along the sunny southern shores of Portugal in the Algarve region. More than half the entries in our Portuguese Top 40 chart originate from this area and seven of those top tracks are included in our latest Continental European Top 100 listings.
An opportunity arose last week to widen our golfing experience in the Algarve when the European Golf and Travel Media Association extended an invitation to attend the NAU Hotels & Resorts Media Championships 2016. This event was held at Morgado Golf & Country Club, located in the foothills of the Monchique Mountains, and at Salgados Golf Course on the Albufeira coastline.
It was a great chance to find out more about some of the many courses that are laid out on a 150 kilometre stretch from Golf Santo Antonio Resort in the west side of the region to Quinta do Vale in the east. Although we managed to sample only half a dozen of these facilities, it was more than enough to whet the golfing appetite for a return trip in the near future.
Before joining delegates for the official start of the press trip, we thought it was a good idea to see where it all began for golf in the Algarve, at Penina. It’s here that Sir Henry Cotton laid out the region’s very first course exactly fifty years ago so we felt it was rather appropriate to pay our respects and savour the sumptuous surroundings in what is really an arboreal paradise.
Just a short 15-minute drive away, half way between the coastal towns of Portimão and Lagos, the 27-hole complex at Palmares was next on our itinerary. The fairways overlook the Meia Praia beach, with lots of elevation changes to cope with on two of the 9-hole circuits. Frank Pennink designed the original 18-hole layout here forty years ago, with Robert Trent Jones Jnr reconfiguring things in 2010.
And so it was on to the marvellous 4-star Morgado do Reguengo Resort, on the north side of the A22 motorway, where the 98-bed Morgado Golf & Country Club was the base for the next couple of days. It’s a pity our group of journalists visited at the start of February because it was just a bit too early in the year for an apres-golf plunge into one of the four inviting outdoor swimming pools!
Day 1 of the Media Championships was played on the Morgado course, an impressive 18-hole layout consisting of two contrasting nines: the outward half plays out across a valley floor before the inward half rises gently into the hills, where holes are routed over a more undulating landscape. The disparity in topography also applies to the greens, which are more contoured on the back nine.
Day 2 of the Media Event then shifted to the newer Alamos course, another layout from European Golf Design that’s located in hillier terrain to the north of the property. Shorter and tighter than its sibling Morgado course, Alamos is configured in a big anti-clockwise loop, with the next hole only revealed upon arrival, until the course opens out a little over the closing six holes.
Significant infrastructure improvements are being carried out at the moment on this course with new paths being installed, which will obviously benefit golfers playing here from this summer onwards.
Sadly, it was time to leave the peace and tranquillity of the hills above Portimão and head for the brighter lights along the coast at the 5-star Salgados Dunas Suites, close to Albufeira. This modern hotel (one of eleven operated in Portugal by NAU Hotels & Resorts) comprises 155 rooms and suites within six separate buildings and these are attached to nine outdoor swimming pools which are positioned around an enormous palm-fringed garden in front of the beach.
The Salgados course sits a mere 5-minute walk away and it was the venue for Day 3 of the program. It’s set within the enormous Herdade dos Salgados Resort, between the beach and the Natural Wildlife Reserve and you can expect to see all sorts of exotic birdlife during a round here on a pancake-flat landscape that has creeks, ponds or lakes in play at nearly every hole – and if the wind gets up, hold onto your golf hat as there’s no place to hide when it gets a little fresh off the Atlantic!
The official Press Trip over, there was still time the following day to round off the visit with a final game along the coast at Benamor, next to the lovely little coastal town of Tavira. Although the course opened in 2000, it was actually designed by Sir Henry Cotton before he died in 1987. We’ve since spoken to Howard Swan who walked the property with the great man before he passed away and the architect confirmed he was honoured to complete the project after Henry died.
Benamor’s a terrific “second tier” course, a little off the beaten track in the eastern Algarve, but it’s one that its esteemed designer would surely have been pleased to visit if he was still alive to sense the pride that a very vibrant active membership takes in its appearance. There’s certainly a place for each and every one of the thirty-eight courses that lie within the boundaries of the Algarve and they don’t always have to be highly ranked in the charts to provide considerable golfing pleasure.
Little could anybody have imagined half a century ago the way the game of golf would totally transform the Portuguese tourism sector into the multi million euro business that it’s become nowadays and there are many thousands of people in the Algarve who owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneering exploits of the revered three-time Open champion, one Thomas Henry Cotton.
13 February 2016 Respond to this article