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The Algarve – still Europe’s #1 for resort golf

19 January, 2022
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The Algarve – still Europe’s #1 for resort golf

It doesn’t seem like six years since we were in the Algarve to celebrate 50 years of golf in the region, publishing a news item entitled Golf in the Algarve – Sir Henry Cotton’s Legacy. In that article, we mentioned how the Championship course at Penina Hotel & Golf Resort really kick started a golf explosion that endures right up until the present time – evidenced by the fact that in only a few short months the very latest Algarve residential golf project will be unveiled at the new Ombria resort near Loulé.

PENINA


A number of alternative European resort destinations – such as the Canary Islands, the Spanish Costas and Turkey – have emerged since the mid-1960s and each location now enjoys repeat business from large groups of dedicated golfers who return regularly to revel in playing golf with the sun on their backs. The Algarve, which led the way more than half a century ago, still holds its own against all its competitors and with continued investment both on and off the golf courses, the south of Portugal is still as sought-after as it ever was.

Of course, covid-19 wreaked havoc with the golf industry over the last two years and government restrictions resulted in many would-be travellers remaining at home. However, it didn’t stop us from making a trip at the end of November with the European Golf and Travel Media Association to attend the annual congress of the Confederation of Professional Golf which was held this year, rather appropriately, back at Penina. This allowed us to reacquaint ourselves with an old favourite before running the rule over quite a few other resorts in the region.

One of the leading golf magazines recently published a Top 100 European resorts listing and no fewer than ten of these chart positions were taken by Algarve golfing destinations so that gives a good indication of the quality in the southwest corner of the Iberian peninsula. In particular, the affluent “Golden Triangle” area – situated between Quinta do Lago, Vilamoura and Almancil – is home to more than a dozen top class 18-hole layouts, most of which we managed to visit during our recent week-long excursion and an earlier trip back in September.

QUINTA DO LAGO

Some would argue that Quinta do Lago sets the standard for all the others to emulate in the Algarve. It’s not that long since a multi-million-euro renovation was carried out on the North course and a similar large investment was made to upgrade the South course after it was closed down for much of last year due to covid. Both courses share the same chic new clubhouse and, for those looking at convenient stay and play possibilities, the recently opened 74-bedroom Magnolia hotel is only a quick 5-minute drive away.

The Laranjal course lies 5.5 kilometres to the northeast of the main clubhouse and if you want to fine tune your game before playing then the practice facilities are absolutely top drawer here. Quinta do Lago has also just introduced a new sports hub, called The Campus, where a variety of health and fitness options are available – including a state-of-the-art gymnasium, tennis courts, swimming pool and large playing field – along with other health, fitness and wellness offerings.

VILAMOURA


Acquired from the Oceânico Group in 2016, the five golf courses now operated by Dom Pedro Hotels & Golf Collection are served by three 4-star hotel properties – the Vilamoura, Marina and Portobello – which collectively supply more than 600 rooms for the visiting golfers who are shuttled to and from the various clubhouses on a daily basis.

Dom Pedro markets the Arnold Palmer-designed Victoria (host venue for the Portugal Masters since 2007) as its flagship layout but the original Old course, dating back to the late 1960s, still remains a firm favourite for many. It may be stuck in something of a time warp (on and off the course) but there’s a certain aura to the place that makes it so appealing to golfers who appreciate classic golf course design.

The Pinhal is another older layout with a similar feel to the Old, due to the large number of umbrella pine trees that line the fairways, and it’s complemented by a newly updated practice area, studio and fitting centre which are real assets to the resort. The Millennium and Laguna layouts share the same clubhouse, with the latter closed at the moment due to a major refurbishment that won’t be finished until later this year.

SAN LORENZO


JJW Hotels & Resorts, owners of Penina, also manage another two golf facilities to the east side of Quinta do Lago at the 18-hole San Lorenzo Golf Course and the 27-hole Pinheiros Altos Golf, Spa and Hotels complex. Golfers looking for accommodation can stay either at the hotel group’s 5-star Dona Filipe Hotel or the 4-star Formosa Park Apartment Hotel on the west side of Quinta do Lago and there are plans to construct 144 suites and 38 luxury apartments at the new Royal Algarve Hotel & Spa.

Designed by American Joe Lee in the late 1980s, the San Lorenzo course has been well regarded in the industry for a long time now (it’s currently #9 in Portugal and #49 in Continental Europe) and we were not disappointed with what we found here (apart from maybe the controversial finishing hole) but the Pinheiros Alton course really surprised us with the quality of the newest nine (the Corks, designed by George Santa da Silva) which blends in wonderfully with Ron Fream’s original Pines nine.

VALE DO LOBO


Vale do Lobo is the last of the “Golden Triangle” resorts to be included in this review. One of the earliest tourist developments envisaged for the Algarve in the late 1960s, it initially featured an 18-hole course designed by Henry Cotton but this was reconfigured in the late 1990s by Rocky Roquemore who added extra holes to fashion two new layouts, the Royal and the Ocean.

The former course is largely hemmed in by elements of intense real estate, with the latter occupying more open ground to the west of the property. The two courses each boast spectacular coastal holes; on the cliff tops at holes 15 and 16 on the Royal then alongside the beach at holes 14 and 15 on the Ocean course. A composite course was utilised when the Open de Portugal was played here two years running at the start of the new millennium, employing 13 holes from the Royal and 5 from the Ocean.

AMENDOEIRA


Further west, towards Portimão, the Amendoeira Golf Resort at Alcantarilha is another former Oceânico development that was acquired by Spanish company Kronos Homes in 2018. The firm also invested at Palmares (see below) and a decision was made to immediately update the clubhouse infrastructure at each location as a starting point in rejuvenating the golf operations.

The two 18-hole courses at Amendoeira, the Faldo and O’Connor, are as different to one another as you could ever imagine at a 36-hole club; the Faldo occupying quite hilly terrain with the O’Conner laid out on a flatter landscape with more water in play – and they’re complemented by a floodlit 9-hole par three Academy course which is totally unique to golf in Portugal.

The gymnasium has also just been significantly ­upgraded to complete an already impressive list of sporting amenities that includes two large pools, six Savannah tennis courts, a FIFA-standard five-a-side Astroturf football pitch, and a 90m x 120m natural grass field of 90m x 120m which has been used for warm weather training camps by the likes of Ajax ­Amsterdam.

PESTANA


The Pestana Group manages nearly a hundred hotels and various residential units across fifteen countries so it’s a big player in the Portuguese tourism and leisure sector. It has six courses in its portfolio: one near Lisbon, Vila Sol beside the Pinhal course in Vilamoura, and four situated close to Portimão at Vale da Pinta, Gramacho, Silves and Alto (which was one of the last courses designed by Henry Cotton).

Apart from the accommodation options available on site at each of these resorts, there are also a dozen other Pestana hotels and aparthotels (mainly around the small seaside resort of Alvor) within easy reach of Portimão’s quadruple course grouping. For golfers who are on more of a tighter budget, all of these Pestana courses provide excellent value for money.

PALMARES


For those who might prefer a slightly quieter location, away from the more mainstream hustle and bustle, there are a couple of high-class outliers at either end of the Algarve.

Positioned between the Bay of Lagos and the Alvor Estuary, Palmares Ocean Living and Golf has recently unveiled an enormous new clubhouse, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects RCR Arquitectes. The Palmares Beach House between the 27th hole green and the driving range offers 20 rooms overlooking the golf course and owners Kronos Homes have plans to build another 5-star hotel close to the clubhouse.

The original Frank Pennink-designed course at Palmares was totally revamped by Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 2010 and it’s well worth setting aside a full day to sample all 27 holes at this classy resort.

MONTE REI


An hour’s drive to the east of Faro airport, close to the Spanish border, lies the residential community at Montei Rei Golf & Country Club, where a fabulous Jack Nicklaus Signature design course has been in play since 2007. A luxury hotel and spa are planned for this development, along with another 18-hole layout. Monte Rei has been our national #1 for a while now.

So there you have it, a brief overview of the top resorts in the Algarve, where a warm welcome, outstanding accommodation and excellent off-course amenities are guaranteed. And with 300+ days of sunshine annually, the climate’s perfect for golf at a popular destination which is still the #1 choice for hundreds of thousands of visiting golfers in the 2020s.

Jim McCann

Editor

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