If you’ve had your fill of top class golf courses in the UK and Ireland and fancy a change of pace, scenery and most importantly, weather, there’s one golfing hotspot that guarantees little driving time, an abundance of sunshine and plenty of tee times on some of Europe’s finest golf courses.
The Algarve has long been one of the most popular golf break destinations in Europe with established classics such as San Lorenzo and Penina attracting budding golfers from far and wide but more recently The European Tour has helped stamp Vilamoura on the golfing map. Oceanico Vilamoura offers golfers visiting Portugal not just one, but seven golfing wonders.
The Portugal Masters is one of a number of tournaments in recent years to make its way onto the European Tour Race to Dubai schedule. Unlike events like the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which has helped to develop the Middle East and Abu Dhabi in particular into a popular golf holiday destination; Portugal’s premier golf tournament has simply reinforced Portugal’s, and specifically Vilamoura’s reputation as one of the premier golfing hotspots in the whole of Europe.
Despite the name Vilamoura translating to ‘Moorish Town’, in terms of history there is very little to see in Vilamoura, and that’s hardly surprising as it has only really existed for about 30 years. So a holiday here will really consist of sun, sea, golf and pure relaxation…perfect for those who can think of nothing better than jetting off for some fun on the fairways.
Located virtually in the middle of the Algarve coast, Vilamoura’s accessibility has helped it also become one of Europe’s largest beach resorts and now it is home to practically every form of sport, entertainment and amenity imaginable.
The town itself is built around the upmarket, 1,200-berth Vilamoura Marina that was built in the 1970s and it’s the marina that is home to smart, chic bars and restaurants, many of which will be within easy walking distance of your accommodation of choice.
But what of the Oceanico golf courses?
Being one of the oldest of Vilamoura’s golfing delights, The Old Course gets its name for obvious regions. Designed by renowned English designer Frank Pennick, the Old is often referred to as the ‘Grand Dame’ of the region, having been inaugurated in 1969.
Oceanico Old Course
Measuring 6,839 yards off the tips and playing to a par 73, the Old Course takes you on a wonderful journey through avenues of large umbrella pines. For the most part the course calls for accuracy over power. Any errant drive or iron shot will leave little chance of advancing to the green in regulation but mercifully, you will almost always be able to find your ball and play back to the safety of the short grass. Right from the outset the Old Course grabs your attention.
Seven years after laying down the Old Course, Pennick was invited back to Portugal to design a second course at Vilamoura. He obliged and in 1976 the Pinhal became was added to the Vilamoura portfolio. A few years later in 1985, Robert Trent Jones Snr made slight revisions to Pennick’s original design and just three years later it hosted the Portuguese Ladies Open which is testament to the quality of a course that is seen by many as an amalgamation of classic American and British design principles.
Oceanico Pinhal Course
An undulating par 72 layout, the Pinhal is a genuine pleasure to play during a golf escape in the popular resort town. Recent minor alterations have seen the maximum length of the course reach a healthy 6,947 yards which should be enough to test long hitters while those with less proficiency off the tee can still enjoy this marvellous course thanks to a number of different tee positions. Keep an eye out for the tough, uphill par 5 13th which will require two or three solid blows to reach the green and secure a safe par.
The Victoria Course is one the youngest in the area having been laid down by the legendary Arnold Palmer in 2004. This majestic layout wasted little time in attracting the attention of golf’s powers that be and since opening has hosted the World Cup, won by Bradley Dredge and Stephen Dodd, and the Portugal Masters since 2007. You may remember Tom Lewis blitzing the last 5 holes to set up his maiden European Tour victory on only his 3rd outing as a professional.
Oceanico Victoria Course
From the championship tees the course measures a whopping 7,229 yards but fear not; you will only have to negotiate a maximum length of 6664 yards. In contrast to the Pinhal and Old Courses, the Victoria features few pines and is therefore exposed to the wind, making it a tricky proposition. Water hazards are also a common feature so good course management is a handy asset. This is arguably the most difficult of the Oceanico courses so higher handicappers may want to steer clear. Having said that the course is open to anyone looking to sample a course that is a regular feature on the European Tour.
Six-time Major winner Sir Nick Faldo’s has used his considerable knowledge of the game of golf to pen a number of the finest golf courses around the world and his effort in Vilamoura is certainly up there with the best in Portugal.
Oceanico Faldo Course
The best British player of the modern era has a distinct design philosophy, as he seeks to present a challenge to every player; however, he achieves this not simply through extreme length, but by demanding that the golfer exercises some strategy and thought.
Set against the backdrop of the Monchique Mountain, the Faldo Course is quite undulating and features only a spattering of water here and there. This is very much a thinking man’s golf course and while the course will reward you for good strategy and solid shots, it will punish those who pay it a lack of respect by going all gung ho.
O’Connor’s Vilamoura creation was opened in 2008, the same year as Faldo’s course, and since then has been recognised as the perfect foil for the undulating, mostly water-free effort from Sir Nick. The great Christy was well aware of the natural Algarve terrain, and deliberately carved his course to take full advantage of indigenous features, particularly the stunning orange groves.
Oceanico O’Connor Course
Off the back tees, the O’Connor Course measures 6,860 yards. This might be considered long when compared to other modern golf courses but length around this layout isn’t necessarily a distinct advantage. Water comes into play on all but three holes so course management and accuracy are of paramount importance.
O’Connor’s par 3s are especially noteworthy with hole four, a 161 yard gem which forces you to hit your tee shot up and over a tree, a pond and a bunker at the front of the green.
The Laguna Course is distinctly different from its neighbours in Vilamoura as it has a distinct links accent throughout. As the name hints, the course is punctuated with water; in fact the network of lakes and streams come into play on no less than 11 holes!
Oceanico Laguna Course
The Laguna was designed by Joseph Lee, an esteemed American golf architect, and was opened in 1990. From the championship tee markers the course reaches 6,706 yards, and is a greatly enjoyable test of golf for every visitor.
The main obstacle apart from the ever-present water is the wind, which can be a nuisance as the location is somewhat exposed, but alternatively a cooling breeze can be extremely welcome, particularly in the steamy summer months!
This is probably the easiest of the seven courses so for higher handicappers and those just starting out in the game it is a real gem.
The Millennium Course, as its name suggests, was opened for play in the year 2000, and has done much to ease the traffic on the resort’s most popular courses. The Millennium is a fantastic course in its own right, measuring 6,718 yards, which cuts through the monumental pine forests that dominate the landscape.
Oceanico Millennium Course
Martin Hawtree, who has recently worked on the exciting Trump International Golf Links, was responsible for creating the layout. Using 9 holes of the old Laguna course, Hawtree created 9 holes from scratch and blended them seamlessly with the existing holes he was presented with. This course strikes the perfect balance of testing talented golfers whilst remaining manageable for the average visitor.
The short 6th is the highlight of the Millennium, where the target will shrink before your eyes as you stare over the imposing water that guards the front of the green. This hole typifies how enjoyable the Millennium is, making it a sure fire hit for your golf holiday in Vilamoura.
Where to stay?
With tourism being an important part of the local economy in Vilamoura, accommodation of every shape and size is available for visiting golfers but there are a few hotels that stand out from the crowd.
The Dom Pedro Golf Hotel has long been a popular destination with golfers, as it is close to a number of courses, and is designed specifically with the interests of golfing enthusiasts in mind. Golfers will benefit from free transfers to the Oceanico Golf Course while away from the fairways guests can make use of impressive facilities that include an outdoor pool with surrounding sun terrace, three tennis courts, a volleyball court, games room and sauna.
The 4* Vila Galé Marina overlooks the stunning marina, which is the focal point of Vilamoura itself, and is also close to the beach and the town’s renowned casino. This hotel also offers free golf transfers and top class restaurants in addition to facilities that include an outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, as well as a Turkish bath, gymnasium and games room.
For 5* luxury head to the Tivoli Marina Hotel. This superb hotel complex is set in the heart of 30,000 sq. metres of landscaped gardens and also has a beach immediately on its doorstep. Perfect for those who enjoy lounging in the sun during their time away from the golf courses. This 5* venue has two outdoor swimming pools, an indoor swimming pool and a health club which features a sauna, jacuzzi, steam room, solarium, Turkish bath and gymnasium. This is the perfect place to unwind after a day on the fairways and for those who need to brush up on their short game there is even a practice putting green.
For those of you who like your days on the fairways to be kissed by the sun, the Algarve really is the place to be and with the wealth of golfing options presented to you by the Oceanico Courses, Vilamoura is right at the heart of this superb golfing hotspot.