Since 1966 when Sir Henry Cotton laid down his amazing Penina Championship Course, the Algarve in Portugal has become synonymous with golf thanks to the fact that it now boasts countless top class courses, luxury resorts & hotels, as well as a number of tourist hotspots that perfectly combine Portuguese culture with a few comforts of home, making them ideal for an evening meal or a night of revelry out on the town after a long day’s golf.
While the party atmosphere isn’t for everyone, the Algarve enjoys an undeniably beautiful setting so with breathtaking cliffs, golden sandy beaches and secluded bays with waves lapping at the shore, there is plenty of exploring to do during your time away from the golf course. Away from the luxurious resorts where you’ll be based on your golf holidays, you can also explore peaceful castle towns, flower-covered hillsides and amazing stretches of shoreline.
With an enviable climate – generally you can enjoy warm, t-shirt friendly weather here all year round – as well as a relatively short journey from the UK where flights from London to Faro will see you go gate to gate, touching down and disembarking in the Algarve in less than three hours, getting here is easier than you might think.
Faro, well serviced from most major airports, is the starting point for your Algarve golf holiday, and it’s within an hour of almost all the most attractive destinations, adding a lovely slice of convenience to a golf holiday here. Effectively, you could leave home in the morning and be on the 1st tee of your golf course of choice by lunch time that same day. Thinking about it, I’ve taken longer to travel to play golf within the UK…it really is that easy!
Now…the Algarve might not be the largest land mass when it comes to…well land masses – you can drive from the Atlantic coastline to the border of Spain in just less than two hours – but when it comes to choosing where to head on your next Algarve Golf Holiday, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming to the uninitiated.
So let us break it down for you. There are three regions within the Algarve, the East, Central and West regions. Each is home to a number of excellent golf courses, resorts and hotels, not to mention attractions that you may wish to explore when you’re not playing golf. To make the decision making process when to comes to where exactly to head in the Algarve a little easier for you, here’s a snapshot of each region, including golf courses to keep an eye out for, and what else there is to do and see…
Central Algarve is where the bulk of the golfing action is centred.
The Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo Resorts are among the best in Europe and offer three and two glorious golf courses respectively. Quinta do Lago’s South, North and Laranjal Courses are picturesque and challenging, yet they will not overawe the high handicapped golfer.
Vale do Lobo takes the golfer from lush parkland surrounds out towards the beach and, on the world famous 16th on the Royal Course, along the cliff’s edge for a truly exhilarating golfing experience.
Pestana Vila Sol offers a very traditional Algarve golf experience, with umbrella pines lining each fairway and small greens which are well protected by bunkers and the odd water hazard. For something a little out of the ordinary, head to Salgados which lies further to the west. Be sure to pack plenty of golf balls as well as with water in play on almost every hole, this is a real test of accurate hitting and shrewd course management.
The most loved course in this region though is San Lorenzo. One of the highest ranked courses in all of Portugal, San Lorenzo really does fit into the world-class bracket, owing much to its stunning setting alongside the Atlantic, on sandy undulating terrain with fairways bordered by umbrella pines and the marshland bird sanctuary of the Ria Formosa. Of all of the courses in Central Algarve that fit into the category of “must play”, this is perhaps the best.
Dom Pedro took over many of The Oceanico group’s courses and are in better shape than ever. Each course has its own unique appeal subject to your golfing tastes and abilities. Whether it’s the tree-lined Millenium and Pinhal courses, the water dominated Laguna course or the spectacular Victoria course, host of the European Tour’s Portugal Masters, you’re sure to find a golf course that suits your eye in and around Vilamoura. In fact one course in particular from the Dom Pedro’s portfolio, the Old Course, is one of the most loved layouts in the region and the Amendoeira Resort is home to two courses designed by European Tour and Ryder Cup legends, Nick Faldo and Christy O’Connor Jnr.
Away from the course, the action centres around Vilamoura. This delightful harbour town has been transformed over the years into a comprehensive golf complex and many of our recommended hotels are at the edge of the marina, which is the perfect place to head out in the evening, whether it’s for a relaxing meal by the water, or for a night out making your way through the many bars and Irish pubs.
During your down time off the course, the options are endless in and around Vilamoura. Take a boat trip and pay the local dolphins a visit or try your hand at deep sea fishing, water sports or go-karting. With plenty of excellent water parks in the area, those travelling with youngsters in tow will be glad to have somewhere to let them blow off steam.
In the west there are slightly fewer courses than in central Algarve, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of choice. In fact, some of the Algarve’s best golf courses, both new and old, lie in the lands surrounding the vibrant towns of Portimao and Lagos.
The original Algarve golf course, Sir Henry Cotton’s Championship Course at Penina, has stood the test of time and since 1966, has been thrilling all who travel to Portugal to play it, as well as local golfers. While Penina has remained largely unchanged over the years, the likes of Palmares, which was originally laid down in 1975, received a shot in the arm in the form of a large investment and Robert Trent Jones Jnr course update, which has transformed it into one of the best courses in the country.
Palmares now offers a golfing experience that’s a little different to the norm in the Algarve. The three loops of nine, named Lagos, Alvor and Praia, offer wondrous variety through a combination of traditional parkland golf and a more links-like experience on the holes closer to the coast. The stunning views on offer from vantage points on the course, of which there are many, are simply a bonus.
Just 20 minutes from the heart of Portimao, you’ll find Morgado Golf & Country Club and Alamos Golf Club, both of which offer secluded and thrilling tests of golf. With plenty of room off the tee, long hitters will enjoy opening their shoulders with the driver while the challenges posed on and around the greens will appeal to those with a tidy short game.
Boavista, which lies just a few miles West of Lagos, offers yet another excellent golf experience that stands out from the norm in the Algarve. Those who walk off the par 3 6th with a par on the card can feel rightly proud and while it’s difficult to pinpoint a signature hole at Boavista, the stunning par 4 7th, which boasts views out over the Atlantic Ocean and down the coast towards Praia da Luz and round to the hills at Monchique, is surely a contender.
Lagos, with its cobbled streets, young crowd and abundant nightlife, is the carnival queen of the Algarve and like Portimão, it offers an excellent night out on the town, whether you’re looking to party long into the night or just enjoy a leisurely evening meal. Portimao and Lagos also both boast some stunning beaches and out to the extreme West, charming towns like Sagres and Carrapateira are excellent surf spots.
The hills of Barrocal play host to Benamor’s superb golf course, from which you can enjoy some of the most spectacular mountain views along the Algarve. Officially opened in 2000, this gem is based on an original design by Sir Henry Cotton and certainly worth a visit.
Castro Marim, home to three excellent nine hole loops, also offers an excellent golfing experience. Whether on the Atlantic, Guadiana or Grouse course; during a single round you will experience views of the sea, river and mountains, underlining how special the course’s surroundings are.
But the one to defintiely ensure you have on your to-play list absolutely has to Monte Rei, currently ranked as the number 1 course in Portugal. This fabulous track was designed by Jack Nicklaus and measures 7200 yards from the back tees, making it a true championship test. The experience here is first class and topped off by stunning views each way you look.
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Situated in the picturesque coastal town of Tavira, a hot spot for water sport enthusiasts, the aforementioned Vila Gale Tavira is a superb 4* hotel and an ideal base for anyone heading East. Heavily influenced by the style and character of the North African architecture evident across the sea to the South, the hotel boasts well equipped guestrooms and excellent leisure facilities including the Spa, whose facilities include a heated indoor pool, Turkish bath, jacuzzi and fully equipped gym.
In and around Tavira itself, there is plenty to do and see. Take a boat ride to Tavira Island – part of the famous Ria Formosa Nature Reserve – to enjoy some of the best beachfronts in the Algarve or visit Tavira Castle to brush up on the history of the local area. Foodies should head to Patio, arguably Tavira’s best restaurant, where the signature dish is octopus and bean stew.
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