Until 1966 when Sir Henry Cotton unveiled his Championship Course at Penina, golf in the Algarve was a virtual non-entity. But fast forward to 2016 and the 50th birthday of golf in this sun-kissed corner of Portugal, and there are more courses that you can poke a stick at, many of which are among the country’s finest, making the Algarve one of Europe’s premier holiday destinations.
Throughout the decades the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Sir Paul McCartney and, more recently, countless top flight footballers including the England National team as a whole have paid regular visits to the Algarve, and as golf has grown in the region, more and more high profile events have been played here too. The Portuguese Open was a European Tour regular between 1973 and 2010 and, more recently, The Portugal Masters has attracted some of the biggest names in golf to Portugal’s fairways, including 2009 winner Lee Westwood.
But the golf courses are the real stars of the show in the Algarve, and with the region’s 50th birthday in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best courses to have been unveiled throughout the decades…
The Algarve original in golfing terms, Sir Henry Cotton’s Penina Championship Course has paved the way for those who have followed since its unveiling in 1966.
Situated in a secluded 360-acre estate between Portimao and Lagos, Penina almost resembles a classic Surrey course that has been airlifted to the sunnier climes of the Algarve, offering something out of the norm and still very much a relevant test to golfers visiting the region 50 years after its inception.
Quinta do Lago might’ve been a bit ahead of its time when it arrived on the Algarve scene in the early 70s but since then it has grown, gone from strength to strength and has become a long time Algarve favourite among travelling golfers.
In 1972 27 holes were built, and the bar was raised by architect William Mitchell, who by imported American standard greens, tees and bunkers to great effect. Umbrella pines line the fairways, and with dramatic bunkering and the occasional water hazard, Quinta do Lago offers very much the quintessential golf experience.
After the arrivals of courses like Penina, Quinta do Lago and the Oceanico Old Course, golf tourism in the Algarve was well and truly up and running and when the amazing San Lorenzo joined the party in the late 80s, it lead to a 2nd wave a courses being built in the region.
Since its arrival in the Algarve, San Lorenzo has consistently been ranked among Portugal’s best layouts. Located in the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, this spectacular course boasts an enviable setting and takes the golfer on a journey where they encounter holes which wind their way through umbrella pines, in and around picturesque lakes and private villas, and even down towards the coastline and the waters of the Ria Formosa.
Following on from Penina, Henry Cotton extended his reach into the Algarve by building the Ocean Course at Vale do Lobo, but perhaps more significantly, the Royal Course was built at the resort in 1997.
While it’s hard to choose between the two courses, there is little doubt as to which boasts the resort’s signature hole. The par 3 16th on the Royal Course is known to many as “Europe’s Most Photographed Hole” and it’s easy to see why. From the back tees, the 16th measures over 230 yards and it’s all carry, with rocky outcrops and cliffs that lunge towards a picture perfect sandy beach lining the entire left hand side of the hole.
If you’ve ever browsed for golf holidays in Portugal, it’s likely you’ll have seen this amazing piece of golf course architecture.
A spattering of courses were opened in the Algarve after the turn of the millennium, with the likes of Oceanico Millennium, Benamor and Castro Marim all opening for play, but it was the Oceanico Victoria course which was the most notable arrival during this time.
None other than Arnold Palmer designed the course and, as you may expect, it’s reminiscent of the stadium courses in the USA…it’s a bit of a brute too when played off the back tees! Built with tournament play in mind, the Victoria has hosted the European Tour’s Portugal Masters since its inception in 2007.
If you fancy a real test of golf during your time in the Algarve, follow in the footsteps of Alvaro Shane Lowry, Andy Sullivan and Lee Westwood and have a crack at Oceanico Victoria.
While the Algarve had already become a hotbed for travelling golfers by the time the 2010s had come around, that doesn’t mean it was resting on its laurels.
One of the region’s most loved courses, the Quinta do Lago North Course, benefitted from a €9.6million investment which was carried out by Beau Welling and 2014 Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley. Improvements included the rebuilding of all the greens, tees, bunkers & cart paths, and advancements were also made to the irrigation and drainage systems too, ensuring supreme course conditioning throughout the year.