Portugal has much more to offer than sun, sea and scenery, as golfing fan PAUL KELLY discovered
Now this probably feels a bit premature - after all, it’s still technically summer but, if you want to get the most out of that winter golf break the experts tell me you better start making plans now.
And believe me when I tell you that’s definitely true about Portugal, because over the last 18 months the country has enjoyed something of a resurgence.
Figures released at the start of 2016 indicate that the Algarve, that part of the Portuguese coastline that boasts 42 courses, clocked up almost 1.2 million rounds in 2015 - a significant rise of seven per cent on the previous best year (2007) and almost eight per cent higher than 2014.
That’s a lot of golf, but it’s not jam-packed, there’s plenty of availability, there’s regular flights too - Aer Lingus operate a daily service from Belfast City Airport to Faro. Just don’t leave it to the last minute.
Most impressively of all, the Algarve is geared towards golf. When I visited with a group of friends earlier in the year I was amazed by the infrastructure and the service. There is an understanding of the needs and requirements of golfers that is simply hard to match.
Most hotels, especially those that are golf partner hotels, operate shuttle services to their courses on a very regular basis; usually around every 40 minutes. Upon arrival at the course, your clubs are lifted from your transport by the club assistants, and either placed onto your awaiting buggy, or stored in a rack pending your round or practice session, with ranges and chipping areas in abundance.
There’s also a wealth of choice available in terms of the style of golf and price. From the links-like layout of the championship San Lorenzo, to the tree-lined 27 hole layout of Pinheiros Altos, every preference and standard is catered for; and with this level of competition comes high standards of service and facilities.
San Lorenzo isn’t a traditional links like say Royal Portrush or Royal County Down, but sitting in the Southeast corner of Quinta do Lago, bordering the Ria Formosa Estuary and salt water lagoon, it certainly has a links feel and is open to the elements.
The course was designed by the American golf architect Joseph Lee and the beautiful Bermuda grass fairways provide perfect playing conditions.
Opened in 1988 the course is owned by JJW Hotels, whose luxurious, recently re-furbished Dona Filipa hotel in the Vale do Lobo was our base for the week.
After a reasonably relaxed opening, the course really comes alive around the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. The par three fifth, is a stunning hole short hole which open up a magnificent vista with the backdrop of golden beaches and the Atlantic Ocean.
San Lorenzo is testing in places, particularly on the closing holes, but overall it’s eminently playable for all standards of golfer.
In contrast, the 27-hole golf facility at Pinheiros Altos, which is barely 10 minutes drive from San Lorenzo winds it’s way through a pine tree forest and is an altogether friendlier prospect.
Each of the nine holes - The Pines (Pinheiros), The Corks (Sobreiros), The Olives (Oliveiras) have a different character but they all feature firm, fast and testing greens.
The Corks course is the longer of the three nine holes at Pinheiros Altos and is regarded as the most demanding but it was the Olives course, with it’s many water features that taxed us more.
The eighth in particular is a par three played to an island green measuring just 134 metres off the medal tee but it proved costly for our fourball.
In recent years I have played golf in both Turkey and Spain but I can honestly say that I was hugely impressed by what Portugal had to offer. With flight times of three hours and sunshine almost guaranteed I’d have no hesitation in returning.
For information on San Lorenzo visit - http://www.sanlorenzogolfcourse.com/
For information on Pinheiros Altos Golf Resort visit - http://www.pinheirosaltos.com/
You don’t even have to bring clubs with you to Portugal. You can even rent your favourite sticks from www.clubstohire.com in the Faro Airport arrivals hall. Most of the leading club brands are available.
We booked through Bryan Somers Travel. Hotel and golf based on October, booked 120 days before, private transfers, four golfers, three nights B&B, at five star Dona Filipa, Classic rooms and two rounds of golf from £290 per person.
For more details visit http://bryansomersgolf.com/
We flew with Aer Lingus, who operate a daily service from Belfast City Airport to Faro, with two flights available on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fares from Belfast including taxes and charges start from £35.99