The Algarve, a mere two to three hours flight from most European capitals, has been a magnet to many discerning golfers for almost three decades. Portugal's southernmost province is justly famous for its spectacular scenery along a fabulous coastline. Add to this 24 beautifully tended golf courses, a friendly climate, a cosmopolitan culture and wholesome regional cooking, all in a compact area steeped in history, and you have the ultimate in year-round golfing destinations.
Portugal's golf history is one of the oldest on mainland Europe-providing, of course, one disregards the ancient origins of such games as kolven which the Dutch indulged in, and the rudimentary sport of paganica which the Romans played with enthusiasm. Golf in Portugal completed its centenary in 1990.
The first course in the Algarve was a small, rudimentary layout built in the 1920`s between Portimão and the nearby beach of Praia da Rocha. Because of a lack of freshwater, its 'greens' were 'browns' and consisted of a mixture of sand and oil. A few hardy addicts played on this course for a little more than a decade before it became extinct. It was the legendary Henry Cotton who put the Algarve on the golf map. In the mid-sixties at Penina he designed the first proper grass course. It was the first of three he designed in the Algarve, a place he loved and made his home for almost 30 years.
During the 1970`s the 1980`s and on into the first half of the 1990`s, golf courses mushroomed all along Portugal`s south coast as it became increasingly attractive to holidaymakers from northern Europe. Strangely enough, all the existing courses lie west of the regional capital, Faro, although a few projects have been mooted for the eastern Algarve between Faro and the Spanish border.
None of the existing courses is more than 15 km from the coast. Yet the terrain varies from the steep hillsides of Parque da Floresta to the near sea-level flatlands of Vilamoura III and the recently opened course at Salgados which, in common with Palmares, includes links holes. The terrain typical of most courses, however, gently undulates through copses of attractive umbrella pines.
The mainly arid Algarve countryside familiar to summer visitors gives way to verdant oasis at each of the golf complexes thanks to large, state-funded water catchment and distribution schemes, as well as private boreholes which tap into subterranean water sources for irrigation. Holes made tricky by water hazards are, therefore, not an infrequent feature on Algarve courses.
So many courses have been opened in the Algarve during the past few years that golfers, even if they know the region fairly well, may not be acquainted with all of them. Hopefully, this guide will be of practical help to those who want to bring themselves up-to-date with the latest developments in the Algarve golfing scene.
Golf is an all-year-round sport in the Algarve, though the main season is from late autumn to late spring. Winters are mild and golfers from northern European countries can enjoy warm, sunny days and keep their swings smooth at a time when their home courses are unplayable. Be warned, however, that despite southern Portugal's appealing sunshine statistics, rain does fall from time to time and nearly all of it during the main golfing season. By visiting during the main golf season you avoid the crowded roads and added accommodation costs that come with the summer tourist trade.
On the other hand, during the summer months all of the courses are under-utilised, so more leisurely, relaxing rounds can be enjoyed.
Many of the courses offer multiple green fee tickets at varying discounts for limited periods. During the warmer months, take advantage of the reduced green fees available at several courses for midday and/or evening teeing off times.
The local regional golf association, Algarve Golfe, has introduced a 'passport' which can be purchased at several golf clubs offering reduced green fees at selected courses. Courses participating in the scheme are: Quinta do Lago, Pinheiros Altos, Vale do Lobo, Vilamoura, Vila Sol, Pine Cliffs, Alto Golf, Penina and Palmares. The reception offices at these courses will be happy to supply full information upon request.
Visiting golfers will also find that they are welcome to play at a reasonable cost in most of the many local tournaments. It is well worth finding out about upcoming tournaments from the various clubs before or as soon as you arrive.
Although golf is easily the main sport played in the Algarve by visitors and residents alike, plenty of other sports activities can be enjoyed throughout the year. They include tennis, squash, horse-riding, clay-pigeon shooting, micro-light flying and the whole gamut of water sports from surfing to scuba-diving.
Not all the best or the most popular restaurants and bars frequented by summer visitors remain open throughout the October to April golf season, but there is always a good choice of eating and drinking establishments which do not close.
In general, you will find that the Algarve, with its mild climate, reasonably priced restaurants, breathtaking scenery, friendly people and excellent golf courses, all combine to make it a memorable holiday.