The Algarve is Portugal’s Costa del Sol. The signs on the highway between Malaga and Gibraltar in Spain hail the area as the ‘Costa del Golf’. That’s on the Mediterranean, of course, but on Portugal’s Southern Atlantic coast golf is also a huge deal. I’d bet that no airport in Europe sees more sets of golf clubs than Malaga or Faro. The Algarve is indeed wall-to-wall golf if that’s what you want. In fact, at times while playing at Vale do Lobo, sometimes it feels like the fairways can hardly fit between the wall-to-wall villas.
I have just spent some time in the region and stayed at the Quinta do Lago resort, the closest to the international airport at Faro. One can venture a little further afield and enjoy golf at Vilamoura, one of its courses being a destination on the European Tour, and/or head still further west and explore the delightful myriad offerings towards Lagos, but this is what I found this time around.
There are three courses at Quinta – the North, the South and Laranjal. The latter is a new layout, added a few years ago, played over open, tumbling terrain and – like its neighbours – invariably in good condition. It has five par-fives and five par-threes, so not the commonplace mix of ten fours and four apiece of the others.
The older courses at the resort used to consist of three loops of nine, imaginatively called A, B and C. Now nine new holes have been adopted and the two 18s are called the North and South. (So anglicised is the golf in these parts that they use those English words on the scorecards.) Which is the better of the two is a personal choice. I’d probably go for the South, although two of the par-fours feature tee shots into hillsides and I think there’s a good case for the installation of an escalator on the 9th. Oh, and if you want more golf on your doorstep, Pinheiros Altos is just across the road.
At Vale do Lobo, they have done the same as they have at Quinta. Formerly three loops of nine (a bit more thought had gone into calling these Green, Red and Yellow), there is now the Royal 18 and the Ocean 18. A trifle bizarrely, what is arguably the most famous single hole in the whole of the Algarve is the 190-metre 7th, a par-three which hugs the clifftops above the ocean, on what used to be the Yellow. It is now the 16th…on the Royal! It is the Royal which has had the nine new insertions, and an excellent job they have made of it. But as I suggested at the beginning, some of the older holes are rather claustrophobic. If your driving is off, you could be making a few unwanted ball donations to the neighbours.
In the opinion of many people, San Lorenzo is the best and most demanding course in the area. It certainly makes good use of the ocean, with the par-fours at 6 and 7 both bringing it into play, invigoratingly and/or intimidatingly, your opinion probably depending on how your day has gone. The final three holes are a stern test, too: a 200-yard plus par-three followed by two longish and sinuous par-fours that wind around a lake.
The only water at Quinta do Lago Mini Golf is pretend. How good an idea is that?! It’s a wonderful 9-hole crazy golf set-up, modelled on famous holes from around the world. For example, the opener is the 10th at The Belfry; the 7th is the 13th at Augusta National. (Yes, a par-five, on which I made an albatross two – as did my sons.) I’ll leave the last word to the final hole…
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen