An Introduction to Golf in Portugal
Portugal has always been 'flavour of the month' for people who wanted to go just that one step further in Europe. Enhanced by being on the western edge of the continent, by being possessed of a friendly climate and, paradoxically, by being known for having lagged decades behind Spain in the development of tourism, Portugal has retained an aura of mystery pretty well extinct in her Mediterranean neighbours. Some of the allure vanishes when one views the almost panicky build-till-you-bust appearance of certain parts of the Algarve. But not all, not by a long shot. Here in Portugal, the get-away-from-it-all factor is still alive and well.
Although big-time tourism has been launched since Portugal became a fully-fledged member of the European Community, (the greatest advantage to visitors is the presence of new super highways slicing through the countryside), escape from the worse excesses of civilization is definitely within the traveller's grasp. Exit the motorways and within minutes, old Portugal opens welcoming arms. Visitors may opt for whatever degree of modernity they wish.
It might be assumed that Portugal and Spain would be much the same, given the similarity of location. Not so. In Portugal, aside from the inland plains in autumn, the countryside is greener, most of the seaside topography wilder, the temperatures cooler and the people quieter.
International influence has been less pronounced than in Spain. You may eat pizzas all over the Algarve and in Lisbon too; authentic Portuguese cuisine reigns in other parts of the country.
Where to stay is also a matter of choice. On the Algarve, massive hotels cater to those who enjoy them. There are many from which to chose; golf packages to the area usually include accommodation in these hotels. That is, however, not the whole story.
Smaller places offer respite from crowds and are ideal for people seeking tranquility. "Manor houses" are beautifully run bed and breakfast places set on spacious grounds. Most are grand homes restored by their owners; some, like the marvelous 'Quinta do Barranco da Estrada' in the Alentejo are created as lodgings.
If you look at a map of Portugal and run a pencil along the Algarve, there is barely a centimetre distance between one Tee and the next. Roll comfortably along the EN-125 motorway from Faro and all exits lead to golf. The greatest concentration of Algarve courses are less than an hour away from Faro; there are 25 golf clubs along this particular coastline. Quinta do Lago launched Portugal's reputation as up and running in the holiday resort stakes. It was created to cater for sporty people; it does just that and golf is its paramount attraction. The Quinta do Lago and Ria Formosa courses are the focal point of a 2,000 acre golf and leisure complex. Also set in Quinta do Lago is Pinheiros Altos which features two contrasting halves of the 18 holes, each with diverse and stimulating hazards. San Lorenzo is currently the star at Quinta do Lago. Inaugurated in the late '80s it has been rated the Number 2 course in continental Europe. Between Albufeira and Lagos are another half-dozen courses; Pine Cliffs, dramatically set on the cliffs overlooking one of the best beaches, Salgados, awash with scintillating water hazards, and Penina. The Algarve's oldest course, Penina is one of several Portuguese courses designed by Sir Henry Cotton, who, as one of the greatest golfing figures in the 20th century, is to Britain as Robert Trent Jones is to the USA. Near the western tip of the Algarve is Parque de Floresta whose hilly terrain calls for a good temper and a steady stroke.
The Alentejo plains to the north of the Algarve have until recently been a place in which to seek solace when one has had enough tourism. Now it has its first golf course, called Marvao. Its site is historic with remains of the Roman town still to be found along the golf course. Four lakes count highly among Marvao's challenges.
If there were not already enough reasons to designate Lisbon as a destination - its personality alone would be sufficient - golf adds to its appeal. Visit Lisbon and find the Portuguese counterpart to San Francisco: it is elegant, brash and unforgettable. Lisbon counts more than a dozen courses easily accessible from the city, including Tróia Golf Course, considered by many to be Portugal's most difficult.
The course occupies a peninsula (take the car ferry from Setubal) and is one of Robert Trent Jones' most famous links courses. The Lisbon Sports Club has a variety of facilities, one of which is its 18-hole course. North of Lisbon at Sintra, a course of outstanding quality Penha Longa, two times the venue for the Portuguese Open. In the central mountains a couple of courses are in play with more on the drawing board. Oporto to the north, offers a further six courses for visitors' enjoyment. One of these, Oporto Golf Course, is the second oldest course in Europe. Dating to 1890, it is a links course located beside the Espinho beach. A hallowed tradition at the course is its claim to fame as host to the Skeffington Cup, played since 1891 without ever having been postponed or cancelled.
Golf is obviously one of the country's prime assets. That it will be further exploited is certain, greens fees will rise (at present, they are very reasonable) and accommodation will be harder to find. Right now, Portugal is a joy to play. A great part of the appeal can be traced to the fact that golfers can choose their preferred ambience. Whether it be the hustle and bustle of the Algarve with its coastal attractions, the newly opened Alentejo facility, golf in the mountain air or the courses situated around venerable Lisbon, contrasts in atmosphere are as diverse as the courses themselves.