Archive for December, 2014

Golf in The Algarve …

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Golf in The Algarve

Golf in The Algarve

When one dreams of golf in the Algarve, one thinks warm climate, sun-kissed fairways, immaculate greens and a break from the old routine.

On my recent trip to The Algarve, that’s exactly what I got… four days, sixteen guys, four rounds of golf and two designated drivers, what could possibly go wrong!

Golf in the Algarve – The Tour

This trip we ventured west of Faro having booked through Your Golf Travel (although no sign of Darren!), playing at Villa Sol, Vale da Pinta and twice at Gramacho.

We had a very early start on an EasyJet dawn breaker, we picked up the people carriers at the airport and headed straight for our first stop Vila Sol, the home of the Portuguese Open in 1992 and 1993 before heading to Vale da Pinta/Gramacho where we would be based for the next few days.

Having never played golf in Portugal, I was very excited about pitting my wits against some of the more well-known courses in The Algarve and enjoying some winter sun.

And whilst it was only just December, the warm sunshine was balanced well with a cool breeze coming from the north.

The Courses…

Obviously any golf course review is often biased by the way you play on the day, but I have tried to be objective in my observations and put my own playing ability to one side when writing these reviews….

Golf in the Algarve – Day 1 – Vila Sol

Vila Sol

Vila Sol

This course is well known to me purely because another TSG member has been a member here for a number of years and spoke highly of it, so I was keen to see it for myself.

The clubhouse on first sight is welcoming although quite difficult to find your way round at first.

The course itself is quite tight but not to the point of distraction or frustration and is set out in two loops of nine returning to the clubhouse.

All the fairways are lined with a combination of pine, almond and fig trees, plants, flowers, lakes and streams – and it makes for a good and pleasant stroll.

However, this course, despite its history is very scruffy in places with unfinished housing, terrible fairway weeds creeping across many of the holes suggesting that it has seen better days.

There is poor signage between holes (very important to the visitor).

The course layout is good and the greens are fair and true but I would be lying if I said it was anything special.

Of course, there are some great holes, most notably the Par threes stood out for me but I am not sure I would describe the place as PGA Tour standard.

In addition, the food served pre round was pretty poor, unless you think a deep fried soggy chicken sandwich is standard Portuguese fare.

All the staff were friendly but I am not sure I will be rushing back anytime soon.

Golf in The Algarve – Day 2 – Vale da Pinta

Vale de Pinta

Vale de Pinta

Day two and following a big first night on the local wine, we headed to our second course of the trip.

Now THIS is more like it. What a great course this is!!

And in contrast to the flagship course of the Pestana Group (Vila Sol) this more than lived up to expectation.

This IS why I came to play golf in The Algarve.

Designed by Ronald Fream, Vale da Pinta is considered one of the best layouts in Europe and you can see why.

Vale da Pinta is a parkland course built into the natural contours of the terrain.

After a fairly easy start the course then starts to test you with undulating fairways, plateau greens, stunning views, playing off fairways like carpets. Millionaire golf!

The course has played host to the Seniors Tour in recent years and we were there the day before the regions PGA championship was taking place.

There are two big lakes on the course, which invites you to challenge yourself but I would save my praise for the Par 3 -7th (165 years plateau to plateau) and the stunning approach to the Par 5 – 12th.

Most greens on the course are beautifully guarded with multiple bunkers, but don’t be put off – they are full of soft, fluffy sand.

There are also works under-way around some of the course but all very subtle and it does not detract from the course in any way.

I can honestly say it’s one of the best courses I have had the pleasure of playing (and I have played over 120 in total to date).

The clubhouse is cool and airy and the Pro shop staff welcoming and helpful.

The views from the patio allow you to watch the golfers tee off and play the entire uphill first hole.

However, I have one criticism…. why build a course, so that the last two holes you are playing directly into the sunset?

And why put the 18th green 500m away from the clubhouse leaving a steep walk back, right at the end of your round?!

This is of course nit-picking as most will visit here and take buggies and I would jump at the chance to play here again!

Golf in The Algarve – Day 3 & 4 – Gramacho

Gramacho

Gramacho

We saved this for the final two days as it was our home and the location for our apartments, meaning it was a short walk to the first tee from here on in.

Gramacho is again a great course again designed by Ronald Fream but with the help of former world no.1 and Open Champion- Nick Price.

The layout is forgiving, open and attractive on the eye.

The fairways are wide (mostly) and rewards the big hitter, as many green are drivable if you take the right line. But don’t be discouraged if you aren’t, good placement will also be rewarded.

After a simple start you are then tested by some undulating holes with neatly placed stone walls and palm-lined fairways.

The course loops away from the clubhouse and only returns back at the 18th.

Again you are met with two main water features with fountains and palm shade but don’t stop to admire the course too much. ou will need to concentrate

You will need to concentrate, to tackle the many sloping greens where a three-putt is common and four putts are not unheard of.

I really liked this course. All the tee boxes were in good condition and despite the finishing holes being in the sunset line (Why?!) I would love to play this again.

If there was one point to note for the greenkeepers – I heard one of our party mention that ever Par 3 was the same distance 150m and they all required playing the same club –  a fair comment, I myself used an eight iron on every one. So perhaps something to consider when laying out the course in future.

So perhaps something to consider when laying out the course in future.

That aside, all the staff were friendly and couldn’t look after you enough and very polite. We were even greeted by owner on 1st tee!

After the golf – The Accommodation…

Pestana have built a great complex at Gramacho and all the apartments were roomy, clean with English TV (if that’s your thing) and come with a good size kitchen and patio.

We also had a full cooked breakfast every day made by our in-house chef, although this is not available to everyone, as he was in our party but he had all he needed to spoil us!

Eating Out

Once we had returned to the room and refreshed ourselves, we headed out to three separate eateries each night:

  • Casa De Bife (Carvoeiro) – Stone cooked steak restaurant – very good
  • Rui Marisquiera Restaurante (Silves) – Seafood farye – I am told good, I went for the steak again
  • Joao’s – Casa de Tapas (Ferragudo) – Superb atmosphere and great Tapas, served by the lovely Catarina

The final verdict on golfing in The Algarve….

What a fantastic trip. Great golf, great company and great food. I’ll be back soon.

Obrigardo!

By Ian Mullins

Englands Atlantic Links Golf Courses …

Monday, December 1st, 2014
Englands Atlantic Links - Burnham & Berrow Golf Club

Burnham & Berrow Golf Club

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Englands Atlantic Links, there couldn’t be a better time, as six premier links courses in the south west, have maintained their strong presence in the latest course rankings compiled by the UK magazine, Golf Monthly.

Which Courses feature?

In the publication’s ‘UK & Ireland’s Top 100 Golf Courses 2015/16’, Somerset’s Burnham & Berrow ranks most highly amongst Englands Atlantic Links championship courses at number 33, up four places from 37th spot two years ago.

Burnham is closely followed by Saunton’s East Course at 35 (up from 39) and St Enodoc’s Church Course in Cornwall which has continued its rise up the rankings to 36th from 41st position.

The other three Atlantic Links courses also feature well inside the top 100 with Saunton West in at number 61, Royal North Devon – known also as Westward Ho! – placed in 72nd position and Cornwall’s Trevose in 77th spot.

Given the impressive positioning of the six Atlantic Links courses in the Golf Monthly rankings, it is hardly surprising that this terrific trail along the north Atlantic Coast is recognized as one of England’s premier golfing destinations.

All the clubs in Englands Atlantic Links are of course delighted to feature so prominently in the new Golf Monthly rankings which are after all produced ‘by golfers, for golfers’…”

“Indeed these rankings prove that the Atlantic Links is a genuine and credible alternative to the links golf available in both Scotland and Ireland…”

“Moreover Englands Atlantic Links compare very favorably in terms of value for money with similar golf tours in the UK that offer courses of the tremendous quality that we have to offer.” said Karen Drake, Secretary at Burnham & Berrow.

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Englands Atlantic Links – How are the courses marked?

Now in its sixth edition, Golf Monthly asked its ranking assessors to give various marks for Quality of Test & Design, Condition & Presentation, Visual Appeal, Facilities and Experience.

Whilst all the scores were taken into account, each report was also read carefully to look at supporting evidence and then a combination used to ensure that variations between assessors were ironed out.

This moderation process, and regular contact with assessors, makes a subjective process as objective as it can be.

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What else is there to know about Englands Atlantic Links in the South West?

The Courses: Established in 2008, Englands Atlantic Links is now recognized as one of the leading golfing destinations in the UK, thanks to the quality of its six courses.

Dating back to 1864, Royal North Devon, or Westward Ho! as it is also known, is England’s oldest links and this year celebrates its 150thbirthday for which the club has organized a number of tournaments and events.

The golf course, on terrain that undulates more gently than Burnham & Berrow, is set on common land on which livestock still graze.

While JH Taylor may have served as Burnham & Berrow’s first pro, it was here at Royal North Devon that the golfer started his career as a caddie and later finished it as club president.

With such heritage, the clubhouse serves as a treasure trove of golf memorabilia second only to the R&A.

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Founded in 1890, Somerset’s Burnham & Berrow is particularly noted for its distinct sand hills that form such stubborn, natural obstacles, along with the buckthorn and even a marsh for golfers to avoid mid-way through a round.

Throw in the prevailing south westerly winds that whip in from the Atlantic and along the Bristol Channel, and golfers are left with a links challenge not for the faint hearted.

The course has evolved over the decades but today’s layout is largely the work of Harry Colt.

The club’s first professional was the legendary JH Taylor, five times an Open champion, who described the course as “one of the most sporting courses conceivable”.

Burnham & Berrow has hosted a string of prestigious amateur tournaments, most recently the 2011 R&A Boys Championship and The Brabazon Trophy.

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Further down the Devon coast is Saunton, set in the remote shadows of the giant sand dunes of Braunton Burrows.

When the club was inaugurated in 1897 its clubhouse doubled up as the local post office, yet now its two championship courses, East and West, are among the greatest links in the world.

England’s most successful post-war golfer, Nick Faldo, has said, “I’ve no doubt if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted an Open Championship by now“.

Although the West course is an exceptional challenge in its own right and it is a mistake to consider it second best.

It was here in 1997 that a 17-year-old Sergio Garcia won the British Boys Championship, just two years before making his Ryder Cup debut. In 2014

In 2014, Saunton’s East and West Courses hosted the English Amateur Championship, the blue riband men’s event on England Golf’s calendar.

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Cornwall’s St Enodoc is another links once trodden, never forgotten.

Founded in 1890 and designed by James Braid, it has a fantastic setting among the dunes overlooking the River Camel estuary and with far-reaching views over the Atlantic.

The Church course, so called because of the Norman Church that was uncovered in the middle of the course, is renowned for its towering Himalaya bunker that entirely blocks golfers’ view of the 6th green from all but a slither of fairway.

This is the tallest bunker in Europe. Over the past four years the course has benefited hugely from refurbishments that have included laying new greens and tees.

In 2014 St Enodoc was honoured to host the English Women’s Amateur Championship, further testament to the quality of the Church Course.

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Across the Camel River from St Enodoc and over the majestic Trevose Head that juts into the Atlantic, Trevose Golf & Country Club offers a brilliant links.

This course staged the celebrated English Amateur Strokeplay Championship (Brabazon Trophy) in 2008 and the Macgregor Trophy in 2011.

Complete with state-of-the-art holiday lodges, flats and bungalows, Trevose conjures a relaxed holiday atmosphere to go with its classic Harry Colt golf course.

With only a gentle breeze the 7,168-yard Championship Course offers good scoring opportunities, particularly with 3 par 5’s, but the character of the course is transformed when the winds blows in from the sea.

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What else is there to know about Englands Atlantic Links?

The temperate micro climate of south-west England allows year-round golf with the gentler winter conditions enabling the greenkeepers to maintain their courses in immaculate condition throughout the changing seasons.

In recent year’s the standard of accommodation in the around Englands Atlantic Links courses has risen dramatically.

There is now a host of comfortable, character hotels like Woodlands Country House in Padstow, beautifully restored stately homes such as the Bath Spa Hotel, modern seaside hotels such as Saunton Sands and delightful, friendly bed-and-breakfasts.

Adding to the appeal of Englands Atlantic Links tour are the numerous off-course activities that exist in the south-west.

These include some of the best beaches in the UK, stunning cliff walks, surfing, sailing, charming fishing villages and bustling market towns such as Barnstaple and Truro, as well as visitor attractions such as The Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the world famous Trebah Gardens.

Well done to all the courses that featured in the Golf Monthly Top 100!

For further information on Englands Atlantic Links, visit: www.atlantic-links.co.uk