In the first of two articles under the heading of ‘Golfing in Vilamoura’, we visited the renowned Algarve region of Portugal for four days.
We visited four golf courses including the world-famous, Vale de Lobo and two other local courses, The Laguna and The Millenium.
As with all golf In The Algarve, you will probably be flying using either one of the low-cost airlines or via BA or a Portuguese airline.
My travel partners flew with EasyJet without any hassle, while I was charged £55 by Ryanair for not printing my boarding pass and not checking-in more than two hours prior to my flight. Seriously!
However, my mood quickly lifted when I arrived at Faro airport.
As I was golfing in Vilamoura for the first time, I decided to try Uber rather than a traditional transfer service.
Having been quoted 36 euros for a pick-up and drive to Vilamoura, I was very impressed to only pay 21 Euros and Jose was so helpful and polite.
For the four day trip, we never paid more than 4 euros to get anywhere in the area.
Laguna Resort apartments are walking distance from The Dom Pedro courses Including The Laguna, The Millennium and The Victoria (which was host to the Portuguese Masters in Autumn of 2019.)
Often on a golf trip, your priority is to pay as little as possible for your accommodation in order to afford more golf.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the layout and decor, twin balcony and two bathrooms, made this as good an apartment as I’ve had the pleasure of staying in, anywhere.
On a golf course or not….including Rocco Forte 5star golf complex in Sicily!
Having caught the early flight from Stansted, not wanting to waste any time, we headed for the Laguna resort which is home to the above mentioned, Millennium and Laguna courses.
The clubhouse and shop are large and clean and the changing rooms, while not as stunning as Vale De Lobo (see next month’s March newsletter for review), is still a step up from your average UK Clubhouse.
There is a large patio area overlooking four holes and they offer both reasonably priced and very tasty sandwiches as well as a full a la Carte menu.
As you know, with any club in Spain or Portugal, there is always a senior golf pro on hand to chat to, who can tell you the history of the place.
And it was here I met ‘Joaquin’, who was quick to ask where we were from and how long we were staying. He shared his stories of playing in the UK in his early years.
He was also keen to show me some of his vintage golf magazine from the ’80s.
I think Senhor Catarina would have happily talked all day but alas, I was due on the tee in 3 mins.
As much as I wanted to chat more, I really wanted to play.
However, I didn’t miss the opportunity to tell him about The Social Golfer Family but I fear the concept did not translate well.
The younger (much younger) staff member listening to our conversation, got it immediately “ah, so it’s like Tinder for golfers”, “not quite” I quickly retorted…but he had a point!!
We opted to play the newest course, The Millennium, on our first day.
We had been advised it was flat and a good way to break yourself into a four-day tour.
Wow! I loved this course. With gentle undulation, playable fairways and although narrow for many courses in the Algarve, it was more forgiving than most of England’s courses.
This is the newer of the two courses – it was immaculate.
Dry fairways, fine grass, a plethora of shady areas and not a single pitch mark to be found on any green until the 17th hole.
The greenkeepers should be warmly applauded for preparing this course so well.
Note, the greens here are ‘lightning-fast’, so be prepared to three-putt a lot until you’ve been here a few days.
My only criticism would be that some of the tee boxes are not entirely flat, so place your tee peg wisely.
That said, each hole is very different and you would have to play this track many times before you got bored.
We teed off at 2pm (walking) and were finished by 6pm (sunset in February).
I will definitely return here.
18 holes – Cost = 71 euros
On returning to The Clubhouse on day two, we choose to play late morning at 11am on Laguna.
The temperature was 19c, there was a cool breeze, but the strong sunshine still meant the need for sunscreen.
Yet by 3.30pm I was pulling on a light jumper e.g perfect golf weather.
This course, despite being less distance on the card than the Millennium and with shorter distances between holes, it’s less forgiving, so took 40 minutes more to play.
One thing I do like here is the club’s insistence on how long you should take to go round. Something many clubs in the UK should adopt.
I know this a constant bone of contention all around the world but IMHO, it’s just considerate and good manners to keep up the pace of play.
If you’re holding up the groups behind, let them through.
But back to the golf…
The Laguna (as the name suggests) is the ‘water’ course. I think it comes into play on at least seven holes, maybe more.
Beautiful open fairways, well-maintained greens (again, very few ‘pitch marks’ to be found here).
Whilst I didn’t find the greens quite as quick as the previous day, they were true.
Six one-putts on the front nine suggested I was getting the pace of the greens after a good night’s sleep.
18 holes – Cost = 85 euros
You are never going to be short of choice for beautifully prepared, fresh and fragrant food in Portugal with seafood and steak in abundance.
One of the favourite places we visited was the Akvavit at Vilamoura Marina, run by a lovely Swedish lady.
Joining in with the theme, I was convinced to try the Rydberg steak, the dish is made up of cubed fillet steak, sautéed potato, in a bay leaf and onions sauce, with a raw egg yolk in the middle, yum.
Complimented with a light and sofa red wine from the Duora region.
However, the TSG best chef award goes to ‘O Jacatino’
This is a Portuguese family restaurant we frequented on our last evening, where you can sample home-cooked traditional Portuguese favourite, Cataplana (seafood stew).
While my travel partners enjoy this, I had the softest steak I’d tasted in ten years.
Having played golf in more than 12 countries now…
As such, I would probably say the Portuguese are up there with the best when it comes to making golfers feel welcome.
They have both a gentle but passionate manner and are good-humoured.
They really do know how to do customer service too and we were made very welcome by everyone.
Especially the staff at The Laguna resort, who couldn’t do enough to help us enjoy our stay.
Is the Algarve still one of the most popular and tranquil places to play golf? Oh yes!
Is it expensive? Absolutely!
Will I be back for more, of course… I’m already thinking about where to play next year!
By Ian Mullins
Look out for part 2 of our ‘Golfing in Vilamoura’ series in the TSG March Newsletter, including a review of both courses at Vale De Lobo…