Blindly pop a pin in a map of the Algarve and, chances are, you’ll have struck golf course gold. Legendary among Euro golf holiday hotspots, there’s little room for sightseeing when you’ve got championship courses at almost every turn. Though, you don’t have to miss out on Southern Portugal’s best bits completely. The best courses sit side by side with the glorious Atlantic coast – with some sharing territory with the Algarve’s Ria Formosa Natural Park. For more urban pursuits, other rounds see you taking in the sights of some of the region’s most prestigious resorts. Handy if you’re looking for your next fairway-side villa…
Vale do Lobo Royal
This is the golf course in the Algarve that started it all. The original, and classic, Vale do Lobo Royal. Granted, a lot has changed since Sir Henry Cotton rolled out his blueprints in 1962. Not least the fact that the very first course is now split into two – Ocean and Royal. Of the duo, golfers tend to agree that the Royal course just pips Ocean to the layout post. Perhaps it owes its popularity to the additional 9 holes designed by Rocky Roquemore in the 90s? Regardless, this grandfather among Algarve golf clubs delivers controversy and a technical challenge. A track that’s hosted Portugal’s golfing’s finest in tournaments is never going to be easy. But some do complain that the luxury resort that’s been shoe-horned around the fairways and greens is a distraction you can do without. Fair point. But concentrate on the game – and the background noise fades away.
Yes, the first two holes might be just about the blandest in the region, but see it as a confidence-boosting warm up for what lies ahead. Which is an increasingly difficult round peppered with water hazards and a few head scratchers to test all who take it on.
Vale do Lobo Ocean
Don’t be fooled by the names of these two courses. You’re in for plenty of coastal golf on either track. Though, it could be said that, of the two, Vale do Lobo Ocean is the more forgiving course. As well as coastal views – and tricky breezes – Ocean bring the undulating terrain and umbrella pines that the resort’s known for. And, there lies your problem. Ask anyone who’s played a round or two here and it all comes back to the views. Few remember the 4th hole – a testing par five that rewards anyone with a huge sense of achievement if you line up your shots perfectly. Some label this as a golfer’s paradise. And, if you’re looking for some holiday golf that swings slightly towards style over substance, it’s not a bad shout.
Quinta do Lago South
If you label yourself as ‘Europe’s finest golf resort’ you’d better hope you’ve got the facilities and experience to back up the silverware on your award shelf. And, while we can’t quite award it such a high accolade, you won’t regret forking out for the relatively steep green fees on the original Quinta do Lago South course. Yes, it’s been here since this mammoth luxury lifestyle resort opened in 1974, but that’s just given the fairways and track architecture time to mature. With a revamp underway, that sees everything from the grass to the bunkers revitalised, there’s never been a better time to plot your way to scoring birdie here. And, there are plenty of holes where it’s do-able, namely the 2nd and 6th. If one hole on this track is going to soil your scorecard, it’s the tricky 8th. Driving anything off the tee puts you in the rough every time.
Orbzii tip: You’re here for the lavish greens and taxing water features, but you’re also at the heart of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife creeping in from the coastal nature reserve.
There’s little the San Lorenzo golf course won’t throw at you. And, depending on your golfing preferences, that’s going to see you booking a tee time before your plane wheels hit the runway, or avoiding the track at all costs. Yes, the course comes with more than its fair share of dog legs, and the umbrella pines lining the fairway are bound to frustrate. But there’s much to be said for challenging your skills, rather than pootling around a resort track free of water hazards. So, the plus points. This is another Algarve golf course than benefits from its Atlantic Ocean positioning. Wildlife meanders in from the nearby nature reserve and coastal views come into play. But, the course isn’t always pristine.
Portugal’s hot, hot sun does little for the greens in the height of the season, making putting a bit of a lottery. Ultimately, this is a course that combines the best – and worst – of the area’s golf clubs, right up until the 18th hole.
Vilamoura Millenium Golf Course
Pitting your wits against the Vilamoura Millenium Golf Course’s pine trees could be the ultimate test in the Algarve. The scorecard’s crammed with tree-lined fairways that focus much of the round here on your drive. It’s perhaps a relief then that the now rebranded Dom Pedro set of courses do have a driving range to warm up on before you head out. If only trees were your only source of golfing woe on the track. Water hazards are scarce, but the designers have made a little go a long way. Most notably, and aptly, on the par 3 13th hole. Here, if you’re lucky enough to clear the water, you might well under-club and find the large bunker guarding the green.
Orbzii tip: Every Algarve golf course attracts murmurs in the club house. If you hear talk that the Millenium is plagued with forgettable holes, relax in the knowledge that, while some might be straightforward, those that test you will play on your mind for many rounds to come.
Special Mention: Pine Cliffs
If you’re in the Algarve with little time for a full 18 hole battle of wits, drop in to the gorgeous 9 holes at Pine Cliffs. You’re not missing out on any of the attractions other courses in the Algarve offer, but you’ll be back poolside – or taking your seat at your pick of the Algarve’s restaurants – without sacrificing too much time to the greens. This small, but natural-looking course is pitched at beginners – but don’t expect an easy time. The ravine on the 6th will test your driving ability – and accuracy to clear the sizeable ravine, troublesome bunkers will fox you and the tricky options on the 8th are both taxing enough to form quite the dilemma. Fun – but pricey when compared to your 18 hole Algarve options.