Algarve golf holidays: where to stay, play and explore

The Algarve on the southern coast of Portugal has a lot going for it as a golfing destination, including sun, sand and superb courses. Here, the experts at Golf Monthly pick the top resorts that offer something for everyone.

For decades, the Algarve has been a firm favourite with golfers who have been enticed by the ever-increasing numbers of excellent courses, 125 miles of golden beaches, an average annual temperature of 17.5°C and the 3,065 hours of sunshine a year.

More direct flights make it easier than ever to get to the Algarve, whether you’re based in London, the north of Scotland, the west of Ireland or anywhere in between. Algarve Tourism’s ‘golf4all’ project ensures it is promoted as a fully inclusive destination too, so everyone, whether beginner, junior, male, female, senior or disabled golfer (or even non-golfing partner) will enjoy a rewarding experience.

Off course, there are numerous activities for the whole family such as snorkelling, sailing and water-skiing on the coast, while walkers will enjoy the many beautiful nature reserves. Cycling, rock-climbing and quad-biking are also popular, and the area is rich in history and architecture, with many ancient towns, castles and museums to explore.

There are many restaurants catering for all tastes and it’s hard to beat the seafood and a glass or two of local wine. Evenings can be enjoyed into the early hours in one of many late-night clubs, casinos or bars. Whether you want a golf trip, a weekend getaway, or a family break, the Algarve has it all.

1. Gramacho golf

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Originally Gramacho had an unusual ’18-hole’ layout – there were only nine fairways but many more greens. Rounds were played as two loops of the terrain and second time around you played from a different tee box and often to a different green but over the same fairway area. The course has since been extended and redesigned – there are now 18 fairways but 27 greens – but it still retains a version of those quirky features, providing both challenge and variety for keen golfers.

2. Palmares golf

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Palmares has also undergone a major redesign from its original construction. There was a well-regarded 18-hole course here but this has been torn up and replaced by three cracking nine-hole layouts.

These have been designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr who enthused that he only got land as good as this to work with once in every ten years. The land tumbles away gloriously down a hillside towards the sea; or rather towards a railway line.

On the other side of this line is a small tract of flat linksland which provides four links holes, two par 5s, two par 4s and two par 3s, which come at 2-5 on the Praia nine.

But much of the remainder of this nine has been designed to have the ambience of a links – each of the nines has been designed and conditioned to appear subtly different from the others.

The Alvor nine is a hilly parkland course, with fiendishly contoured greens, and the Lagos nine mixes parkland with dunesland, and has the only two water hazards at Palmares.

3. Pine Cliffs

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The nine-hole Pine Cliffs has also undergone some rejigs to its running order over the years. Its famous hole is the Devil’s Parlour, a par 3 played across a chasm of ochre-coloured cliffs which now slots in at number 6, having had a spell at 9.

This is a truly great holiday course – challenging enough that no golfer feels insulted and not so overpowering that the occasional golfers in the party feel out of their depth – a surprisingly tough trick to pull off.

4. Vale do Lobo

The Royal is one of two 18-hole courses here and is played more along the cliff tops, whereas the shorter Ocean course sweeps down towards the beach.

The ocean bit of the Ocean course at Vale do Lobo comes for a few holes on the back nine. After the downhill par-5 10th, played over a water hazard which runs across the width of the fairway, you tee up for a blind shot on the 11th. Then crest the hill and a glorious seascapes meets the eyes. This is one of three greens set beside the sea.

The others are the 14th and the 15th. The latter is played off 213 yards from the backs, and 196 yards from the yellows, and runs alongside the beach with plenty of sand in play.

It’s a good hole which the setting transforms into a wonderful one.

5. Alto Golf and Country Club

Alto’s 623-yard 16th was once the longest hole in Europe. It pays to go right on this hole – off the tee so as avoid the lake on the left, and then later on as well to set up the best line into the green.

This hole has been nicknamed both The Giant and the Sir Henry’s Challenge. The latter is because the course was designed by English professional golfer Sir Henry Cotton. In fact, it was his final course design, although he didn’t live to see it realised. His conception was for ‘a course for those who like challenge in their game’ with ‘the undulating terrain [making] each hole a new challenge, from mastering the double-dogleg to softly putting the tiered greens’.

6. Quinta do Lago

Quinta do Lago North has a sandy subsoil and the bunkering is superb following a major renovation undertaken by Paul McGinley and American architect, Beau Welling. Its visual appeal and playability certainly elevates it into the ‘must-play’ category.

Meanwhile, Quinta do Lago South, which opened in the mid-1970s and frequently hosts the Portuguese Open, is highly regarded. Doglegs are a prominent feature at this first-class resort course where strategic hazards must be negotiated carefully.

A fine alternative exists at Quinta do Lago Laranjal, which runs over a vast orange grove, from where it gets its Portuguese name.

The par 3s are particularly testing, as are a number of thrilling long holes that make super use of the rolling terrain. It’s not just the fairways that undulate either as the contoured greens present a further test.

Three loops of nine can be found at Pinheiros Altos – the Pines, the Olives and the most recent addition, the Corks. They all share similar characteristics, but with enough variation to also give each a distinct feel.

7. San Lorenzo golf

Designed by American architect Joseph Lee, this is another of the Algarve’s most charming and admired courses, and it’s easy to understand why from the moment you arrive. The par-5 8th is possibly the best long hole in the Algarve, and the feature-packed challenges keep coming at you, especially those bordering the estuary and the salt-water lagoons – just don’t forget your camera here, or anywhere else in the Algarve for that matter. It’s a golf haven.

Monte Rei, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course that is often rated Portugal’s finest, lies in the rolling hills not far to the east, set among some 1,000 acres of glorious countryside.

Despite its deep and often punishing bunkers, the course has a very natural appearance. Risk and reward is evident throughout and it’s typical Nicklaus that water should pose a major challenge courtesy of several sizable lakes. Each hole blends effortlessly into the natural canvas here.

8. Monte Rei golf

A Jack Nicklaus Signature Course that is often rated Portugal’s finest, lies in the rolling hills not far to the east, Monte Rei is set among some 1,000 acres of glorious countryside.

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Despite its deep and often punishing bunkers, the course has a very natural appearance. Risk and reward is evident throughout and it’s typical Nicklaus that water should pose a major challenge courtesy of several sizable lakes. Each hole blends effortlessly into the natural canvas here.

9. Penina golf

Sir Henry had brought golf to the Algarve in 1966, when he designed a course at Penina on a former paddy field and scrubland just outside the tourist hotspot of Albufeira. The course hosted the Algarve’s first European Tour event, the Portuguese Open, in 1973. Over the years it has been regularly upgraded, and the provides a thoroughly enjoyable parkland test, winding its way through tree-lined fairways to elevated greens. Penina’s nine-hole Resort and Academy courses are ideal for beginners.

10. Old Course Vilamoura

Vilamoura Old Course opened in 1969, making it the second oldest course in the Algarve. Designed by Frank Pennink, it is one of the most beautiful in the region; also one of the tightest, with its narrow fairways fringed by umbrella pine trees, and with only small greens to aim at.

11. Vale da Pinta

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Talking of longevity, Vale da Pinta has become the established host of the European Seniors Tour Qualifying final, where a 72-man field compete for six tour cards. Perhaps this is because it is a course that values age – there are olive trees on it which are well over a thousand years old.

This layout requires careful placement of the ball due to tight fairways and preponderance of doglegs. A strength of the course is in the par-3 designs.

12. Espiche

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Espiche Golf Clubhouse

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Close to the harbour town of Lagos, this dramatic course surrounded by beautiful countryside and vineyards. The opener will certainly live long in the memory with a drop of 80 feet from the tee to the fairway, before a similar climb back up to the green. It sets the scene for a hilly test that serves up wonderful views throughout, especially from the clubhouse.

It’s a course that can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Boavista, an undulating layout designed by Howard Swan 15 years ago. It’s hard not to enjoy the views out to sea here, even if the elevation changes keep the heart pounding a little.

13. Silves

Silves, which lies in the foothills of the Monchique Mountains, has an excellent selection of par 3s and serves up yet more stunning panoramic vistas encompassing palm trees, olive groves, and the surrounding cork and citrus farms. It offers the perfect blend of thrilling golf in the most peaceful and unspoilt of settings.

Silves gives an early indication of what it’s about – the opening drive has to be threaded between two water hazards, with this course being described as a ‘relentless test of precision’.

14. Pinhal golf course

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This is another popular addition to the golfing itinerary. It’s also one of the Algarve’s oldest layouts. Robert Trent Jones Senior reworked it in the 1980s, and since then the umbrella and Atlantic pines that line the fairways have matured greatly to provide a key defence.

15. Vila Sol golf

Vila Sol also has a reputation as one of the toughest courses in the Algarve, and it hosted the Portuguese Open in the 1990s. It has three loops of nine holes which fan out from the central clubhouse, ranked in order of difficulty – Prime, Challenge and Prestige.

The main course comprises the Prime and Challenge loops, with the Prestige billed as an academy course, though it’s by no means easy.

16. Benamor golf

Another Henry Cotton design lies close to the ancient city of Tavira, a wonderful place full of artistic ambience and Portuguese charm.

Benamor may not have opened until after Cotton’s passing but the design follows his masterplan, blending into the natural surroundings and offering stunning mountain and sea views.

17. Amendoeira Golf Resort

Oceânico Faldo is one of two fine courses at the Oceânico Amendoeira Golf Resort, the other being Oceânico O’Connor Jnr.

Faldo’s is the more undulating of the two courses, with the six-time Major winner’s trademark expansive bunkering one of its key defences. The O’Connor Jnr layout may be easier to walk, but water hazards come into play on at least half the holes.

18. The Old Course

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The Old Course is Vilamoura’s original crown jewel. It’s the second oldest course in the Algarve and one of the finest in Europe.

Perhaps the best compliment you can pay is that every single hole is a joy to try and conquer, and even if you fail, it’s impossible not to appreciate the design.

Every shot demands careful club selection and total commitment as you fight to avoid the pines, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable and certainly one for the ‘must-play’ list.

Vilamoura itself is a bustling seaside resort with a lively marina and a number of busy restaurants and bars. For many holidaymakers bringing their golf clubs, it’s number one on the list, with no shortage of hotels and evening entertainment to complement their days on the fairways.

Words: Roderick Easdale and Elliott Heath

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