It’s no secret The Algarve in Portugal is one of the best golfing holiday destinations in Europe. Sun, sea and amazing golf courses, The Algarve has it all. So when we were looking for an end of season, “last few days of summer” getaway, we were naturally drawn to the area.
After scouting around, and with so many different options, we finally settled on the Western Algarve and Lagos as our destination for a long weekend.
A few friends had been here before and recommended the area, even down to the villa, so we decided to take their advice. The villa was on the Boavista Resort, handy as they had a golf course on site and it’s placed in between Lagos town and Praia da Luz meaning we had somewhere to enjoy the evenings.
Lagos town had a great vibe, with loads of restaurants, bars and shops – handy when one of us forgot to pack any boxers! We had a couple of great nights out in some of the bars listening to some live music or just having a couple of chilled beers. Praia da Luz was a little quieter with less going on but a good option for a group of couples.
Overall I couldn’t recommend the Boavista resort enough. We were a group of four sharing an amazing villa overlooking the 17th hole – a nice spot for our morning breakfast.
There was free use of the swimming pool and spa on site too which were great to relax after a few hours on the course. With the nearby town for the evenings it was perfect for us, but there are also some great hotels in the area that you can check out below.
Day 1 – Espiche Golf Club Review
The first day of our trip saw us head to Espiche Golf Club. We picked the course as it was just a short ride away from where we were staying in Boavista meaning we could land in Faro, sort out the hire car, make the drive over from the airport and check-in to the villa peacefully.
Another added bonus was that the course offered a twilight rate – 18 holes of golf with a buggy for €61.50 each. Not bad value for a course that’s ranked the 13th best course in the Algarve and 25th in Portugal.
After a spot of lunch, we headed up to the course for our 14:30 tee off time. The drive up was a little bizarre, we were heading up to the hills and Google Maps was taking us over some narrow streets where there was no sign of life at all. Suddenly we found a sign and drove up the 1.5km driveway, where again there was little sign of anything – let alone a golf course.
The first sign of life was the clubhouse that sits on the high point of the property overlooking the golf course. Espiche Golf Club is one of the Algarves newest additions only opening in 2012 so we expected the club to be brand new, if not a little incomplete. The drive up had reflected that and the clubhouse was the same with a strange architectural design (that has actually won some awards) but to me, it made it look unfinished. But inside the facilities were excellent and we were given a warm welcome from the staff.
After paying up and picking up our buggies we had a quick putt and made our way to the first tee. Immediately it was obvious that there was little margin for error on this course. One of our fourball hit a fairway splitting drive over the crest of the hill to find it had rolled across the undulating fairway making its way into a load of bushes and wasteland just a couple of yards off the fairway.
The theme continued as we played on, with wasteland (made up of olive, fig and almond trees) surrounding each fairway. Espiche places sustainability at the heart of the club and it’s clear that the “rough” was designed in this way, with most of the original landscape left as untouched as possible from off the fairway.
It made for spectacular views particularly when you’re looking down on a hole from a raised tee but didn’t half put you off pulling out the driver with the fear of losing (another) ball. If you’re not quite striking it around here it’s easy to run up a cricket score on any hole. But play well and you’re rewarded with your ball bouncing over fairways and towards greens with spectacular backdrops.
When you arrive to the green, I was disappointed to find that they were slow and bumpy. It was doubly frustrating as I’d read a few reviews beforehand which commented on how good they were. I guess we just got a little unlucky on the day, but the inability to hole many putts (particularly when so many are to save par) having woken up at 3am and travelled over here, it felt like a punch in the stomach.
However, after playing the amazing par five 10th, we jumped at the chance to grab a couple of Sagres for the back nine as we’d all lost our fair share of balls. This did lift our spirits and helped us focus more on the natural beauty of the course – with an amazing sunset to admire as our twilight round came towards an end.
I would love to come back here and play the course again. There’s definitely an advantage to having played the course beforehand and I imagine the course will grow on you the more you play this. It’s definitely worth coming up here to play a game if you’re in the area as it’s probably nothing like any of the other courses you’ll play.
And after 18 holes your rewarded with a pretty decent view for your post round beer!
Day 2 – Boavista Golf Resort Review
After an early(ish) night the day before we had our alarms set early for a 10am tee time at Boavista. We were staying on the complex so we didn’t have far to drive to reach the first tee. We even managed to take a good look at the risk-reward 17th hole whilst having some breakfast and take note of a couple of pin positions.
We got excellent value playing here paying, just €77 with buggies as we received a 35% discount as we were staying on the resort.
However my expectations were lower. You won’t find Boavista Golf Resort in any Algarve rankings (unlike the others we played) and as we were staying nearby, we’d seen a couple of holes from the roads nearby. The condition looked good and I would describe the grounds as typical Algarve terrain with coarse green grass, huge bunkers and strategically placed water.
Despite this, a few of the holes seemed to meander through all the villas on site so I sort of had the impression the course had been crammed in a little.
My thoughts were wrong! Granted the first three holes are surrounded by O.B. left and right as any wayward shot will land in a garden of one of the villas, however once you’ve passed this, the course opens up somewhat and there are some fantastic holes.
The 6th was one of my favourites, a mid length par three over a huge valley. From the tee it’s obvious you do not want to be short but when we hit a couple of shots that missed the green by a couple of feet, you soon realise that anything short will run down into the same spot in the valley leaving you an almost impossible up and down.
This is soon followed by the equally tough long par five 8th (S.I 2), which you’re forced to lay up short of the same valley as you head back over it the other way. From there the hole plays uphill guarded by several bunkers making par a good score.
The course then reaches my favourite part as at the turn there are a run of five or six excellent driving holes (10th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th) which allow you to really open up the shoulders and chase a few birdies. This doesn’t mean they’re easy, there’s a bit of water and loads of bunkers to catch any wayward shots. In the middle of all these you also have a long tough par 3 (194m) over water and the stoke index one 15th which requires a couple of perfectly executed shots to find the green.
You then reach the 17th where we’d previously done our homework whilst having our morning coffee. The hole is 265m from the yellows, but they were pushed slightly up on the day meaning the green was reachable. So you’re left with the dilemma of whether you go for the green which is surrounded by water short, left and right and out of bounds long. I elected for a 6 iron lay up off the tee and put it in the water right. Epic fail!
The 18th then brings you back to the clubhouse which is on the highest point of the property. The clubhouse is excellent with a nice terrace for you to enjoy a spot of lunch whilst watching some approach shots to the 18th.
The course overall was very enjoyable. It might not have the reputation of some of the others we played but it doesn’t make it any worse. The club has a lot of charm, a number of excellent holes with lots of character and it’s generally one of those courses where you can remember each hole as they are all so different.
Day 3 – Onyria Palmares Golf Resort Review
Palmares Golf Resort was our treat for the week. The green fees here were the most expensive coming in at €117 plus €20 each for buggies (Hint: you need them around here). We were offered a twilight rate of around €80 inc. buggies but there weren’t any times available where we’d be confident in getting around before dark, so we took the plunge and opted to go all in.
Palmares has a history in the Algarve having opened up in the 1970’s, but the current suite of courses (there are three loops of nine) are distinctly different from the original designs having undergone a major transformation in 2010 by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
The resort is now rated 4th in The Algarve, 7th in Portugal and within the top 50 in Europe! After a quick scan of their website it’s fair to say we were looking forward to this round.
The course is set beside the coast which wasn’t really evident on the drive up as the clubhouse is in the centre of the resort at the highest point on the property. But as you head up into the hills you pass by some pretty impressive villas on the way and get a sense for how big the acreage is here at Palmares Golf.
Having passed these amazing villas that wouldn’t look out of place in a James Bond film (one actually resembles the house in the Iron Man trilogy) and had a glimpse of the perfectly manicured course, when you arrive at the clubhouse it’s fair to say you’ll be disappointed – as it’s basically a glorified Portakabin.
I don’t judge a golf course on the clubhouse, but it does add to the overall experience and our visions of a morning coffee with incredible views was far from the reality and was way out of context in comparison to the rest of the resort. I can only imagine that they ran out of money with the redesigns but there are currently building a new one (it is due for completion in 2020).
Anyway, we checked in and found out we were playing the Lagos nine followed by the Praia nine which was good as we’d be recommend these two by some locals the previous day.
The three nines here are distinctly different. The Lagos has a more parkland feel, whilst The Praia nine drops closer towards the coast and has more of a links feel. The Alvor is somewhere in between and supposedly more of a heathland style (although we didn’t play this nine).
We started on The Lagos (10th Tee) from which you can see the coastline as the hole drops down and dog-legs to the right. It’s immediately obvious when you step onto this course that it’s on another level. There wasn’t a blade of grass out of place, each bunker was perfectly cut and it was impossible to find a bad lie.
The condition of The Lagos nine was right up there, but the epic views is what sets this course apart. As you move from tee to tee your stunned as the sharply defined, perfectly green holes contrast with the bright blue skies and ocean behind. If you’re driving it well, there’s nothing more satisfying that watching you ball land on one of the fairways some 100ft below you.
A couple of highlights for me were the 136 meter par three 12th hole over water and the par five 15th hole (above) which you hit towards the ocean from a high tee followed by a sharp dogleg to the right.
Another quirky feature we found of the course was that none of the greens had fringes. This made it key to hit greens as a short chip from just off the edge was easily chunkable! Again, this made the greens look spectacular from afar.
After nine holes on the Lagos, we headed to the 19th (not the bar) on the Praia course. The complexion doesn’t change much here, with a raised tee hitting down to a winding fairway. However once you reach the 10th green, the trees disappear and the course takes its links shape.
From here on in (or until the 18th green) all the holes are links style. The unique location of this course means the holes are nothing like I’ve played in the Algarve before. You swap trees for huge sand dunes, water for long wispy rough and the wind starts to take its effect as you’re protected less and more exposed to the effects of the ocean.
This stretch of holes was my favourite we played all week in Portugal. Arguably the 20th (our 11th) was my favourite. A long par 5 with a (working) railway running down the right hand, the hole was magnificently designed as the wind pushes your ball onto the train tracks. From the green you have views of the Lagos course we’d just previously played from a whole new perspective.
Moving on, you have a couple of intricate par 3’s with undulating greens guarded by large bunkers and water – in the case of the 23rd. Surrounding these are a couple of short but well designed par 4’s. They’re designed in such a way that there’s a number of different ways to play them so really get you thinking.
The final hole is a par five that starts in the base of the property where it’s more links style and winds back up the hill to the clubhouse where it’s more parkland. Another dogleg, the hole forces you to hit short of the bunkers and bushes off the tee so it takes two good hits to get up to the green.
After holing out on the 27th (18th) I really didn’t want to come off the course. I’d have to rank this right up there as one of the best courses I’ve played. It has everything – a variety of holes, perfect conditions, stunning scenery and amazing greens.
Anyway, after finishing the round we spotted the Palmares Hotel which looked a lot better than the clubhouse we’d been to earlier so we decided to have a drink in there instead. The contrast was staggering. The hotel definitely had the class of the course with a glass balcony full of sofas that overlooked the course and the hotel pool. I’d definitely recommend coming here instead of the clubhouse. It was the perfect ending to a great day out on the course.
Day 4 – Penina Championship Golf Course Review
Our fourth and final day saw us head to Penina Championship Golf Club. On the back of Palmares it was nice to be heading somewhere with arguably even more prestige with the Championship Course at Penina having hosted the Portuguese Open on eight separate occasions.
We decided to make a night of it on the Saturday night so opted for a Sunday twilight round here, again taking advantage of the offers available which reduced the green fee to €62.50. Although we were a little shocked to find that buggies cost €50 a round (which to be honest is a bit of a piss take) but we got them anyway.
After a quick chip and putting practice we headed to the first tee. You pass quite a bit of the course on the drive down from the putting green to the tee and it was clear that this course was again nothing like any of the others we played. Designed by Sir Henry Cotton in 1966, there’s a very English feel to the place with flat terrain, lush grounds and thousands of trees lining the fairways.
And you are immediately thrown into the round with the stroke index 4 and 2 making up the first two holes on the front nine. These holes played quite tough with decent yardage required for the second shots, but after a difficult start the course eases up and there are some birdiable holes to get at.
You do however need to be driving it well. The trees just off the side of the fairways (there are some 360,000+ of them) gobble up anything slightly off line and either block you out for your second or kick your ball into one of the many hazards. But the rewards are there if you are hitting it well off the tee.
A couple of highlights for me on the front nine were the par five 5th, which plays over the water just short of the green, and the par four 9th where a shorter club is required from the tee followed by a longer second shot hitting to the clubhouse in the distance.
The course was the longest we played over the week at 5,827 meters from the yellows, but with five par fives and a par 73 overall it actually didn’t “play” that long. Two of these are back to back at the turn of the back nine, with the final two back to back on 17 and 18. Another quirky feature that I’ve not really seen at many courses before.
Despite the birdie opportunities on the par fives on the back 9, the 12th and 13th stood out for me. The 12th (S.I. 1) was a very tight par four where your second shot is to a green protected by water short (which 3 of us went in!). The 13th is a par three, again over water, which runs down the whole right hand side of the hole. Apparently the lake was dredged over 20 years ago and some 20,000 golf balls were found here. Again we added two or three to the collection.
We played the final two holes (back to back par 5’s) with an amazing sunset starting to form and a number of people parachuting overhead. Again, something I’ve never really seen before and pretty surreal watching people free falling out of a plane towards the golf course before deploying their parachutes. A pretty cool ending to our golf in Portugal.