There’s a lot to do in the Algarve, but for many, golf heads the leader board: there are over 30 top-class courses, including some of the game’s legendary venues. And when you can play in a region that boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year, why shiver at home?
The Algarve also attracts plenty of famous faces onto the greens. Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus and Christy O’Connor Jnr have all designed courses here, whilst in addition to the top-level professional, pro-am and charity tournaments that take place throughout the year, golf-mad celebrities regularly spotted teeing off include Hugh Grant, Alan Shearer and Freddie Flintoff.
Here’s our guide to some great golfing holiday options in the Algarve: the courses, the destinations, and the all-important 19th holes.
The courses: Penina (par 73) is a fitting testament to Sir Henry Cotton's prowess in course design. You’ll often play unaware of other golfers, as many of the holes meander through the trees and water hazards, providing an intriguing test. The Penina resort complex also features two 9-hole courses. Nearby Alto (par 72) was Sir Henry’s last course. In a world of modern, complex course design, more people look back at the classics and see how course design should be: about challenge and playability for all handicap levels.
The destination: Alvor maintains much of its fishing-village feel, with a splendid promenade overlooking the harbour, a fabulous beach, and a good selection of fish restaurants and late-night bars.
The 19th holes: Fresh fish, creamy Mozambique curries and a table with a view make Ababuja the perfect harbour-side tavern. During the day, Café Na Ria serves snacks and light meals. In the evenings, it evolves into a cool hang-out offering inventive cocktails, background jazz and a great vibe.
The courses: Cleverly designed Gramacho (par 72) weaves in and out of the hillside, with numerous doglegs. Local expats tend to flood the course in the morning, but you can enjoy a deserted round most afternoons. Neighbouring
Vale da Pinta (par 71) is a good all-rounder course, with a large amount of variety from hole to hole, and presents a challenge even for a low handicapper. A regular venue for the European Seniors tour.
The destination: Following the pedestrianisation of its main square, Carvoeiro is recovering some of its traditional charm. Avoid ‘restaurant hill’ and stay down by the beach for good places to eat, drink and shop.
The 19th holes: Manoel's Jazz Club segues from ultra-cool jazz on the first Friday of every month to mainstream rock and pop on other nights. Or enjoy the craic, draught beers and stouts at Brady's Irish Bar. There’s live music four nights a week plus large-screen TVs if you really can’t miss the sport.
The courses: Millennium (par 72) offers a challenge for golfers at all levels, plus great value for money. Host to the Portugal Masters, Victoria (par 72) has a spectacular 415-metre par-four 18th hole that’s more than capable of ruining a good round. The 27-hole Vila Sol (par 72 for 18 holes) is a delightful course set amidst the trees, whilst the Old Course (par 73) presents one of the toughest golf tests in Portugal, but is many players' favourite. Most holes are doglegs, and the overhanging pines add to the difficulty.
The destination: If you can tear yourself away from the resort’s six golf courses, book a boat trip, shop for designer fashion or gifts, or stop for a sundowner and admire the floating gin palaces in the marina.
The 19th holes: Something for every taste and budget, with a clutch of good Asian restaurants including Zu Yi (Chinese), Tako (Japanese) and the self-explanatory Thai Restaurant. Find a beach bar that suits your style like NoSoloAgua (comfortable) or Purobeach (hip), or enjoy a cold beer at Bar Sete, owned by Portuguese football legend Luis Figo.
The courses: Play the Royal at Vale do Lobo (par 72) and the main talking point back in the clubhouse will be how you fared at the 16th. Over cliffs, the sea, bunkers and a 200m carry to the green, this is a remarkably difficult but exciting hole. San Lorenzo (par 72) is a worthy winner of numerous awards, including best golf resort in Europe from the golf tour operators' association. The level of challenge is moderate-to-high, especially when the fresh sea breezes give the holes that border the water the feeling of a links course. Laranjal at Quinta do Lago (par 72) is one of the region’s newest. With no noise or encroaching real estate, you’re aware only of the local wildlife and the occasional cracking sound as another ball strikes one of the umbrella pines.
The destination: Quarteira is a popular holiday-home resort for many Portuguese, which means the fish and seafood restaurants are legendary. But you’re also right in the heart of the Golden Triangle and the more international feel of Vale do Lobo, Quinta do Lago and Almancil.
The 19th holes: For an introduction to stylish Portuguese cuisine, try the tapas and great wines at Paixa in Vale do Lobo. Then chill out at T-Clube in Quinta do Lago, with its lounge garden, piano bar and nightclub.
The courses: Monte Rei (par 72) is often described as the best golf experience in Portugal. Designer Jack Nicklaus will be pleased to hear it. There’s an enormous satisfaction in the ebb and flow of each hole, played as though there were no other on the course. Benamor (par 71) is another away-from-it-all venue, simple yet attractive and a joy to play. A delightful little church overlooks the 18th, offering golfers the opportunity of prayer before, during and after their game.
The destination: With its medieval streets and unique architecture, Tavira has retained its identity. Enjoy fresh fish by the waterside, visit the daily market, or opt for the serenity of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve.
The 19th holes: Chef Albano Lourenço produces terrific food in his fine-dining Vistas restaurant at Monte Rei. Rather more boisterous is Ubi, where house and trip-hop music packs in the serious clubbers until dawn – nothing to do with the bizarre theme nights and wild foam parties, then.