It might not be the most obvious destination, but Portugal is a fantastic destination for a golf trip. Whether you want to sample the verdant greenery of the north of the country, or the real Mediterranean feel of the Algarve, there are some superb, top-quality courses all over the country for you to enjoy.
A warm climate makes Portugal a great place for a winter-warmer golfing trip, which you can also get yourself out there without breaking the bank if you plan ahead. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the best golf courses in Portugal, and the key things to remember when you’re planning your trip to the south-west corner of Europe.
Why is Portugal such a great place to play golf?
The rugged landscape and relatively warm weather (especially in the Algarve in the south) make Portugal a leading choice if you want a golf break on the Mediterranean. Spain remains probably the most popular golfing destination on the Med, which can make it extremely busy at times, so Portugal allows you to try some excellent courses that are off the beaten track.
Another advantage that Portugal has over Spain is that it tends to be significantly cheaper, in terms of accommodation and the food and drink. The wide and relatively cheap availability of flights into both Faro and Lisbon airports all year round is also beneficial to golfing travellers who are particularly conscious about costs.
For obvious reasons, travelling during the school holidays can be very expensive from a flight perspective, so it’s always better to visit during term time for the best-value deals. In particular, the period from early January through to the February half-term is normally the quietest time of year, and the Algarve should still be reasonably warm. However, the tourist focus of the Algarve can also be an advantage, as it means you’ll have plenty to see, do, eat and drink after you’ve finished your round for the day.
The best golf courses in Portugal
One of the great things about playing golf in Portugal is that there is a real variety in the courses on offer. Some of them are traditional favourites which have been testing pros and amateurs alike for decades, while in more recent years, newer courses have opened which have been very much designed with the golfing tourist in mind.
Here, we’ve picked out a selection of our favourites from across the country, as well as some of their standout features:
Dom Pedro Old Course
The Dom Pedro Old Course really lives up to its name, as it was first opened all the way back in 1969. But if you’re thinking that this means the experience is dated, then think again: the clubhouse was modernised in the 90s, giving you the perfect blend of classic course and up-to-date facilities.
Measuring up at more than 6800 years, it’s a course of two halves. The back nine is generally regarded as a much tougher test than the front, meaning it’s a course that favours players that can plan their way around a round instead of relying on brute-force drives. The Dom Pedro also has the advantage of being located close to the popular tourist resort of Villamor, right in the heart of the Algarve.
Dom Pedro Victoria Course
The Old Course isn’t the only layout you’ll want to play at Dom Pedro. The Victoria Course may be much newer, having opened in 2004, but has quickly forged a reputation as one of the most testing courses to play in Portugal. No wonder, therefore, that it’s often part of the European Tour schedule for the pros.
The Victoria boasts first-class design pedigree, thanks to the work of the great Arnold Palmer. Perhaps the biggest challenge awaits you on the 17th, which is an absolute monster at 600 yards. Be prepared to take at least three shots to reach the green, unless you’re having a very lucky day with the wind and managed to avoid the numerous water hazards throughout this epic hole towards the end of your round.
In very sharp contrast to the Dom Pedro is the Monte Rei resort in the eastern Algarve, which opened in 2007. As well as being a top-quality place to stay, the real jewel in the crown is its North Course, designed by the Golden Bear himself: 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus.
His eye for what makes for a great golfing adventure is complemented by the dramatic landscape, as you play through a succession of valleys and natural amphitheatres. Every hole feels fully closed off from the others, which makes for a real feel of serenity as you work to perfect your game. It’s a long course at nearly 7200 yards, but it offers a golfing experience that’s unlike almost any other course you’ll ever play.
If you want to experience a taste of pro golf while you’re in Portugal, then make sure that San Lorenzo is on your course list. Located in the Faro area, it’s also extremely handy for the airport, as well as a vibrant town full of quality restaurants and entertainment options.
San Lorenzo has hosted the Portuguese Open on several previous occasions and it isn’t difficult to understand why. It combines the rolling contours of the Algarve countryside with some spectacular sea views: the word ‘iconic’ is overused these days, but it can certainly be applied to the par-four sixth, from which you’ll get to tee off towards the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. This is just one of the many stunning views you’ll get to enjoy over a little more than 6800 years, and that countless amateurs and pros alike have savoured since the course opened back in 1988.
The Algarve may stand out as the modern epicentre of golf in Portugal, but don’t overlook Lisbon as a destination. Not only has it got some fantastic and time-honoured courses in the area, but it’s a fascinating city to explore, too.
The Octavo’s Dunes course was established all the way back in 1937, and it often appears in ranking lists of the top courses to play in Europe. It’s about as close as you’ll get in this part of the world to a links course. There’s plenty of sand as well as trees lining many of the holes, giving you a sense of playing a classic layout in Scotland – only with much more warmth and sunshine! It’s just short of 7000 yards, and on a sunny day without too much wind, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant day’s golfing, especially in the winter months.
West Cliffs is another stand–out course in the Lisbon area and is one that is fast building a reputation for great golf. It’s one of Portugal’s newest courses, having owned in the summer of 2017, and allows you to work your way along the Silver Cliffs that the area is renowned for.
You’ll also get a bit of a links feel at West Cliffs, with sand dunes dominating some of the holes and heavy woodland some of the others. This can cause challenges with the wind, as you’ll find that conditions can vary substantially from one hole to the next – especially with the course so close to the Atlantic coast. The variety that you’ll get across the round makes this course, measuring up at 7000 yards exactly, a real treat to play no matter what your handicap.
If you’re travelling in a group of very different abilities, it can be difficult to find courses that strike the right balance between accessibility for higher handicaps and challenge for stronger players. But thanks to the design of Sir Nick Faldo, the Oceanic Faldo Course in the Villamor area is perfect for giving you that much-needed flexibility and versatility.
How come? Well, for starters, there are no less than five different tees to choose from on each hole, allowing you to pick the perfect one for the group you’re in. What also helps is that this is not necessarily a course for Bryson DeChambeau-style mega-drives: players who focus more on accuracy than power will be at an advantage here. That’s because there are hazards aplenty to watch out for: rocky outcrops, olive trees and more, all designed to punish reckless or wayward shots. This course of over 7200 yards should be on your list if you want golf in Portugal with a bit of a twist.
Tucked away in Lagos towards the western end of the Algarve, the Onyria Palmares resort is a lengthy drive from Faro. But the views and the quality of the golf you’ll enjoy when you get there makes it well worth the trip.
It’s a well-established resort that opened back in 1975, and its layout gives you a little bit of links golf thanks to five of its holes being located on the coastal sand dunes. But all the others feel very different: located further inland, you’ll navigate fairways with lines of trees either side of it, a little more in keeping with traditional Mediterranean golf.
Wherever you look, there are views to savour: the coast to the south and the hills to the north giving you real diversity of backdrop. So, if you base yourself in a western Algarve resort like Lagos, Portimão or Praia da Rocha, then this course should be one of the first on your list.
Things to remember before you go.
A great golf trip is made in the planning before you go, so that you and your companions get as much enjoyment and as little stress as possible out of your trip to Portugal. Obviously, this starts with your accommodation and travel while you’re out there: if you’re flying into Faro to play in the Algarve, then easy access to the A22 motorway that runs east to west can be a big help.
When you’re booking your flights, look closely at how much your chosen airline will charge you to bring your clubs with you. This can be a considerable addition to the cost: indeed, in the winter season it can even be more than the cost of the flight! If you’re worried about your budget, and you aren’t especially wedded to your own clubs, then it may be worth looking at hiring a set of clubs when you get out there instead. Most good courses will provide club rental, but it’s strongly recommended to book your round and clubs together, well in advance, to avoid any disappointments once you arrive.
While golf is a relatively low-risk sport, accidents can still happen in a worst-case scenario, you may end up with a substantial medical bill if you need extensive treatment while you’re out there. And as with any trip, there is always the risk of unforeseen disruption. For these reasons and more, golf-specific insurance is strongly recommended for the full duration of your trip.
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