I’ve witnessed some very odd things on golf courses over the years but the sight of a playing partner stripping to his shorts and running headlong into the ocean behind one of the greens is going to take some beating.
It would not be wise to name the man in question, but let it be said he plays off scratch and has enjoyed the game on some of the most mesmerizing courses in the world.
Yet the appeal of the cool blue Atlantic, rolling gently in the breeze beyond a long strip of golden sand, was simply too much for him.
As the rest of our fourball approached the 14th green on Vale of Lobo’s aptly named Ocean Course the other member of our group simply kept going, taking his buggy to the edge of the beach. With golf kit off quickly, he was soon running down the sand before diving in.
It was not pre-planned, he insisted, as he stood dripping wet on the 15th tee, but simply a response to an impulse.
Vale do Lobo’s Ocean Course does have that kind of magnetism, which is why we Brits flock there year after year.
Vale do Lobo Golf Club was one of the first in southern Portugal when it opened in 1968. It has established itself as one of the best in the region and after various changes over the years it now features two 18-hole courses, the Ocean and the Royal.
Situated on the eastern side of the Algarve, it is about 30 minutes drive from Faro airport, lying cheek by jowl alongside the luxurious Quinta do Lago estate.
For some reason the Ocean course is regarded as inferior to its prestigious brother but don’t be fooled into thinking it is not worth the effort.
When we played it in September its maturity shone through – the greens were by far the best of the three courses we reviewed. It also excels with some spectacular holes that tax golfers of all abilities – notably the 3rd which weaves through an old olive grove and the dogleg 9th which requires an extremely accurate approach shot to an elevated green, avoiding a scenic cascade running half the length of the fairway to the left. The course gets its name from the superior back nine, which wanders through umbrella pines, where, as you will have gathered, it features some superb sea views.
While Vale do Lobo is one of the oldest courses on the Algarve, Laranjal is the new kid on the block, becoming the third course at the upscale Quinta do Lago estate, just a few minutes drive from Vale do Lobo.
Any new course it this area has to be compared with its near neighbours, which is a tough ask indeed. The South Course at Quinta do Lago and San Lorenzo next door are both immaculate and stand out for their combinations of maturity, lay-outs and general condition.
Laranjal is no equal for these fine courses yet – it’s only three years old and needs to mature. It does feature some very fine holes however, particularly its short, tight par fours and long, testing par 3s.
It gets its name from its setting, a former orange grove, and there are still plenty of opportunities to top up your vitamin C levels during the course of your round.
This eastern part of the Algarve is millionaire’s paradise, and while Laranjal is out in the wilds, the rest of the Quinta do Lago estate is a great place for villa spotting. The rich and famous have properties there and the whole luxurious resort is a feast for envious eyes.
By contrast the western Algarve offers a more genuine taste of Portuguese life, especially if you venture as far as the wild Atlantic beaches of Monte Clerigo and Amoriera.
Near the end of the A22 toll motorway is the bustling resort of Lagos, one of the best towns to visit throughout the whole Algarve. During the tourist high season the town is alive at night and there is no shortage of restaurants and bars to suit all budgets and tastes.
It is also home to Palmares Golf Club, which offers by far the best course in the area. With three distinctive loops of nine holes, each with marvelous views, this course is certainly worth the premium green fee, although it was not in its best condition during this visit as the greenkeepers were preparing it for the peak season over the winter months.
The Algarve overall certainly has plenty to offer golfers and although clubs have been criticised for their hefty pricing policies, the region remains the number one destination for UK golfers escaping the dreary winter months at home for a week of swinging clubs in the sunshine.
There are still some good deals to be had, however, particularly if you stay in hotels and seek a package.
It is easy to see why this long stretch of glorious coastline at the most south westerly tip of Europe attracts so many visitors from all over Europe, and the UK in particular.
It offers much more than golf and off-course it is ideal for all kinds of groups – from the traditional party of lads from the local club – to retired couples, families and juniors.
Within easy reach by air from the UK – made easier this year for Yorkshire folk, thanks to the launch of scheduled flights by Monarch Airlines from its new hub at Leeds Bradford Airport – and it has a host of other attractions.
The weather is usually near perfect for winter golf although you can expect occasional rain – so don’t expect to go swimming during your round!
Getting there: It’s about a 2.20 minutes flight from the north of England to Faro and there are regular flights throughout the year. Monarch flies to Faro from all of its UK bases including Manchester and the new service from Leeds Bradford. Monarch also offers holidays, accommodation options, car hire and travel insurance. Visit www.monarch.co.uk for details.
Golf: With a huge variety of courses to choose from there is a package for all abilities and for families or groups. Shop around the specialist golf tour operators for deals to avoid paying expensive rack-rate green fees. For luxury check out the courses around Quinta do Lago www.quintadolago.com its near neighbour www.valedolobo.com/en/golf, or for a more adventurous trip head west to Lagos and take in the excellent course at Palmares. www.onyriapalmares.com
Where to stay:
If you can afford unadulterated luxury you must stay at the Conrad Algarve at Quinta do Lago. www.conradhotels3.hilton.com which has everything you would expect from the best hotel in one of the world’s most luxurious resorts. In Lagos, the Marina Club resort is in a great position and would be good for families and small groups. www.marinaclub.pt
When to go: The main golf season extends from early Autumn to late Spring avoiding the hot summer. September and May are excellent months as the crowds are there, giving a buzz in the evenings.