This blog is all about my experiences of playing every course in Scotland, but every now and then I feel the need to record some other golf experiences, so here's some waffle about a trip to Vilamoura in the Algarve, Portugal, that Polly and I have just returned from. We'd heard great things about golf in Vilamoura, so we had to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. Our first course was the Royal Course at Vale Do Lobo. This course has one truly great hole, the 16th, requiring a carry of 215 metres from the Championship tee over a couple of cliffside ravines and a huge bunker. This is a good photo I've trawled from the Internet that shows this daunting hole at its best. Anything short or left is dead, as are you, if you look for your ball! The course was pretty busy when we played it on 30 March 2012, with the round taking nearly 5 hours. We'd feared the worst when no-one out of the 3-ball in front managed to break 10 on the 1st, just as the rain started. Things didn't get much better when we realised that the Royal is probably the most disjointed course we'd ever played, requiring several main roads to be crossed and long walks between holes, typically through surrounding holiday-home housing, much of it lying empty. The guys in front gave up after 9 holes (after nearly 3 hours!), so at least we could speed things up a bit. The thunder and lightning started on the 12th, but by then we were resigned to taking whatever the course and the skies wanted to throw at us and although the storm got pretty damn close (7 seconds between lightning flashes and thunder claps) we kept our heads down and toughed it out. The steeply uphill 500 yard walk between the 14th green and the 15th tee coincided with the storm passing us by, so at least we could tackle the rest of the course in relative safety.
This is me playing from the Championship tee on the 16th. I'd played from the Yellow tees, but I couldn't resist the challenge. The Pro Tip in the Stroke Saver invited me to aim to the right and leave myself a short chip to the green, but I'd not braved the passing storm just to wimp out. Admittedly, I used an old ball and took Driver from the tee, but a heroic up and down from the middle of the huge bunker in front of the green meant I'd parred the hole, reputedly one of the most scenic and difficult Par 3s in Europe. As the adverts might say, if Carlsberg did Par 3s....It's just a pity that the rest of this course is so badly disjointed, hilly and otherwise unremarkable. It's well worth playing in order to experience the 16th, but that hole aside, this was our least favourite course on the trip.
Our next game was over the Ocean Course at Vale Do Lobo on 1 April 2012 a bright, sunny and hot day. We really liked this course, with its rolling hills and great sea views. Water comes into play on some holes and you need to steer your ball carefully, avoiding the many water hazards and trees that come into play. This is Polly admiring the sea view on one of the back 9 holes. This was my second favourite course. Polly ranked it 3rd but if Vilamoura is your kind of golfing holiday, this course is a good test, well worth playing.
Our third course was the Oceanico Victoria in Vilamoura, home to the Portugese Open on the European Tour. This Arnold Palmer design has oceans of water to avoid and is seriously difficult, even off the Yellow tees. This is my view from the 18th tee. If there was a carbuncle award for Portugese hotel design the monolith behind the clubhouse would surely win hands down. Truly ugly. We both played the course pretty well, but again, the pace of play was funereal. We'd started behind a guy in a buggy and his 3 young sons. 2 hours for 6 holes before they let us through, just as the rain got seriously mean. Good course though, which I'm proud to say I negotiated without losing a ball.
Our last course was the magnificent Old Course at Vilamoura, easily our favourite of the 4 courses we'd played. A tremendous course, set amongst mature pine and cork etc trees. We'd been paired to play with a couple of guys from Aberdeen playing off +1 and 6. The +1 guy was just awesome off the Championship tees. I parred 4 out of the opening 5 holes, but a couple of treble bogeys ruined my card. I'd been hoping to play to my handicap but 7 over ( a gross 90) was not too bad as I'd only really made a mess of 2 holes. This is the 4th, a 149 metre Par 3. Just carry the pond, tree and bunker and don't 3 putt! Simples.
Regular readers will know that Polly and I play for our own trophy on our annual golfing holidays, a small silver replica of the Claret Jug. 2 matches each so far after our Portugese trip, with another 10 or so matches to play on our 2012 trips, so early days. I doubt we'd go back to Vilamoura, though. There's no town as such, just a sprawl of marinas, hotels, holiday homes, bars and restaurants, with inflated prices to match. A popular destination for the many golfing parties who visit, but not really for us. We prefer places with more character and it was disappointing to hear from the few locals we met that they couldn't afford to play golf, or even shop in the tourist areas. A development too far?