Offering veterans and pros some genuine challenges, but providing enough of a pleasant luxury backdrop to ensure even total novices have an unforgettable experience, the resorts of the Algarve are a golfing destination every player should aim to visit at least once.
With over 35 courses available, choosing where to settle down for a round can be a little tricky. As a result, we're taking a look at some of the very finest courses to tee off on during a stay in this beautiful corner of Europe. Here are some of the best courses in The Algarve, Portugal:
1. Vale do Lobo Royal Course - 2. Quinto do Lago South Course - 3. Quinto do Lago North Course - 4. San Lorenzo - 5. Gramacho at Pestana - 6. The Millennium Golf Course - 7. Monte Rei North Golf Course - 8. The Old Course - 9. Pine Cliffs - 10. Oceanico Pinhal Course - 11. Pinheiros Altos - 12. Vila Sol at Pestana - 13. Espiche Clubhouse & Golf - 14. Onyria Palmares
Designer: Rocky Roquemore
One of two idyllic courses at the prestigious Vale do Lobo Resort (set right in the centre of the Algarve's coastline), the Royal Course's design was based on drawings by Sir Henry Cotton. You'll see at a glance why it's widely recognised as one of the most prestigious courses in Portugal; the world famous cliff-top carryover at the 16th is one of the most photographed holes in the world, and carries a genuine challenge.
Fig trees and umbrella pines line the fairways of the Royal, which sits adjacent to the deep blues of the Atlantic, and plays dramatically along the cliff's edge. Players not only get to experience the beauty of the 16th first hand, but also try their hand at the 9th, which features a near-island green - and offers an opportunity to become a member of the resort's Hole-in-One Hall of Fame. The course has become a symbol of golf in The Algarve, and this par 72 is a must-play during any golfing visit.
Designer: William Mitchell
Particularly suited to the long hitter, the South Course at Quinto do Lago has been used for the Portugese Open 8 times (including for Colin Montgomerie's 1989 victory), and is a known favourite among tour players from Europe. The South Course, known as the resort's 'crown jewel', offers a wide range of challenges hole to hole, and its 6,500 metre elevation offers views of the idyllic Ria Formosa National Park.
Despite its pedigree in the touring game, this golf course has plenty to tempt players of a lesser handicap too. A game on the South Course is often one of two halves, with the front 9 rewarding draw shots, and the rear favouring a fade. With a great degree of variety - and a consistent requirement for precise tee shots - this is a fantastic course on which to hone your skills. The Quinto do Lago South Course is even replete with awkward doglegs and hazards, ensuring that each game is as exciting and memorable as the last.
Inaugurated: 1974 - redesigned in 2014
Designer: Beau Welling
As the newest addition to Quinto do Lago's five-star offerings, the North Course (completely overhauled in 2014 by renowned architect Beau Welling, in collaboration with Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley) has swiftly become one of the new stars of the Algarve golf scene, and the European game more widely. At just under 6,200 metres, the North Course is a $9million investment of the highest specifications, and the results are stunning.
With every aspect - from the greens right down to the bunkers, tees and irrigation systems - redefined using the most innovative technology, each hole now offers four sets of tees to accommodate a wide range of handicaps and abilities. Undulating greens, seasonal rough grass and carefully-crafted bunkers and water hazards and all contribute towards a golf course that's both challenging and aesthetically splendid.
To top it all off, the new designs ensure that the course operates at the highest eco standards, with water recycling, solar energy, and grassy patches encouraging a thriving ecology. This is a shining example of what can be achieved with modern golf architecture, and it's one of the best courses in the Algarve.
Designer: Joseph Lee + Rocky Roquemore
As one of the most demanding and remarkable golf courses in the Algarve, San Lorenzo has more than earned its reputation as one of the finest courses in Portugal - and its place at 15th on Golf World's 100 best golf resorts in continental Europe. San Lorenzo capitalises on its sweeping topography, and leaves a lasting impression on all those who enjoy a round here.
Striking a fine balance between a variety of aesthetic elements - including meandering pine woodlands, breathtaking ocean views, and mountain vistas - San Lorenzo is far from an easy course. A handicap of 28 for men and 36 for women applies - but so long as you make the grade, the course is endlessly rewarding. Its 18 holes border the Rio Formosa Estuary and salt water lagoons, and its flawless Bermuda grass fairways provide flawless playing conditions.
Designed by Joseph Lee, San Lorenzo is a member of the Audubon Co-operative Sanctuary System, and its holes offer great variety - the 1st 5 holes offer a gradual ease into the course, with no great demand for long shots. The 5th, the shortest hole, offers a backdrop of golden beaches on the Atlantic, but as you move on to the 6th (where the course borders the estuary) accuracy becomes crucial, and club selection paramount.
Designer: Ronald Fream + Nick Price
Inaugurated in 1991, and designed by the standout team of Ronald Fream (hot off the heels of his success with Vale de Pinta) and former world number 1 Nick Price, the carefully-curated Pestana Gramacho is a challenging but delightful course. Paying homage to the former farmland upon which Gramacho lies, the undulating emerald green of the course is complemented by an assortment of olive, carob, and almond trees.
Gramacho requires thoughtful play, and rewards the strategic golfer immensely. Holes such as the 3rd give the illusion of simplicity, but hand a distinct advantage to those who take their time and opt for a shorter drive, or plan for an uphill putt.
The layout of the course itself is equalled in every way by its aesthetics, which offer a journey through the Portuguese countryside. Passing natural stone outcrops, historical walling, and ancient trees, the bunkers and lakes have been sculpted tastefully, and integrate seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
Despite hosting the Portuguese Ladies Open several times, Gramacho is accessible even to those with a higher handicap, and offers a unique course that's worth multiple visits due to its multiple tee points. Housing several tournaments each year, including several charity events, it's generally worth checking their website to see what's coming up.
Designer: Martin Hawtree
The Millenium Course, within the Vilamoura portfolio, is often regarded as pivotal in the cementing of the Algarve's reputation as one of Europe's - and the world's - most beloved regions in golf. Designed by architect Martin Hawtree, and opened in 2000, the course features 9 brand new holes, and a refurbished 9 which originally formed part of the Laguna course. The Millenium is a wide open, sweeping course, and is arguably one of the best to visit during a luxury golfing holiday.
A diverse course, the stretch between holes 3 and 7 bears a resemblance to The Old Course Golf Club and the Pinhal Golf Course, which demand pinpoint accuracy on their narrow landing areas. With a beautiful variety of lakes and vast, picturesque fairways, the Millennium Course is best enjoyed with a simple strategy, making it the perfect place for a reliably enjoyable afternoon.
Designer: Jack Nicklaus
Soon to be followed by a second course, the Monte Rei North is an outstanding example of the design prowess of international star Jack Nicklaus. Opened in 2007, this par 72 championship course offers a truly unique layout. At 6567 metres squared (from the Tournament tees), players of this exceptional Algarve golf course will be met with water challenges on 11 of its 18 holes, and 5 par-5s coupled with 8 par-4s ensure a game on Monte Rei North will be both challenging, and memorable.
Situated close to the town of Tavira, and just north of the Via Infante motorway, the Monte Rei North course is set against rolling hills, and combines visual spectacle with intelligent layout. It's by no means an easy course, but Nicklaus' deep knowledge of balanced design has resulted in a game that's accessible to the majority of players.
But it's not just the course itself that's special. The service at Monte Rei Golf Club is second to none, and it has been rated as the best club in Portugal for three consecutive years on Leadingcourses.com. A green fee of €190 may not be cheap, but the service and level of hospitality more than make it worth the spend; buggies are included, along with valet parking and attentive 5 star service from the moment you arrive. With views of Serra do Caldeirão Mountains to the north, and the beauty of the Atlantic to the south, this is a club and course that will tempt players back again and again.
Inaugurated: 1969 (renovated in 1996)
Designer: Frank Penninck
Few who enjoy a round at The Old Course Golf Club could deny its memorability, beauty, and uniqueness. Known as the 'Grand Dame' of Algarve courses, The Old Course was one of the first-established layouts in the region, and this Penninck design is highly regarded throughout the sporting world. Renovated and modernised in 1996, all of the original '69 course's challenge was preserved, but the quality of the courses was elevated to even higher, exceptional standards.
This par 73 is long, winding, and is somewhat reminiscent of an English style course. The opening hole (a short par 4 that features a bottleneck fairway and tempts a long drive) sets the tone for a game that's exhilarating, and rewards well-executed risk. With the right club choice, advanced players can try for a hole-in-one at hole 4 (a short par 3), and the mid-game hole 9 is widely considered the most demanding, with the landing area by the green fraught with hazards.
Along with the new clubhouse, and its charming adjacent putting green, the Old Course provides visitors with access not just to some of the best golf on the Algarve, but one its most respected and impressive resorts. As with all Vilamoura courses, environmental protection is ensured; The Old Course is a fantastic example of just how good golf in the Algarve can be.
Designer: Martin Hawtree
While the Algarve is replete with demanding, championship courses, the charming 9-hole golf course at Pine Cliffs is a reminder that bigger isn't always better. Renowned the world over, this Martin Hawtree-designed course offers stunning ocean views at its Albufeira clifftop setting. And while it might be more a gentle, 'easy' experience, the famous par 3 hole 6 - nicknames 'Devil's Parlour', requires a carrying drive over a shallow ravine, of just under 200 metres.
Perched 200 feet above golden sands, the location of Pine Cliffs are a big part of what makes it one of the best golf courses in the Algarve. Constructed in a pine wood setting, with tree-lined fairways, the Pine Cliffs course runs parallel to the Atlantic and offers repeated, breathtaking views of the Algarvian coast, reminding players of why this area is revered as one of the best in the sport. Hawtree's goal when designing this unique, original layout was to ensure that the majesty of the surrounding cliffs was maintained, and in this, few would deny that he succeeded.
Designer: Frank Penninck
The second of Frank's Penninck's Vilamoura courses to feature on this list, the Pinhal Course is immensely popular, and it's easy to see why. Remodeled in 1985 by Robert Trent Jones Jr, the first few holes of the Pinhal course are framed by holiday villas, and the Umbrella and Atlantic Pines that line many of its fairways offer both beautiful views, and tricky obstacles.
While not the most challenging course on the list, the Pinhal is certainly no pushover, although golfers who quake at the thought of lakes, ponds and other water hazards can rejoice in the knowledge that, while present on 5 of the course's holes, these don't prove too antagonistic. With a more forgiving back 9 holes, the Pinhal offers a lengthy game, with 6,353 metres of play from its white tees; it's an unforgettable part of the Algarve golf experience.
During the post-round wind down, visitors can enjoy a drink or bite to eat at the magnificent clubhouse, and its veranda makes the perfect setting for a post-game spot of luxury relaxation.
Inaugurated: 1991 (expanded 2007)
Designer: Donald Steel (expansion by Jorge Santana da Silva)
As one of the most successful and prestigious premier golf and leisure resorts in Southern Europe, the 27-hole course at Pinheiros Altos was originally designed by Ronald Fream; but an additional 9 holes were added in 2007. Presented in a quaint trio of 9-hole formats, 'The Pines', 'The Corks' and 'The Olives', each short course maintains a par 36, known for their firm, fast, and testing greens.
While it may be more suitable to review each course individually, during a visit to the Algarve, the courses should be appreciated as a whole - one which is without doubt one of the best golfing experiences in the region.
The Pines (named after an abundance of - you guessed it - pine trees) is made up of 5 of the original course's front 9, and 4 of the more recent holes. It's signature 9th is utterly magnificent, and makes the course worth a visit alone. The Corks offers the longest and most demanding of the three courses, and while the Olives doesn't relent much on the difficulty, it softens it a little with a tranquil lake setting, home to some of the resort's famous birdlife. Each course starts and ends at the clubhouse, which is a marvel in and of itself, and Pinheiros Altos is a must-visit for all golf lovers visiting the region.
Designer: Donald Steel
With the preservation of the natural environment a keen priority in its design, Vila Sol, one of the Pestana Group's courses (which also include the aforementioned Gramacho, along with several other premium courses), is a fantastic testament to the Algarve's suitability for world-class golf. A notably attractive course layout, along with exceptional facilities of the, all contribute to Vila Sol's place as one of the best golf courses in the Algarve.
Opening with a somewhat demanding opening 9, Vila Sol has the capacity to throw unconfident players off their feet right from the off. A challenging first hole (a par 4 with a long, narrow straight fairway-to-green) requires careful placing of the ball to allow access to the green, and sets the tone for a tricky first half of the game. The back 9 are a little kinder, although feature several tricky greens - particularly the notorious par 5 hole 14.
Designer: Peter Sauerman
The Espiche Golf Course, the youngest course in the Algarve, provides an exceptional golf experience, and proves that age is just a number when it comes to stunning course design. Created by South African golf architect Peter Sauerman, Espiche is an eco-resort that not only provides a memorable and exciting game, but does so with the environment in mind. This authentic experience is a shining example of how new courses can broaden the horizons of even the most seasoned players, and it's one of the finest courses in the Western Algarve.
Designed to integrate effortlessly and seamlessly into the surrounding Algarve countryside, the indigenous flora and fauna of the region have been tirelessly preserved throughout the course. Espiche requires careful thought during a game along its 5,862 metres, with bunkers guarding the majority of the large greens - and a soft touch is a must.
It's a fantastic course for refining your short game, with a deft hand and eye necessary to negotiate its varying layout. The par 5 10th is a particular highlight, with a tightening fairway requiring progressively more precise placement as you approach the green; its emblematic of a course that rewards those who balance risk with care, and a successful hole (or even single shot) at Espiche is an exhilarating and memorable moment.
Designer: Robert Trent Jones Jr
Designed by the iconic american golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr, the brief for the 27-hole course at Onyria Palmares was simple: 'Craft a course that maximises the potential of its environment'. A seemingly innocuous, if not generic request - but when the environment you're working with involve some of the most breathtaking natural beauty along the entirety of the Algarve, the results are sure to be something special. Onyria Palmares confirms this with aplomb.
This three-part, 27 hole course is an utter delight to experience and play, and it is without doubt one of the finest golf courses in the Algarve. Designed with the highest level of international tournament golf in mind, along with a pleasurable experience for tourists and professionals alike, each of the three loops - Alvor, Lago, and Praia - offers a unique character and ambience, ensuring a unique experience every time.
The Alvor course features a parkland aesthetic, with beautiful views of the Monchique hills. The elevation varies frequently on this first course, as valleys and hillsides roll together to create a challenging preview of the dunes and link holes featured further down the line. The Lagos course features the only 2 lakes found on the site, and the Praia course is simply idyllic - offering players what for many golfers is the dream course: a seaside landscape, with dunes exposed to the elements.