We’d heard so much about golf in Portugal. So did it live up to the hype?
We left Chamonix at an unholy 3am on Dec 5th. It was -9°C (15°F) and the idea that we would soon be outside in a t-shirt seemed too good to be true. We touched down, got our car and immediately put on shorts and slippers, simply out of novelty.
The Package Deal
Phil had booked us a golf deal online – bed and breakfast in a 4-star hotel with 4 rounds of golf at the best courses in the Algarve for (wait for it) – 280€ per person. Flights were separate but totally reasonable considering we brought one golf travel bag with two pencil cases and half sets each. An absolute steal.
We drove 2.5 hours from Lisbon through endless amounts of nothing, just trees and scrub, perfect for motorbiking but not much else. As we got closer to Alvor we were reminded a little of Morocco. Abandoned buildings, a bit of trash around, unkept public spaces with grass growing through the cracks, and very little commercial space for tourism or even local trade outside of the golf compounds. But hell, we like Morocco, so we weren’t too phased.
You could tell the hotel was once a 4-star gem. It was right next to the beach with nice grounds and an outdoor pool, and from a distance it was a stunner! Inside, it wasn’t too bad, but just needed some updating, maintenance and proper cleaning (AND REAL COFFEE). The decor was outdated and there were things like pen marks on our walls and a broken tile or two but c’mon, for the price it was lush! Breakfast was a pretty decent buffet, but a powder coffee distributor was the one thorn in my side. However, they offered a dinner buffet with UNLIMITED BEER all for 20€ so we let it slide.
The Golf Scores
After a day of relaxing and getting settled in it was time for golf. The last round I’d played in Chamonix wasn’t too encouraging so I had no expectations, especially on an unknown course. However, I remembered the last tip I told myself at the end of the season that had started to work – “don’t just look at the ball, focus on the ball“. Sounds obvious, but when I did it, it took away all the chatter of “swing back straight, pause, turn hips, follow through straight” and from the practice range to the course, I could just swing.
I shot 7 over par. Then I did it again the next day on another course. To be fair I was putting very well, but I think swinging well helped create a good mental place for good putting. Phil also shot +7 on the first day, a great start for us both, but as fate would have it our golf slowly slid into minor oblivion as the holiday went on. We also agreed not to “compete” as the last Par Wars threatened the very happiness of our holiday. But since no one’s counting, and if it came down to it, and you HAD to say who won, you could say, I suppose, it would have been me… BUT WHO’S COUNTING?!
The Golf Courses
We played four different courses, Gramacho, Pinta, Alto and Silves. In my opinion, Gramacho and Pinta were the best because they were interesting, maybe even flattering at some points, but not easy. Pinta was dried out a bit, but that made my drives run so I wasn’t too upset. All the courses were interesting and appealing with small slanted and often difficult running greens. Not the greatest courses I’ve played but if you could dabble between the four, you’d keep yourself easily entertained. The views were also very impressive, especially some of the lofted tees at Silves. All the courses were dried out and not in perfect condition, but it was winter and as we found out, they had just suffered a three-month dry spell.
The putting greens were pretty insane. Touch was essential, and if you didn’t have it you could easily 3-putt a 4-footer. And boy did we… I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry on the third course we played, it was a little disheartening after playing so well the first two days, but after a while i just said “screw it” and stopped caring. Well, tried to anyway.
We soon realized we had an amazing deal at these courses, as a ‘local’ told us one green fee alone would have been around 110€ per person. And if you wanted to join as a member of the 6-course package, you had to cough up a 30,000€ joining fee per person, plus an annual fee of over 2,000€. When we heard that we suddenly realized holidaying in Portugal long-term may be a *bit* above our heads. Gulp.
The Town of Alvor
We had also sort of been scoping out the surrounding area in case we ever thought of staying down there in the winter, away from the incessant snow shoveling in Chamonix. Unfortunately the town was pretty quiet as everyone was away for holidays, and the only places that stayed open were Irish bars. Yes, Irish bars.
Even looking at the bars and restaurants that were shut, we could tell the town had a strong tendency to cater to expats living abroad. Not exactly what we’re looking for. The most novel thing we saw though was a place that had 0.90 cent pints, “all day long”. Coming from Chamonix where a cheap pint is easily 6-7€, this was insane.
And no we didn’t go nuts there, only a pint or two each, I swear.
Would We Go Again?
As far as a place to go for a week of golf, at those prices you can’t NOT go, and it was really beautiful, so why not. But as for spending a month down there, I’d suggest exploring some other areas of Portugal first before deciding this was the spot. The best thing about this area, however, was an incredible cove about 10 minutes walk from our hotel. It looked like something out of Thailand, it was amazing. So I’ll leave you with some shots of the beach to tempt you on this cold January day.