LAGOS, PORTUGAL - Golfers' comments on a course opinion website gave Palmares Golf (on the western tip of the Algarve), hearty accolades. There was nothing wishy-washy about their support of this course. Players appreciated the scenery, the challenges, the friendliness of fellow golfers and are, with one exception, unreservedly pro-Palmares. A sole dissident who somewhat grumpily averred that Palmares was ordinary and not worth the greens fee was met by a barrage of huffiness by readers.
It seems fitting to start a profile of Algarvian Golf with a course regarded by many as the Algarve's most scenic. Certainly, Palmares' arresting location is remarkable. Before man was spoiled by geographical nous, Lagos might well have been thought of as Europe's high jump off the horizon. Several holes at Palmares run along this edge, presenting players with magnificent views.
"This is a postcard," says Golf Pro, Luis Espadinha. No cavilling, for one view presents Lagos Bay, another, the resort area of Portimau and a third surveys the mysterious Monchique hills far distant.
Espadinha has been the pro here since the course opened in 1975. "You must have seen a lot of changes," is answered by, "Not really; only the trees. They're full grown now. When the course opened, they had just been planted."
Although, several of the holes are links, the land was characterised by its aridity. Now, numerous pine trees are a major attraction on the course, both for beauty and for challenge. Flowering shrubs were planted; almonds became prolific.
A high point for visiting players is during February, when the Almond Blossom Amateur Tournament is held. Regarded as highly for the visual splendour of the plentiful display of flowers as for the play itself, this tournament increases in popularity every year. The TAP Open has been played here, The Pro-Am Tournament Algarve-Andalucia, introduced in1998, has become an annual event.
Starting from the longest, most difficult and interesting hole, Number 5 fairway, you tee off from a green directly adjacent to the beach. The fairway is lined with sand on both sides, and while three well-placed shots will put you on the green, it's no laughing matter to get there. In contrast is the 10th, a Par 3: short but steep in the middle and a bit wearying. Just offside the left of the green, a lake lies in wait.
Hole 16 also involves an uphill hike; it is considered the toughest Par 4 on the course. The course begins to gather slope on the 7th hole, as the first six are basically at sea level. Despite several holes involving some striding upwards, Palmares can be played without a buggy and it certainly worth doing so if you're fit. Taking advantage of the scenery on foot is a particular pleasure here.
During busy periods, tee times are every eight minutes and the course is busy without being frantic. Amenities include a bar and restaurant recently renovated and situated seaside. Signposting in Portugal has not improved since my first visit to the country, but I found myself fairly unstressed by it this time. Eventually, you'll get there, I muttered and indeed I did.
To date, real estate has not encroached upon the fringes of Palmares Golf. Within the next five years, it will. One of Portugal's largest supermarket chains (SONAI), recently purchased the course and it is predicted that they are in the process of completing property transactions. On the positive side is that the residential areas are expected to be of a high standard and low rise.
It would be misleading, however, to plant the thought that if you purchase property in the Lagos area, you will be pioneers. An international presence is firmly in place - and apparently very glad to be there. At present, the property market is busy as foreign investment continues to flow in from Britain, Germany and other countries. What investors seem to have in common is a taste for a slightly wilder scenery, a less developed coastline and an environment which is still dominated by nature rather than man's intrusion upon it.
Life along the western coast moves along at a peaceful pace. The benefits of tourism are embraced and lauded but the locals are not yet obsessed by them. Lagos itself is composed of meandering lanes offering arts and crafts. Cosy restaurants and bars are abundant, several of them under foreign management. Italian food predominates; one of the best little trattorias is 'Italia', outstanding for an inventive menu and friendly service.
English-speaking visitors will have the same ease of communication in this area as in the country generally. I've now started keeping a record: the only Portuguese I have met who do not speak English have been cab drivers. (Three, so far.)
Now: where to rest your weary head. My penchant for cosy and comfortable remains undiminished and I can think of no better place to suit my taste than 'Salsalito', a guest-house (lodging for 6 in total) whose laid-back charm is matched by its owners. Ten minutes out of Lagos, a few minutes from several beaches, owners Sally and Ralf Eveleigh run a most relaxed home, complete with 'honour' bar (incredibly well-stocked), swimming pool, terrace and a very large living area. Ralf's beach bar 'Smuggler's' on the Burgau beach, is world-famed. This is a short drive from Palmares Golf; there are other golf clubs less than an hour away.
Those intent on the short, sweet break will fly into Faro, rent a car and head for Palmares, where both play and ambience are designed to soothe the spirit. Exact location is on Meia Beach (Meia Praia).
Meia Praia 860 - 901
Tel: (+351) 282 768 959
Fax: (+351) 282 790 509
Tel: 351 282 697628
Tel/Fax: 00351 282 788272
January 7, 2002
Simply select where you want to play, find a tee time deal, and golf now!