Notes on...

Golf in the Algarve

25 January 2014

9:00 AM

25 January 2014

9:00 AM

My second tee shot soared high and straight, then hurtled down towards the lake; a repeat of my first. I didn’t hear the disheartening plop this time because the breeze had shifted and now moved loudly through the pines that surrounded us. ‘Keep buggering on,’ said my old man, cheerfully. This course, Quinta do Lago South, was much too hard for us, so no shame in failure. I looked again at the 15th green. It was not much larger than a postage stamp, with water to the front and treacherous ground to the rear. ‘KBO,’ the old man repeated as my third ball followed its forebears into the deep.

The Algarve is a dangerous place for occasional golfers. The heat, so pleasant on the outward nine holes, begins to sap one’s strength by the tenth. As you trudge back into the clubhouse, it feels as if you’ve fought in the Peninsular War. Golf is sufficiently masochistic by itself; you shouldn’t have to endure physical hardship too. But you’ll plough on, again and again, because the dry fairways will flatter your meagre strength. The ball will hop, skip and bobble long after it should have stopped. At first this will delight you. Unfortunately, the same soil lies beneath the greens. If you see a pink-faced gent square-bashing around the flag, the chances are that he’s a Brit in difficulty. Oh for a soggy Sunday afternoon in the home counties!

The rough is worst of all. Grass in this part of the world does not grow long and thin like the hay on the famous British links, which snares unsuspecting Yanks during the Open. It is thick like an Afro. A ball might trickle off the fairway never to be seen again. The standard counter-ploy is to leave the driver at home, use a low-risk club and trust in Almighty God.

But I’m not complaining, because if you’ve caught the golf bug then the Algarve will turn it into a fever. The courses are plentiful and challenging, and the world’s leading designers have left their mark. Sir Henry Cotton, William F. Mitchell, Joe Lee, William ‘Rocky’ Roquemore, Frank Pennick and Jack Nicklaus have all helped build courses here. There are quaint British-style links along the coastal strip, bunker-dominated Californian numbers everywhere, several good all-rounders in the hills and a handful of monster championship courses.

The south course at Quinta do Lago is 7,100 yards long and every one of them is terrifying. But a course is a course is a course, of course. My fourth attempt at the 15th found the green and rolled to within two feet of the hole. I tapped in the putt. An eight — or quintuple bogey. To me, it will always be a birdie and a triumph. Such is golf.

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