The winner of best golf destination may surprise a lot of golfers. It’s not Hawaii or California or Scotland - this year’s honouree is Portugal.
Situation on the south-west corner of the Iberian Peninsula (which it shares with Spain), Portugal is home to a surprisingly large number of great golf courses. The British introduced golf to the country when wine exporters opened Oporto Niblicks Club in the 19th century, and the Portuguese were hooked.
Their love of golf is apparent, as 87 golf courses spread around the country make great use of the various landscapes present on the peninsula. The most famous one is the Arnold Palmer-designed Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, as it hosts the European PGA Tour’s Portugal Masters tournament each year. But despite its international visibility, it’s not even ranked in the top 50 courses in the country! That means there’s a bevy of true gems to uncover.
This article will explore why this under-the-radar country is such a phenomenal golf destination.
Portugal’s Mediterranean climate is tailor made for golf. It’s one of Europe’s warmest countries year-round, with moderate winters and warm, comfortable summers. It’s also one of the driest countries - so your chances of getting rained out are low.
The peak golf season in Portugal is late autumn to early spring, perfect for golfers suffering through rough winters. The mildest weather is along the southern Algarve coast, where it generally stays between 55 and 75 degrees all winter.
The summers do get hot, but cool breezes coming in off the Pacific Ocean help provide some respite from the sun. Temperatures during July and August can rise into the 90s and occasionally 100s, so if you find yourself there in summertime heat try to get an early tee time and then spend the afternoon drinking sangria in the shade - perfect to try out your latest set of golf clubs.
Most golf tourism in Portugal is focused on the southern Algarve Coast, where there’s an impressive 35 world class golf clubs along a 100-mile stretch of coastline, which means you should expect a lot of golf courses with bunkers, requiring the use of your wedges.
The Faro airport is within an hour of the plentiful resort options. The landscape along the Algarve Coast is downright breath-taking, with dramatic limestone cliffs jutting into the
clear oceanic waters.
Numerous beaches, caves, grottoes and oceanside mountains provide golf course architects with some of the best natural features in the world to build the courses around.
The best course in the country, Monte Rei North, is set in the eastern Algarve coast. The Jack Nicklaus signature course features mountainside fairways, plateaued greens with gorgeous bunkering, and incredible views of mountains to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
Another notable golf area is The Azores, a collection of islands a 4.5-hour flight from the western coast of Portugal. The Azores are analogous to the Hawaii of Portugal - technically part of the country but really a unique collection of volcanic islands in the middle of the ocean, far from any other civilisation. The Azores, as you might expect, features several courses which curve through interior forests before opening up to stunning coastal holes.
Portugal’s famous Silver Coast, north of the Algarve, boasts a brand-new Cynthia Dye design that may be one of the top courses in all of Europe and could be the course that won Portugal 2018’s award. West Cliffs is a soaring and dramatic layout that offers incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean, numerous lagoons and nearby islands. The location is one of the best natural sites for a golf course anywhere, and Dye preserved the natural beauty with her brilliant routing. And it’s within an hour’s drive of Lisbon.
The Algarve and Silver Coasts, as well as the Azores, offer acres of beauty and tons of activities that non-golfers can enjoy, so unlike, say, a trip to Bandon Dunes, your Portugal trip doesn’t have to be golfers-only. The gorgeous natural vistas will continue to delight and amaze after you’ve gotten putted out on the 18th hole.
Watching the sun set over the ocean is an experience you can relish in Portugal, as most of its golf courses are set along their west-facing coastlines. This may sound like a small thing, but until you’ve seen the sun descend across a wide expanse of water, you won’t understand how moving an experience it is. The final disappearance below the horizon is often accompanied by applause from the delighted observers.
Lots to Do After Your Round
Even the most golf-centric holidays have plenty of downtime spent off the golf course, and Portugal has so much to offer when you’re off the golf course. For one, it’s one of the most affordable destinations in Europe. You’ll be surprised by how far your dollar will go in such a beautiful locale.
Portugal’s close ties to South America mean you can find great coffee everywhere you look, at prices that are one third of what you’d pay at a Starbucks. The seafood is unparalleled, as it’s hauled in fresh from the ocean every single day. Don’t be afraid to order the sardinhas - fresh from the sea, they’re incredibly affordable and completely different from the tinned sardines you’ll find in grocery stores.
Portugal is home to the highest concentration of English-speakers in southern Europe, so you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be able to communicate with the locals or find your way around. The Portuguese are kind, welcoming, and hospitable - and frequently trilingual!
Portugal features more sun in a day than any other European country, so after you’ve played 18 holes in the morning there’s still plenty of time to cool off in the ocean. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are some truly world-class surfing spots and plenty of locals more than happy to give you lessons.
Lisbon is the second-oldest city in Europe (trailing only Athens), and it’s loaded with beautiful cobblestone roads that teem with culture. World-class restaurants and architecture surround you and there’s music everywhere, from rock festivals to the beautiful, melancholy Fado music Portugal is known for.
As a golf destination, Portugal is fantastic, but it also excels as an overall travel destination. It’s certainly a deserving winner of 2018’s top golf destination.
This is an article from Jordan Fuller, a veteran golf enthusiast.
Over the last 25 years, he’s helped countless golfers improve their game. After noticing that the players he was coaching were all making the exact same mistakes, he decided to create his own online resource that summarises his best advice on golf.