Friday 25 May 2018

The Algarve: Doing the rounds in Portugal's Golf Central

Golfing holidays in Spain

Quinta do lago
Quinta do lago
True colours: Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley's redesign of Quinta do Lago's North Course produced outstanding results.
Sunny side up: Fergus McDonnell
Martinhal villa

Fergus McDonnell

Fergus McDonnell takes to the fairways from his base in Portugal’s Martinhal Quinta, just 20 miles from Faro.

People who think about such things will often remark that we can learn a lot from children. There is some truth in this, but given that we were all children once, perhaps it is more a case of remembering something we already knew, rather than learning something new.

Take drawing pictures, for example - that pre-iPad staple of children's entertainment. Sit a child down with a blank piece of paper and a packet of crayons and ask them to draw a picture and the result will almost always be the same. The sky and the sea will always be blue, the sun yellow and the trees a base of brown topped with vivid greens, matched only by the grass that springs around them.

It's the sort of scene that would make you long for those endless summer days when you can relax in warm sunshine, enjoy a refreshing drink by the pool and indulge your passion for golf.

But you don't have to wait for summer.

The Algarve may not offer all-year sunshine, but there's enough of it to keep the most avid worshipper happy and temperatures rarely drop below 15C. And when you think of the sort of dull, soggy greyness we've been enduring here since - well, at this stage it feels like since forever - it's nice to think that relief is just a three-hour flight away.

Martinhal villa
Martinhal villa

The Algarve, of course, has the added attraction of being golf-central, with some of the finest courses in Europe clustered together in a wonderful collection of fairways and greens.

Our trip took us to the Martinhal Quinta complex, located just 20 minutes from Faro and right in the heart of golf country.

It is the second complex in the Algarve under the direction and ownership of Chitra and Roman Stern, a remarkable couple who saw the potential of a site at Sagres that had only been partly developed and was deemed to be too far away from Faro.

The Sterns reorganised the existing planning permission so that the accommodation would be high-end, with the facilities to make it attractive to people all year round, not just in the peak summer season. And then, crucially, they added their secret ingredient of making it family-friendly.

It proved to be a winning combination in Sagres - which they have now successfully continued in Martinhal Quinta and, just outside Lisbon, in the Martinhal Family Resort Hotel in Quinta da Marinha, which will open in the spring and give visitors access to Cascais, Sintra and Guincho.

This, by the way, also boasts many fine golf facilities, such as Penha Longa and Oitavos Dunes, as well as welcoming members' clubs, such as Estoril and Lisbon Sports Club.

Sunny side up: Fergus McDonnell
Sunny side up: Fergus McDonnell

Back in the Algarve, Martinhal Quinta has partnered with some of the best courses in the area to enable it to offer excellent value-for-money packages that are sure to keep all members of the family happy.

Throw in the many fine restaurants in the area, including the Bovino Steakhouse, which is an absolute must for meat-lovers, and you have a winning combination.

During our three-day stay, we were lucky enough to play two courses in the Quinta do Lago complex - the recently remodelled North Course and Laranjal - as well as Pinheiros Altos. The latter now has three nines and is right on the doorstep of Martinhal Quinta, indeed the pool hangout at the complex offers stunning views across the fairways of the original 18.

Ireland's Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley collaborated with American architect Beau Welling on the redesign of Quinta do Lago's North Course, and the thinking behind the project produced outstanding results.

True colours: Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley's redesign of Quinta do Lago's North Course produced outstanding results.
True colours: Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley's redesign of Quinta do Lago's North Course produced outstanding results.

"A lot of people find the game very difficult," said McGinley when the revamped course was launched in 2014, "so the aim with the golf course was to make it as playable as possible for golfers of all levels. We are trying to encourage people to play the game in a beautiful place and the aim is not to intimidate.

"We didn't change the template or routing of the course but upgraded it and brought it into the modern world, making it as visual as possible. We want people to go out there, have fun and enjoy the course and its challenge so much that they want to come back and play it again. The course is a challenge but it is also very fair."

Returning to play the course again a year after McGinley's work was complete, this humble hacker can report that he succeeded in all of those aims.

Originally an orange grove (hence the name), Laranjal is the newest of the three Quinta do Lago courses, having been opened in 2009.

With wonderfully shaped fairways and well-defined greens, it boasts five beautiful lakes and is pretty as a picture, with its many umbrella pines, cork and orange trees.

At 6,480 metres in length, Laranjal course demands a high level of accuracy, but don't let that make you think that it can't be enjoyed by mere mortals. Its distinctive rolling terrain has been expertly designed to provide a world- class golfing experience.

Our visit coincided with the World Golf Awards - a celebration of the courses, resorts and agencies that form the huge industry of golf tourism. Present to receive a lifetime achievement award was Bernard Gallacher, accepting it from last year's recipient, Peter Alliss.

If proof were needed of the standing of this region in the game of golf, it could be found right there. But as we look forward now to another Ryder Cup year with another Irish captain in Darren Clarke and anticipate the battles ahead between the likes of Jordan Speith, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, we can remember that this is a game for everyone - good, bad or indifferent.

In Portugal's Algarve we have one of the best places to enjoy playing this great game and, just as importantly, talking about it afterwards in the company of good friends over a meal and a drink.

Getting there...

Martinhal Quinta in Quinta do Lago offers an exclusive private collection of independently owned luxury villas, ranging from two-bedroom townhouses to five-bedroom villas - each with a private pool.

Facilities at Martinhal Quinta include Raposinhos Kids' Club for children from six months to eight years, M Bar and Gelataria, Mercado Deli & Bake, the Blue Room - a games room with wiis, a playstation, pool table, table football and more - and the stylish Pool Hangout, with an outdoor playground that includes a trampoline, water jets, and ice-creams.

Until February 29, you can book a two-bedroom townhouse for seven nights (maximum four adults) for €1,624 or €406 per person, with breakfast included. The price includes five rounds of golf: two rounds at Quinto do Lago South, two rounds at Laranjal and one round at Quinto do Lago North. Other courses are available at an extra charge

For full details of this offer, and for their early summer offers, see martinhal.com, email res@martinhal.com or phone +351 282 240 200.

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