Golf: Overseas Study

  • Mike Nolan

Aboard caravels built in the shipyards of the Algarve, Portuguese explorers sailed faster and farther than their European competitors in the race to conquer new worlds. Five centuries later, megayachts occupy the region’s modern marinas, and most international competitions are confined to the area’s golf courses. One such event, the World Golf Championships World Cup, will take place this November at the Arnold Palmer–designed Victoria Clube de Golfe. The course is one of several notable layouts in the Algarve, and yet this destination on Portugal’s southernmost coast remains relatively unexplored by American golfers. “The only reason there aren’t more Americans in the Algarve,” said Palmer after completing his inaugural round at the Victoria, “is lack of knowledge.”

Europeans long have known of the Algarve’s abundant golfing options, which include Pinhal at Vilamoura (a Frank Pennink/Robert Trent Jones Jr. design) and the North and South courses at the region’s best hotel, Quinta do Lago. The Victoria, which opened in 2004 as the fifth course at the Vilamoura golf complex, is one of the most challenging—and certainly the longest—in the group. The 7,174-yard track occupies the former site of an airstrip, but Palmer’s crew moved 25 million cubic feet of earth to transform the barren plain into a setting reminiscent of the undulating landscape of Scotland (if it were not for the nearly perpetual sunshine reflecting off the grass). A system of streams and waterfalls connects 22 lakes on the rolling, links-style layout, and although the course is not directly on the ocean, salty onshore winds plague approach shots. The Victoria is located near enough to the Atlantic that seagulls could have become a nuisance, so the course managers imported a peregrine falcon, named Alanis, to keep the birds from pestering players.

Alanis is but one of the surprises—some pleasant, others not so—at the Victoria club. The play of light on the lake and green on the par-4 10th hole, aptly named the Mirage, deceives players into believing they can drive the 406-yard distance from the back tees. Approach shots pushed right on the 12th hole may run afoul of the green and into the ruins of the Roman aqueduct behind it. The 424-yard 14th, one of two holes with a double fairway, tempts players to bridge the 230-yard carry over a large lake. While this exercise in machismo may be satisfying if successful, it will leave a long, blind iron shot to a multitiered green suspended over a 5-foot-high stone wall. Taking the separate fairway to the left turns the hole into a sharp dogleg right—and affords a clear view of the flag—but the route necessitates a second shot over two lakes.

The club’s liquid assets reach their peak at Victoria Falls, a long par 5 with a series of waterfalls running nearly the length of its right side and an expansive lake that cascades into a pool beside the green. “That’s one you may get carried away with,” said Palmer of his 588-yard 17th hole. “In fact, you might end up not even playing the 18th.” To the contrary, Palmer’s 17th hole likely will prompt golfers to yearn for more time at the Victoria Clube and, quite possibly, in the Algarve.

Victoria Clube de Golfe
+351.289.320.100

Photo by James Lipman
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