There are times that a journalist can understandably lament life on the road but an invite to a midweek golf trip in the Algarve in December as rain clatters against the office window is not one of those times. As the first frosts of winter set in around Ireland, the five-day forecast read 20 Celsius and sunny as we departed Dublin airport for two nights and two rounds of golf at Amendoeira Golf Resort.
Located just 20 minutes from the famous golfing hotbed of Vilamoura and only 35 minutes from Faro airport, Amendoeira is home to two outstanding and differing Championship golf courses – The Faldo and the O’Connor – both suitable for any standard of player given their wide array of tee-box options. Being such a short trip, I travelled without my clubs, removing all airport anxiety and if you’re that way inclined, it was a decision I was never made to regret with the TaylorMade M5 rentals on offer – in both stiff and regular shafts– more than complementing of my prodigious 10-handicap.
The Resort itself oozes class as soon as you meet the gates; from the long and winding drive in giving you a first glimpse of the golf courses to the palatial clubhouse, dwarfing any I can remember visiting. We arrived for a midday tee-time and admittedly, the silence was slightly disconcerting. Such a space but so few people in it – granted December is off-peak – but without a breath of wind and shorts and t-shirt being ample, it seems golfers have missed the memo when it comes to Amendoeira.
We tackled The Faldo upon arrival, designed by six-time Major winner, Nick. Measuring 7,215 yards from the back sticks, this par-72 was a course I’ll have to come back to a second time. It’s a strategic set-up that demands careful consideration from the tee but I only learned that fairway positioning was paramount with hindsight which might explain my hard-fought 26 points on day one.
In 2016, the Faldo Course claimed the title of Portugal’s Best Golf Course, given by World Golf Awards and it’s easy to see why. This is a proper test of golf perched on a dramatic landscape sprinkled with cacti, spartan Holm oaks, ancient olive trees, astute bunkering and well-thought-out water hazards to negotiate. The course boasts a proper finishing stretch too with the delightful par-3 16th home to a three-club sprawling green, well-guarded by four bunkers plus a lake waiting patiently to catch anything long. The penultimate hole presents a split fairway from the tee, again littered with more sand than the nearby beaches of Silves, to an elevated green sloping gradually from right to left, while the closing obstacle, a tempting two-shot par-5 to a stunning target surrounded by an amphitheatre setting with the beautiful clubhouse set in the background is the cherry on top of a challenging 18.
Given the time of year, it was a pleasure to play on such a well-manicured golf course with the greens of the Faldo rolling particular well – not that I holed much. For me, the course was highlighted by a particularly enjoyable collection of par-threes but after an early morning wake-up call, it’s safe to say I was relieved to pull up a stump at the 19th where an extensive bar menu caters for all needs in a casual post-round environment. I even bumped into a society of golfers from Northern Ireland, both sun-kissed and equally pleased to have found the ice-cold compassion of a Super Bock and a high stool.
Our two-day itinerary was action-packed, leaving little time for complete rest and relaxation but for those considering a holiday – not just a golf holiday – the Resort offers something for everyone and seemed the ideal setting to take the whole family. Its leisure facilities include tennis courts, running trails, swimming pools and gym facilities while freshwater awaits only a few kilometres away where year-round sun greets the golden beaches of the Algarve. Zoomarine Park is 4.5km from the hotel while Vale do Olival Beach is 6km away.
For the more adventurous among you, the slides at Aqualand Water Park can be seen from the Resort while we were treated to a day of GoKarting at Kartódromo Internacional, part of the Algarve Motosports Park where I exacted revenge for a dreadful showing on the Faldo with a podium finish after a hotly-contested and highly-enjoyable race around its 1233 metre track. There are four track options ranging from a beginner circuit to an adrenaline inducing 1675 metre test but we burned enough rubber not to be left wanting and a champagne presentation was the ideal final salute to a welcomed non-golf related excursion.
But back to the Resort and a gem amongst the estate; a superb nine-hole par-3 course that can be played under floodlights – and under the influence of a few beers as it turns out. Our party was greeted to an exhibition from one of the world’s leading Pitch & Putt players, Hugo (all the greats, Seve, Tiger & Beyonce deal in one name!) who only managed to birdie seven of the nine-holes in our company. With holes ranging from 70-110–yards, this facility is one for all abilities with its receptive greens ideal for those wanting to hone their short game skills prior to taking on the Championship tests at Amendoeira.
The Resort even offers an amateur tournament schedule for players wanting to keep the competitive juices flowing whilst on holiday. Hotel guests are invited to join members and residents on the fairways to fight it out for prizes during their stay. Rock up with your handicap certificate and you’ll be on your way.
This year Amendoeira launched its Premium subscription for 2020. The subscription includes a range of significant discounts and excellent benefits to be enjoyed throughout the year, including year-round unlimited access to the O’Connor course, floodlit Academy Course and the award-winning Faldo Course to play as many times as you wish. In contrast to other Algarve clubs, the buggies are also included in the Premium subscription at Amendoeira, or a trolley, if you prefer an occasional walk down the pristine fairways, but I’d be recommending a buggy every time on the Faldo given its undulating, often exhausting pathways between greens and tees.
A day of excitement saw us call a halt to our co-curricular activities earlier than expected but given the lavishness of our accommodation, it would’ve been a shame not to make use of the facilities. A self-contained two-story four-bedroomed (all en-suite) apartment for little old me was slightly over the top. I remember sharing a two-bedroomed house in California with 23 compatriots on a J1 – the damage we could’ve done here!
The accommodation had everything from free WiFi, as well as free self-parking to central heating/air-con, a ginormous balcony, a fully equipped kitchen and a firm mattress. If I was being picky, I would’ve expected the water pressure to be a little stronger but other than that, all I needed was a bit of company to feel any more content. Perhaps if it wasn’t off-peak, I would’ve been sharing with a snoring journalist from the Midlands in England so be careful what you wish for, I guess!
I awoke the next morning to a bountiful breakfast in the restaurant – a cooked buffet, fresh pastries and an assortments of cereals, fruits and yogurt, fuelling my final 18 holes, this time on the O’Connor Course. Measuring 7,215 yards from the back sticks, I was promised a course that was ‘much more in front of you’ than the Faldo of the previous day. Sure enough, the first tee treated me to a gaping fairway, so generous that I decided to shank my drive into the water right. Thankfully it didn’t set the tone for the day.
My drive that is – the tee–boxes, as promised, largely connected to the fairways but with water more in play on the Christy O’Connor Junior designed layout, coupled with its subtly contoured putting surfaces, scoring was no more easily achieved on a course certainly complementing that of the Faldo. The forgiving fairways of the front nine set the test up as a second shot golf course with some tantalising sucker pins perched on slopes bringing the water into play for most of the outward half.
The back nine was different and although the wind added to the examination, blowing mercilessly into our faces for the final five holes, even on a calm day this was a proper finishing stretch. Compared to the Faldo, I would say that the collection of par-threes didn’t really conjure much imagination but the track is beautiful defined by expertly planted palm trees and cruelly designed water hazards waiting to swallow any shortcomings.
The main river that straddles the land comes into play one final time at a brilliant finishing hole where your drive is key. You must be long enough and right enough to open up the green where the hills come into play for the first time, guarding the left–hand side of the fairway. It’s a drive and a five-iron for the average hitter but once you’ve made the climb to the elevated green, the views that greet you overlooking the test you’ve just navigated provide the ideal photo opportunity after a pleasurable 18-holes of golf.
A quick turnaround post-golf and we were on our way to Vila Vita Parc, a five-star hotel just 15 minutes from Amendoeira and an alternate accommodation option, perfect for those seeking a romantic getaway around their fairway frolicking. With a total of six bars and 10 restaurants, ranging from beach side nibbles to Michelin-starred dining experiences, if getaways to you must revolve around eating and drinking, then look no further. We were treated to a rustic Portuguese selection of meats and cheeses as well as melt in the mouth mains of beef and fish and with more than 11,000 bottles of wine stocked in the hotel’s cellar, there was no shortage of fermented grapes to accompany the deliciousness. Oh, and Vila Vita Parc also has reciprocal arrangements with the Golf Resort at Amendoeira so for those looking for more from a golf holiday, especially those of you struck by Cupid’s arrow, then this might be the place for you.
I was struck by Cupid’s arrow too. No, sadly I slept in that four-bedroomed mansion alone once more, but I fell in love with the idea of playing golf in December in the liberating attire of a humble shorts and t-shirt combination. It may be marketed as off-peak but given the weather, the condition of the courses and the reduced rates around this time of year, such facilities so close to home are the summit of winter golf breaks for me, no matter what the adverts say.
Unlimited golf packages start from €299 per person for a three-night stay.
For more information, HERE