Golf in Portugal. It’s just as hard as everywhere else 

John Craven

Your hack with fellow hackers Alan McNamara, Rory McEntee and Ruadhri McCarthy

I recently returned from attempting to play three rounds of golf in Portugal and the game has never had me more confused. 

Hindered by expectations way too high for a fair-weather golfer in winter, our fourball of varying levels of malfunction took on Quinta da Ria, Monte Rei and Quinta de Cima, and it’s safe to say the golf courses won. 

18 degrees and sunny with hardly a breath of wind to ponder, the swing felt fluid in shorts and t-shirt weather on day one; Quinta da Ria throwing up a fun variety of holes and interesting green complexes to challenge all types of player. 36 points was a decent return for me – the boy McEntee had 42! – and bar the odd skulled chip and three putt, hopes were high heading into day two that, with cobwebs banished, the scoring would only improve. 


They did warn us that Monte Rei was a step up in grade. Portugal’s finest. A beautiful monster. Divine on the eye. Devilish to play. But we were four Irish lads hardened by sideways wind and rain. How hard could it possibly be? 

Let’s just say, when our clubs were taken by the valet on arrival, we might’ve been best off never to see them again. Even an hour’s practice at their epic facilities couldn’t prevent a massacre; great pyramids of Callaways falling foul to our wild swipes as we desperately searched for our swings.  

It was hard to comprehend how things could feel so different overnight. Sure there were a few extra Super Bock on board but while the mind was willing, the body couldn’t act on the swing thoughts that served me so well the day before.  

I felt stuck, like I was swinging a length of lumber and I had an awful dose of the lefts, not least because from the tee, Monte Rei can suffocate you with impending doom left and right.  

We donated the best part of 40 balls between us to the vegetation, which was just as well because we were overweight with Ryanair on the way over oblivious to the 20kg limit on clubs. When we did manage to find the short grass, the sticky Bermuda chewed us up and spat us out.  

We overheard an English fella bragging about shooting two-under in the clubhouse afterwards and I would’ve been bragging too. Shouting it from the terracotta rooftops in the hope news would reach Ireland on the right wind. Unlike us, it wasn’t his first rodeo around Monte Rei; the course a lot less intimidating second time around having realised the fairways are much more forgiving than they look from the tee.  

Tell that to our wayward fourball; the first golfers ever to use buggies and manage to get in their 10,000 steps. 

In terms of service, Monte Rei was different gravy to anything I’ve ever experienced. It felt like there was more staff than golfers, each waxing lyrical about their little patch of heaven on earth. They even cleaned our clubs and forgave our sins post-round, handing us bag tags on 18 with our names inscribed to commemorate the day. A classy touch, and a handy one considering we hardly hit a shot worth remembering, though we did learn the Portuguese word for fore. FRENTE! 

Sadly the golf didn’t get any better after that. Half the world’s population was at Quinta de Cima on day three for beginner group lessons and clinics run across its impressive practice facilities. The course was heaving too and while its heavily contoured greens were fun to putt on, the last three holes, nicknamed the widow-maker on account of the watery graves guarding the greens, provided juice worth waiting to squeeze. 

Admittedly I spent the majority of my round battling the voices in my head. One beating me up for every mistake. The other slapping back at my childish temperament knowing full well how lucky I am to be able to play golf in Portugal at all. I wouldn’t speak to my worst enemy the way I spoke to myself that day and yet now I find myself more motivated than ever to dive into range sessions and lessons in time for the new season so I don’t have to go through such disappointment again. 

“Disappointment.” The nerve!  

When I zipped up my clubs in the golf travel bag, I told them to take a long hard look at themselves in the dark on the way home. Then I sat in seat 17A on my Ryanair jet telling myself the very same thing. 

And I thought about it for all three hours. How this game does funny things to you. Plays tricks on the mind. Betrays you when you least expect it. The long walk spoiled.  

A walk I’ll keep repeating for as long as my body allows. 

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