Why Portugal is still Europe’s #1 golf destination

There were no surprises at last week’s World Travel Awards when Europe’s Leading Golf Destination for 2012 was announced.

Hosted at the swanky new Conrad Algarve Resort in Portugal the evening turned out to be as golden as the cliffs that line Portugal’s coastline on the Atlantic Ocean seaboard.

Portugal scooped seven awards, including Europe’s Leading Golf Destination and Europe’s Leading Beach Destination, which saw the Algarve win the top award.

Other winners were:
Conrad Algarve Resort – Europe’s Leading New Resort
Vila Joya Resort – Europe’s Leading Boutique Resort
Dunas Douradas Beach Club – Europe’s Leading Villa & Apartment Residences
Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel – Europe’s Leading Villa Resort
Quinta do Lago Hotel – Mediterranean’s Leading Hotel

Portugal is still Europe's #1 golf destination
The golden cliffs of Portugal’s Algarve

The Algarve continues to be loved by British, Scandinavian and German golf tourists. This love affair edges out neighbouring Spain, Turkey, Mallorca and the Canary Islands – all of which have a lot to offer the golf traveller.

Few Portugese can afford to play golf
The unusual thing about golf in Portugal is that the people who live there struggle to afford to play the game and provision of the sport is almost exclusively for mass market golf tourism.

Golf participation among Portugese is among the lowest of any European nation. Find it hard to believe? When was the last time you heard of a successful Portugese touring professional.

So, golf will always be the main driver of tourism to the Algarve and the rate at which new golf developments are springing up reflects its popularity.

Old sits alongside the new
The new courses, managed leisure and real estate communities, and hotels sit alongside established Portugese golfing classics like Penina, Vale de Lobo, Vilamoura, Onyria Palmares Golf, Quinta da Lago and San Lorenzo.

The famous umbrella pines of Portugal’s Algarve

Relative newcomer Monte Rei (North) is already voted Portugal’s #1 golf course by course rankings website Top 100 Golf Courses.

There are more than 30 golf courses alone on the Algarve coast, making it Europe’s Golf Coast and that’s without including its lesser known but equally impressive cousin, the “Silver Coast” around Estoril, Sintra and close to the capital Lisbon – Ed Butler’s review of the Lisbon Golf Coast gives a great flavour of the courses there.

The Algarve has long white sand beaches, a lively marina, casino, cosmopolitan bars and restaurants at Vilamoura and a party town in Albufeira, making it an attractive destination on and off the course.

Vilamoura Marina at night by Patricio Miguel

The industrial town of Setabul, closer to Lisbon – is where Jose Mourinho hails from –and is the gateway for a fast developing golf destination on the Troia Peninsula. Troia itself is a beautiful, atmospheric links-style course wound through umbrella pines and I would argue is easily among the top-10 best courses in Portugal.

I have yet to tee up in Madeira but I hear great things about its capital Funchal and would love to hear from any readers who have played the courses there.

It’s not just the golf.

It’s the ease of access into Portugal with Faro a thriving hub for European airlines, and easy access across the nearby Spanish border. The road system in Portugal is easy to get around, the sun shines most of the year round and the beach resorts and fishing villages make for a stunning accompaniment to its greens and tees.

Fishing boats on the Algarve Coast Portugal
Traditional Portugese fishing boats moored in the harbour

Golf is becoming increasingly expensive in Portugal, as the euro-zone debt crisis worsens, and in 2012 TAP (Air Portugal) became the last airline to abandon free carriage for golf clubs. Even with prices creeping up the fact remains, Portugal is still Europe’s #1 when it comes to travel and golf.

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