The Atlantic Ocean and stunning cliffs
The Atlantic Ocean and stunning cliffs

A day at Vale do Lobo

As golf in the Algarve hits the busy season, I was invited to play a couple of rounds at Vale do Lobo, a resort just a short drive from Vilamoura. Famed for its opulent villas, superb restaurants and excellent golf courses, I jumped at the opportunity to see if I could master two of the region’s most popular tracks.

Playing at the beginning of September can be a challenge. The heat can really get the better of you, but, thankfully, the team organised an early-morning tee time. 7am is one of my favourite times to play. Not only do you get out ahead of the busy (and sometimes much slower) four-balls that are an inevitable part of golf during the peak season, you also get to play in the cooler climate before the heat of the day really starts to take its toll.

My first round was on the Royal Course, famed for the 16th, which is both spectacular and terrifying in equal measure. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The morning was slightly overcast, with plenty of dew on the ground and perfect conditions for an excellent day on the course – but could my game hold up?

Hole one is a tasty 393-metre par five and one that you can really get aggressive with. My tee shot was slightly left, but it wasn’t too much of an issue as the hole doglegs slightly to the right; a gentle hybrid for my second left me with a simple wedge onto the green, which I should have done better with. The inevitable 3-putt followed for a bogey. Not the best start, but not the worst either.

My early impressions were superb, the fairways and greens were very well watered and particularly green, something you don’t see on every golf course at this time of year, given the heatwave that the region has experienced this summer.

Hole four was a particular highlight, a short par-4 that plays downhill with two rather opulent villas overlooking the green, giving me a glimpse as to how the other half lives. Your tee shot needs to be accurate to score well here, as does your approach to the green, given how well it’s protected by some cleverly positioned bunkers. I’d loosened up by this point and scored a well-deserved par.

The remainder of the front nine continued in much the same vain. The Royal Course isn’t overly difficult and will suit golfing parties of all standards. That said, it provides enough of a challenge for the lower handicappers, especially if you’re on point with your approach play.

By the time I’d reached the back nine, I was relaxed and hitting some delightful shots, there were no disastrous numbers on the scorecard, and I’d even managed to successfully navigate the water on eight with no dropped shot or lost ball – all in all, a successful start.

Vale do Lobo Royal Hole 1
Vale do Lobo Royal Hole 1

As I finished up on 15, my heart started to race. Most people who play the Royal Course hotly anticipate the 16th, a frightening, yet altogether stunning 215 metre par-3 that plays over a garish ravine, with the Atlantic Ocean and stunning cliffs away to your left. If the golfing gods were with me today, I’d crush my hybrid with the slightest of fades, to land plump onto the green.

Inevitably that didn’t happen, and I hooked it down onto the beach below. I can’t tell you how many times in my up-and-down golf career I’ve stepped up to a signature hole and completely blown it. I’d made good progress to this point, so I stuck another one down, relaxed and swung easy.

This time, it floated slap-bang onto the middle of the green. I stepped back and marvelled at the majesty of my golfing prowess … this was quickly followed by the utterance of the words that many a golfer has mumbled through gritted teeth over the years – “Why didn’t I do that the first time”! But that’s golf and that’s why we love it so much.

As my round drew to a close, I looked back on what was a thoroughly entertaining morning of golf. If I had any gripes at all, it would be that the greens could do with a little work – I personally like them running faster. And some gentle reminders about repairing pitch marks wouldn’t go amiss, but I fully appreciate that it’s the busy season and footfall is at its highest.

Vale do Lobo has a new managing director at the helm, Eduardo Johnston da Silva. Whilst he has only been in the post for four months, he clearly has a bold vision for the resort. These include reduced footfall on both courses to improve playing times and maintenance. He also hopes to introduce GPS buggies to increase the pace of a round as well as offer a valet service to all golfers who play on either course. If all comes to fruition, I don’t see why Vale do Lobo can’t match the likes of Monte Rei and the Quinta do Lago courses.

If you’d like to play either the Royal or Ocean Courses, green fees are €190 per person per round, but twilight and winter rates are available from €95. Guests at the resort receive a discount on the standard rate, costing €123 or €69 for twilight rounds.

For any golfers wishing to take an extended stay, self-catering accommodation is available at the resort with one night one round starting at €129 per person. Given that a round costs €190 in peak season, this seems to be the most cost-effective option.

Overall, Vale do Lobo represents a very good day’s golf. Both the Ocean and Royal Courses offer a varied experience with plenty of challenges along the way. I’m keen to see how Eduardo shapes his vision for the resort and takes it from very good to great.

By Mark Hirst
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Mark Hirst is the founder of Getaway Golfer, a site dedicated to helping people discover the best golf courses and hotels worldwide. His writing has been featured in National Club Golfer, Luxuria Lifestyle and many other publications.