palying golf

Climate and sports: forced changes have started …

The summer months can be sweltering for players and fans alike

The climate is changing major sports in Portugal and around the world. Almost all except water sports are being impacted, increasingly so.

The sports most affected in Portugal are golf, football, tennis, cycling and horse riding.

Golf is the number one sport in the Algarve for visitors and many expats. Most golfers prefer to play in the cooler months, but even then, problems due to heat are getting worse.

It’s mainly about water. Greenkeepers on the Algarve’s many excellent courses are having to cope with severe or extreme droughts. The fairways, driving range, tees and greens on an 18-hole course need an awful lot of irrigation. Even a nine-hole course needs plenty of water.

An 18-hole round of golf may take about four and a half hours to play. Most golfers don’t want to be out in the midday sun, even in the months of April or May. And even spending half that time on a nine-hole course can be gruelling enough at a warm time of year.

Courses close to the coastline sometimes offer cooling breezes, but rising sea levels are already threatening to flood some coastal courses, including for example, the iconic Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland.

Algarve courses have always attracted many winter visitors from northern European countries. Rising temperatures and less snow are keeping northern courses open longer and reducing the number of visitors to the increasing economic detriment of clubs here.

Football is by far the most popular sport in Portugal. The top professional season usually starts in mid-September and continues well into the following July. The summer months can be sweltering for players and fans alike. How many years they can go on like this is anyone’s guess…

Some football clubs, such as FC Barelona in Spain, are starting to help minimise CO2 levels by transporting players for matches in distant venues by train rather than more polluting private jets. This is also creating more public awareness and encouraging fans to do the same, in some cases with free train tickets.

Tennis attracts many visitors to the Algarve, but, like golfers, increasingly they are finding it best to avoid playing in the mid-afternoon. A match can take anywhere between one and several hours depending on the type of game and skill of the players. Morning or late afternoon is best even at this time of the year.

Irrigating tennis courts is only a fraction of the problem faced by golf greenkeepers and there is always the option of artificial grass or clay courts.

Horse riding is enjoyed all-year-round by many Portuguese and resident expats. The warming climate can affect the health of horses more than riders, causing hyperthermia, dehydration, weight loss, as well as respiratory, skin, hoof and eye infections.

Anyone who watched on TV the Grand National at Aintree in the UK last month will have seen the countless buckets of water splashed on the over-heated winning horse. The biggest annual horse festival in Portugal is held in Golegã in the cool, though often wet, month of November.

As in other sports in the warmer months here, morning and evening are best for enjoyable horse riding in the countryside. Very helpfully in the heat of summer, volunteers ride their horses in forested areas to detect and report any outbreaks of wildfires.

Portugal is well-known internationally for its cycling holiday tours. A seven-day package in the Algarve, including bed and breakfast, might start with transport from Faro Airport to Alte in the countryside and then on to and around Silves, Monte de Cima, Lagos or Salema. Visiting cyclists can choose their own time of year.

Local bikers, as well as long and short-distance joggers and hikers can choose and change their own time of day. Enclosed venues are available for athletes and gymnasts, but the changing climate remains important, if not key, to most non-water sports.

Forced changes have started and will likely become increasingly inhibiting. How things are in 2030 and the hopefully net-zero year of 2050 remains to be seen.


Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: