It’s not easy being an intern at Golfmagic. You have to make a lot of tea, you’re made to go to Sainsbury’s in the pouring rain and sometimes AP makes you clean his clubs.
But it has its up-sides. Recently we were asked if we could make a press trip to Portugal to play Robert Trent Jones’ new course and interview the great man. With none of us available to attend, we asked young Andrew to fill in. Not the most difficult decision he’s ever had to make, we're sure.
Here’s how he got on...
We checked in at the 5* Hotel Cascade Resort, overlooking the beautiful peninsula of Ponta da Piedade on the Algarve coast, but were so excited about getting out to play nine holes on the Robert Trent Jones II-redesigned Onyria Palmares Beach and Golf Resort that we barely had a chance to take in our home for the weekend.
The new-look Onyria Palmares track, which represents €10 million of the €300 million resort project set to include a hotel with 172 sea-view rooms as of 2013, is divided into three separate nines - Alvor, Lagos and Praia - with each set on the panoramic backdrop of the Bay of Lagos.
First up was Alvor, the inland nine. With the first three holes playing uphill, long and into a stiff breeze on some of the least interesting land on the property, we had to stop and question what all the fuss was about.
After a third successive bogey, I moved to the next hole ahead of my playing partners to give myself a good talking to. Yet when I reached the elevated par-5 4th tee, I very nearly forgot to put the brakes on, such was the mesmerizing view which greeted me.
I turned to see my compatriots looking confused as to why I was suddenly jumping up and down on my seat with my thumbs up in the air. Yet ten seconds later, they would be joining in.
I quite simply did not want to be anywhere else in the world at that moment in time, playing the game I love in the beaming sun, in front of the most stunning backdrop I’ve ever seen on a golf course.
The beautiful natural downhill valley of Palmares descends back towards the coast around holes four to seven, and if you hit a bad shot, you simply don’t care because the view across Lagos puts everything into perspective. But I have to admit that clutch 10-foot birdie putt at the fifth tasted pretty sweet.
Alvor is certainly a tricky test with five of the holes playing uphill, and unfortunately for us, into the wind, so I was more than happy to finish 5-over for the nine.
A very impressive track, but nothing compared to what we experienced on day two, when we returned bright and early for the official Robert Trent Jones II inauguration of Onyria Palmares on the other two nines, Lagos and Praia – for an 18-hole tournament comprising of 80 journalists across Europe.
Teeing off the par-3 21st in the 9am shotgun start, the third hole on the classic seaside dunes-land Praia course (and not the third in the bar), we begun by playing the spectacular four seaside holes.
Bracketed by the beach and its signature railway line, the Praia course made us feel like we were playing at Royal Troon – after all, Trent Jones describes his course as ‘soft Scotland, only warmer’.
Perhaps the strongest hole on the course is the long par-5 22nd, with the coast running down the entire right side of the fairway. There is simply no room for error off the tee as I found out. The view was so nice I thought I would top up the tan on my Justin Rose TaylorMade 80 Penta ball and send it out on the beach. Three off the tee; I was pretty content by making a double-bogey seven for a point.
I started to find my game and played the next six holes in 2-under. The par-4 25th rewards good thinking off the tee, with a choice of tee shots – lay up ‘Brian Gay style’ short-right of the bunker with an iron or take the ‘Bubba line’, or should I say ‘AP line’, down the left with driver and go for the green.
Other memorable holes include the par-5 20th, which whisks golfers into the true coastal links and the par-3 26th that features a double green modeled on the 7th and 8th at St Andrews’ Old Course.
The par-5 27th is also a stunning piece of architecture, uphill yet reachable with a big tee shot, the hole rises back out of the dunes and through a deep valley to an amphitheatre below Onyria’s impressive clubhouse.
And finally, there’s the equally special Lagos nine, which begins with parkland, incorporating the only two lakes on the course in the short par-3 12th and long par-5 13th - a treacherous beast. Playing into a prevailing wind, I smashed my longest drive of the day and was still called upon to hit a 4-iron into the green for my third.
But Lagos kindly gives you a breather there on in, with the very reachable par-5 15th. A carry off the tee around 230 yards, will kick nicely off Mother Nature and roll out to 270 yards. From there, it’s just a nice solid 5-iron, with the hole’s only defence a beautiful water feature way left of the green.
Holes 16 to 18 then immerse golfers in the expansive dunes on the south-west portion of the site, before looping back to the clubhouse for a well-deserved pint.
I posted 7-over gross, which saw me represent Golfmagic in second and tied third in the nett. Very pleased, yet disappointed to miss out on the trophy.
So let’s assess. Onyria Palmares isn’t cheap to play, but you don’t go all the way to Portugal for a second-rate course. Splash the cash and enjoy. And why not add a bit of style to your vacation at the Hotel Cascade Resort? The 5* complex on the Algarve coast has been sensitively developed on the peninsula of the spine-tingling Ponta da Piedade and includes immaculate food, spa and a deluxe swimming pool.
With time to kill before our flight on the final day, the offer of a quick 18 holes at the Sir Henry Cotton Penina Championship Course seemed too good to turn down.
A pleasant but testing track with narrow tree-lined fairways and plenty of water to keep your mind on the task in hand, Penina has played host to ten Portuguese Opens and Senior Matchplay competitions down the years – so relive what the pros experience and see how low you can go.
The 4* Tivoli Hotel Beach and Golf Resort is another perfect place to spend your time off the course in the Algarve. Set in the heart of Lagos, this hotel epitomizes Portuguese culture through the designs of Maria Jose Salavisa.
But ultimately, if someone was asking me where to play in Portugal right now, I would tell them to get tee times at the revamped Onyria Palmares course and experience the true genius of the landscape poet Robert Trent Jones II.
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