Steeped in tradition and with a reputation as a fearsome test of golf even for the best players in the World, The Old Course at Vilamoura is one of three Championship courses set in a cork and pine forest on the Vilamoura estate in the heart of the Algarve.
Vilamoura Old Course was the creation of Englishman Frank Pennick, and if it was not for the warm beating sun, the dry, yet verdant fairways, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the heart of Berkshire or Surrey amidst the lollipop pines of Sunningdale or The Berkshire…but the late November weather tells you that you are definitely in the heart of the Algarve.
|It gets tight around here…bring your game!|
The Old Course was opened in 1969 and in stood the test of time up until 1996 when the greens, tees and fairways underwent reseeding and a palatial new clubhouse was built. The only evidence of recent refurbishment is the course’s magnificent condition, immaculate from tee to green on every hole and worthy of its popular reputation around the globe.
In the true spirit of the greatest architects, Pennick’s design imaginatively uses the natural contours of the land to shape each hole into the pines and the course is a joy to play and is far removed from some of today's windswept and open modern layouts that owners and designers say will "mature nicely"…in 400 years time!
The look and atmosphere of the Old Course is liable to make the handicap golfer feel like a scratch player and the professional freely gave advice about playing the course as a first timer that I was. "The par 3's and Par 5s are the key to a good score". He said. I took note of his undoubted expertise.
So, there I stood, I was confident on the first tee, then…oops!… a thinned 3 iron to a narrow short par 4 that offers a gentle start had me scrambling for my par with a long second to a wide green.
The short par 3 fourth is where the action starts, is a devilish little 165 yards over a fountained lake. While the lone cork tree and gaping bunker may be aesthetically beautiful to the cultured eye, it had little effect on calming nerves, especially so early in the round. I steadied my knees and found the green to my sheer delight, only to three putt and walk off cursing my putter!
The par 5 fifth is cut through the narrowest of gaps in the pine trees, so narrow in fact that I would have trouble fitting my girlfriend’s Corsa through it! I wasn’t pleased to hear my partner whisper that there’s 'Out of bounds' on the right either as I prepared to drive … I pulled it left, scribbled a six on the card a few minutes later and beat a hasty retreat to the next hole! It was there as I pondered my thoughts and realised the obvious…this course demands accuracy from the tee.
The par 3 sixth is a downhill 220 yards with pines on either side to capture any wayward tee shots. Having found the green with yet another piercing iron shot, to my bemusement, I discovered that it’s not the easiest to read. It slopes sharply from the back to front and yet again, the putter got an ear-bashing from yours truly! Yet another bogey found its way on to the card and the timeless phrase from the professional was still ringing in my ears.
The course offers a great finish. The 16th is a long par 5 dog leg right with the pines narrowing towards a small green, and it’s difficult not to find some trouble along its 550 yards. You’ll need some imaginative shot making to get a five.
The 17th offers the confident driver the opportunity to cut off the dog-leg on the left and be rewarded by his shot bounding down the undulating fairway for a short approach.
The final test of this historical course requires yet another accurate drive to a short par 4 and once you have mastered that last of the tests, you can bid a farewell to the pines safe in the knowledge that you will have done well if you actually managed to avoid them during your round.
The Old Course is a must for everyone visiting the Algarve. A cool beer in the warm sunshine on the clubhouse veranda in late November makes those soggy fairways, wet feet and waterproofs feel a million miles away. Actually, its only two hours!
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