Porto Santo: Seve's island of dreams

A tiny speck in the Atlantic - 25 miles from Madeira

Chris Miles
Tue, 15 Apr 2008
Porto Santo: Seve's island of dreams

Porto Santo
Clubhouse and 18th at Porto Santo

Both Christopher Columbus and Seve Ballesteros in their pomp were pretty adventurous characters - the great 15th century explorer and navigator discovered parts of the world no-one else had seen before, while Seve did much the same on golf courses.

Porto Santo
Six miles of beach on Porto Santo

Their paths have crossed on the tiny island of Porto Santo, albeit over 500 years apart. Columbus lived there for a while, having married the Governor’s daughter, while the cavalier Spaniard has designed the island’s golf course, which opened in 2004.

Porto Santo is a tiny speck in the Atlantic Ocean, a mere 16 square miles in area, 25 miles from Madeira and 300 miles west of Morocco on the African continent.

I was keen to return to the island to see how much it had changed since going there for an ‘away from it all’ holiday in 1990. Back then the island had one hotel and very little else. I recall how we flew into Madeira, then got back on the same plane returning to the UK. Minutes later it landed on the NATO airstrip on Porto Santo to refuel, because the plane was not able to take off with a full payload from Madeira’s then short runway.

Four of us got off the plane and we were the only Brits holidaying there that fortnight. Our arrival was almost like a scene from an Ealing comedy. The man guiding the plane with his table tennis bats then became the baggage handler, and then the immigration clerk!

Holidaying on Porto Santo was a total chill-out – sun, sand, sea and a bit of … well tennis, actually. The beach was its only attraction - a wonderful stretch of sand nearly six miles long in contrast to Madeira’s few, small stony coves. Now Porto Santo also has an excellent golf course.

Porto Santo
The treacherous 13th

Golfe de Porto Santo is long off the back tees, over 7,000 yards, designed with the hope of staging a professional tournament in the future. For all but the very lowest of handicappers, the yellow tees provide a stern enough test, with its five par-3s and five par-5s.

The course is quite different from the two on Madeira, much flatter with barely a tree. The design seems to have mostly used the natural contours, without major remodelling of the landscape. The fairways are reasonably generous, as I'd hoped with a Seve design but if you are off beam, then scrub awaits. Small lakes are a factor on six holes but not frighteningly so. However, this is in contrast to holes 13 to 15, where the Atlantic Ocean imposes itself dramatically. ( The treacherous 13th) This is the highest section and most exposed to the prevailing winds. The 13th is a modest length par-3 – miss it left and the ball will disappear to the sea several hundred feet below. The next is a severe dogleg, which looks more intimidating than it really is. For me, it was a utility club and a mid-iron to skirt the cliffs. However, the hole does offer the big hitters a real chance to go for the green, short of which is a waste area, from which it should be playable. On to the short par-3 15th, overclub and you find the ocean.

The finishing hole is the longest of the par-5s, but although downhill, the water fronting the green demands a lay-up. Be happy to complete the round with a par.

Porto Santo
The course sweeps down to the sea

Generally the greens are fairly quick, challenging but with few really severe borrows. Wear and tear is hardly a factor with apparently only about 6,000 rounds played here annually.

Providing peerless views over most of the course and much of the island and Atlantic beyond, the clubhouse is the epitomy of the term 'well-appointed' and in addition there's a Par-3 course and a driving range with room for another 18-hole course already staked out.

If you're a golf nut or want to totally switch-off from a hectic lifestyle, Porto Santo is a great place to stay. There are a number of new hotel developments, including a recently opened five star complex, but the current number of visitor beds is still under 2,000 so it's still a haven. Furthermore the airport is no longer makeshift and holidaymakers can now fly direct from the UK.

Alternatively visit the island from Madeira. A day trip is perfectly feasible - either by ferry (about two hours each way), small plane, or even, as I did, by helicopter from the port in Funchal. If you opt for the 15-minute chopper ride, remember that your clubs can't travel, too, so you'll have to hire one of the more than adequate sets when you reach the clubhouse. But why spend so little time on the small island? A two-centre holiday sounds ideal.


For more information visit www.madeirapromotionbureau.com or www.madeiratourism.com.