A birdie’s eye view of Por­tu­gal’s Al­garve Coast


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - DAVID BLACK­BURN THE SPEC­TA­TOR

MYsec­ond tee shot soared high and straight, then hur­tled to­wards the lake; a re­peat of my first.

I didn’t hear the dis­heart­en­ing plop this time be­cause the breeze had shifted and now moved loudly through the pines that sur­rounded us. ‘‘Keep bug­ger­ing on,’’ said my old man, cheer­fully. This course, Quinta do Lago South on the Por­tuguese Al­garve Coast, was much too hard for us, so no shame in fail­ure. I looked again at the 15th green. It was not much larger than a postage stamp, with wa­ter to the front and treach­er­ous ground to the rear.

‘‘KBO,’’ the old man re­peated as my third ball fol­lowed its fore­bears into the deep.

The Al­garve is a dan­ger­ous place for oc­ca­sional golfers. The heat, so pleas­ant on the out­ward nine holes, be­gins to sap one’s strength by the 10th. As you trudge back into the club­house, it feels as if you’ve fought in the Penin­su­lar War.

Golf is suf­fi­ciently masochis­tic by it­self; you shouldn’t have to en­dure phys­i­cal hard­ship too. But you’ll plough on, again and again, be­cause the dry fair­ways will flat­ter your mea­gre strength. The ball will hop, skip and bob­ble long af­ter it should have stopped.

At first this will de­light you. Un­for­tu­nately, the same soil lies be­neath the greens. If you see a pink-faced gent square-bash­ing around the flag, the chances are that he’s a Brit in dif­fi­culty. Oh­for a soggy Sun­day af­ter­noon in the home coun­ties.

The rough is worst of all. Grass in this part of the world does not grow long and thin like the hay on the fa­mous Bri­tish links, which snares un­sus­pect­ing Yanks dur­ing the Open. It is thick like an Afro. A ball might trickle off the fair­way never to be seen again.

The stan­dard counter-ploy is to leave the driver at home, use a low-risk club and trust in almighty God.

But I’m not com­plain­ing be­cause if you’ve caught the golf bug then the Al­garve will turn it into a fever.

The cour­ses are plen­ti­ful and chal­leng­ing, and the world’s lead­ing de­sign­ers have left their mark. Henry Cot­ton, Wil­liam F. Mitchell, Joe Lee, Wil­liam Rocky Roque- more, Frank Pen­nick and Jack Nick­laus have all helped build cour­ses here. There are quaint Bri­tish-style links along the coastal strip, bunker-dom­i­nated Cal­i­for­nian num­bers ev­ery­where, sev­eral good all-rounders in the hills and a hand­ful of mon­ster cham­pi­onship cour­ses.

The south course at Quinta do Lago is 7100 yards long and ev­ery one of them is ter­ri­fy­ing. But a course is a course is a course, of course.

My fourth at­tempt at the 15th found the green and rolled to within two feet of the hole. I tapped in the putt. An eight — or quin­tu­ple bo­gey. To me, it will al­ways be a birdie and a tri­umph. Such is golf.

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