HERE was a time when simply dangling the prospect of a sun-blessed trip in front of a golfer left frustrated by the fickleness of the English weather was enough to entice them abroad.
The lure of golfing in T-shirt and shorts while back home the hardy are battling soggy fairways and plummeting temperatures sparked a boom in overseas golf trips.
Aided by low cost air travel, places such as Spain or the Algarve in Portugal became within easy reach.
But consumer tastes change – as do lifestyles – and the kind of issues confronting golf clubs on a day to day basis have a knock-on effect.
The work-home balance and demands of family life means the established golf resorts are looking to embrace a broader appeal.
Which is why an already hugely popular resort like Quinta do Lago has pumped an incredible €50m into upgrading everything from the courses to be played, the places to stay and the food to be served.
The family market is on the radar, too, with its easy accessibility to the Algarve’s beaches and special events – such as movie nights on the driving range – with one eye firmly on the younger end of the spectrum as an all-year round destination.
Accommodation, too, can come with a family theme. The Martinhal, for example, is thriving under new ownership as an up-market collection of townhouses and wonderfully spacious villas – with bedrooms all en-suite – which all boast their own garden and pool.
Enough to keep splashhappy kids entertained, literally on your doorstep.
Throw in a kids’ club for the under-eights, a games room and an ultra-cool pool hangout area – complete with slides and a VW camper van! – and Martinhal is staking a serious claim for the family market.
The route to the Algarve is already a well-worn one – it has been a magnet for UK tourists for the last 50 years. Breakfast at home can soon be followed by teeing it up in Portugal in the afternoon, with the coastline’s run of 43 golf courses starting just 20 minutes from Faro airport.
Quinta’s pedigree is well established – this is not cheap as chips. Already at the higher end of the market the recent investment places them firmly in the region’s top bracket. But there is little sign of it suffering from post-Brexit blues.
At the heart of it all is still the golf – three courses and an Academy which bears the name of Ryder Cup winning captain Paul McGinley.
The North course has actually been ripped up and reconstructed while the roller-coaster ride of the South has the wow factor.
A third course has been added at Laranjal – the trio as different in character as the Marx brothers.
Splitting them might be tricky – but I will plump for the back nine on the South course as the pick of the bunch. It sweeps through the hillside like a cavalcade that deserves a ticker-tape welcome, rising and falling through the hills like the pound on a Black Friday.
The opening nine are classic resort golf, tiptoeing between properties that would keep Grand Designs in programmes for years.
Fortunately, there is plenty of space and even the most wayward will miss landing in someone’s barbeque. I know. I tried!
The greens boast all the smoothness of a salesman’s patter.
The soft-filled centres of the bunkers were, perhaps, to be expected but given that this was not an out and out links course the fact that they had more lip than a surly teenager was more of a surprise and ready to catch out an under-cooked escape shot.
The South comes into its own on the second nine – thanks to the incredible elevation of the course, which at times extends above the neighbouring tree line – so much so that it feels like you are golfing with the gods.
The result is a stunning collection of tee shots that resemble launching an Appollo mission.
Weave in a few holes that sweep down to the edge of the lake and it is a potent mix.
The par three 15th is a great shot over the water while the lake forms a glistening backdrop to the green on the next. Tackle the 17th and the water brushes against your tee shot like an unwanted suitor.
In many ways, the North is a more stately affair, not quite the whiteknuckle ride of the South. But it is every bit as grand with a devil in the greens that can make them harder to fathom than the Large Hadron Collider.
The collection of short holes is as inviting as they are testing. The par four 12th makes taking on the water in front of the green almost unavoidable – unless you tip-toe round the fringes with all the stealth of a cat burglar. Even then the green harbours a real villain of a knuckle that makes it very possible to putt back into the water.
The most recent arrival is the course at nearby Laranjal. It is a more compact affair, cloaked by the orange groves that give it its name – and at a certain time of the year the fruit-laden trees add an unexpected splatter of bright orange to the swathes of green.
This is a course where the bunkers jostle you like commuters on the Tube in rush hour, while the fact that there are more tees than the