A plush resort serious about golf

One of many unique gifts golf has brought to the world is the golf resort. There may be no other sport that builds entire resort complexes around its game and certainly none that do it with the same degree of flair and style. Plush, luxury hotels with state of the art health and beauty spas and a myriad of other recreational activities, plus the resort's own golf course (or more often, golf courses) are becoming increasingly common. And these are not just standard golf layouts, but world-class facilities that rank alongside the best.

Continental Europe is also very much a part of the golf resort picture and nowhere is this more evident than along Portugal's golf rich, Algarve Coast, where the idea of a self contained golf retreat has been taken to higher levels than ever before. Names like Vila Sol, Vale do Lobo, Penina and Vilamoura, each a first rate resort with an emphasis on golf, may not as yet be household names to many, but that will just be a matter of time. The Algarve has an enviable selection of some of the world's premiere golf resorts that have raised the bar and are setting new standards.

No mention of The Algarve's trend setting golf resorts would be complete without high-lighting Quinta do Lago, the magnificent, 5 star property and its two championship courses that started it all. More than 30 years on, this thoroughly delightful enclave remains at the front of the pack. Initially conceived as an ultra-exclusive residential community for the rich and famous, Quinta do Lago has matured into an elegant golf resort of the first order, now boasting three championship layouts.

The 2,000-acre, private estate of gently rolling hills may be one of the most perfect locations along the Portuguese coast. Incorporating a portion of the famed, Ria Formosa National Park and Bird Sanctuary and almost 2 miles of the most pristine Atlantic beach you will every find, this was the ideal site for a pair of top notch courses. The North and South Courses may be named unimaginatively, but get over this minor shortcoming and you quickly discover imagination and creativity has played a tremendous roll in the design of each.

The newer North Course, which opened in 1977, is the combined effort of a pair of American designers, who each laid out 9 holes. The end result of the cocktail effort put forth by William Mitchell and Rocky Roquemore may seem at times inconsistent, but what could have been a flaw, actually works to the layout's advantage and produces a very creative challenge.

This is a course filled with fun, thrills and variety and perhaps a reminder for many that golf is a game and games are supposed to be enjoyed -- The North Course delivers enjoyment in buckets and all with a sense of style that fits in perfectly with the very stylish resort that is Quinta do Lago.

Move on to the South Course and you have a horse of a different color and a very serious golf test good enough to be selected as host to the European Tour's Portuguese Open on no less than 8 occasions, with undoubtedly more to come. Any thoughts that you would be playing just another resort course can be put out of mind; the South is a champion in every way.

The handiwork of the same William F. Mitchell who played a part in the North Course, when the South opened in 1974, it was the first course on The Algarve to be designed by an American -- and Mr. Mitchell did us all proud!

He produced a layout that is well mannered, pleasant to the eye and yet still provides a serious test for the scratch golfer from the back tees, while showing sympathy toward those of lesser abilities from the front. Claims of courses appealing to golfers of all levels should always be taken with a grain of salt, but here the promise is delivered. .

As if to prove the point, the opening hole, a forgiving par-4, eases you gently into the round with a generously wide fairway and no intrusive dangers en route to the large green. You are being politely and subtly coaxed into the challenge that lies ahead.

The second gets tougher with a long, 547-yard par 5, now the real test gets underway and the masterly design of the course becomes increasingly apparent. The third flows over a rise in the fairway that frustratingly masks a finger of water protecting the green, eagerly awaiting wayward shots. The approach to the elevated green must be tackled with confidence and by now you are convinced, this is no ordinary resort course.

In a layout with more than its fair share of excellent holes, the most memorable may be the picturesque, par-3 15th. It requires a daunting 219-yard carry over nothing but water to the front edge of a green, surrounded by encroaching umbrella pines. It's an imposing hole, not well suited to the feint of heart, nor any with a fear of water, but it's a hole that will be well remembered long after this vacation in golf paradise is over.

The long hitter will definitely have an advantage on Quinta do Lago's South Course, but unless strength is accompanied by finesse and some careful course management, all bets are off. You'll be hard pressed to play to your handicap, so put any ideas of a good score out of your head.

There's no question this well-groomed layout should be added to the must play list of anyone lucky enough to be visiting The Algarve, the only problem is, it gets to be a very long list. You could stay two weeks at Quinta do Lago and still not have time enough to play all the courses demanding to be played. All you can do is give it your best shot and if all else fails, stay over for a few extra days.

Complicating matters even further is a third championship layout at Quinta do Lago, opened earlier this year. The sparkling new, thoroughly handsome, Laranjal Course, offers a sometimes complex, though intriguing layout that complements both the South and North Courses, perfectly.

Measuring in excess of 7,100 yards, this thoughtful layout is composed of five par-5's, 8 par-4's and 5 par-3's, presenting a test to push even the accomplished low handicapper to the extreme. Long hitters have an advantage, but only if they have the ability to navigate the ribbon-like fairways -- and there is little sympathy shown to those who cant! An abundance of water hazards, ranging from a meandering stream to five natural lakes, bring water into play frequently, demanding strategy and some careful thinking from start to finish, with thrills every step of the way.

Quinta do Lago has produced a feisty third layout that is unquestionably bound for future glory and is already building a fearsome reputation, entirely of its own. Whoever thought resort golf isn't serious golf, needs to come play Quinta do Lago's impressive trio - minds will be very quickly changed.



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