SAN LORENZO - 16 POINTS
San Lorenzo had come highly recommended as a place to play golf when on the Algarve and it didn't disappoint. We started on the 10th tee both times we played and that actually worked out very well as the back 9 is probably the less impressive of the two so we finished with a nice crescendo by finishing with the stronger set of holes.
The course has a great variety of holes. The front nine leads to a fantastic run on the lagoon which really do require testing shots to keep out of the water. Knowing your carry lengths for mid irons is really important to score around here. Water comes into play a lot, as well as carries over deep and punishing bunkers.
While the back 9 is less dramatic than the front the holes have a good range of challenges and are a pleasure to play. The 18th is a strong finishing hole which requires a good carry over water from the tee before another carry over water for the approach to the green. It's a classic risk and reward hole - the further up to the hole you go the shorter the club you will have in - play safe off the tee and face a daunting carry for the approach.
A few points regarding the set-up in the club. When we played it the greens were tined and top-dressed but they did it in a really intelligent way. They were effectively split in half, top-to-bottom and one half was dressed and the other running as usual, the pins all on the 'good' half. I guess in a couple of weeks they would switch over. It was a really good idea and one I would love to see used on other courses.
Two watch-outs. The insects were out by the lagoon for our afternoon round and they were biting ferociously, some repellent would have been a good idea. Also, they are hell-bent on monetising their visitors to the max and may have gone a little too far in my opinion. Green fees are steep at 170 Euros but you know about that before turning up I guess. However, a sleeve of three Pro V1s came in at 22 Euros. For three!! We played 36 holes on one day but had to pay for our pull trolleys twice. Given we had already spent over a thousand Euros on-site it did seem a little bit churlish to make us pay for the second round. We actually tried to upgrade to a buggy as the legs were getting tired but they had run out. Worth pre-booking if you really want one.
Anyway, the golf was really good. OK, it's not in your top, top drawer of European courses - it's too 'resort' in setup for that - but it's great fun to play. Just watch out you don't get stung by the mossies or the pro shop!!
BOOKING THE COURSE
This isn't the most straightforward process. In theory the course is exclusively for residents of the Dona Filipa Hotel nearby - and you will get a good discount or package if you stay there. However, should you not wish to, you can separately get a tee time by calling them up, it's now around 190 Euros per person. They do have some online booking functionality here but they seem to only use that for bookings in the next few days/weeks. So, there are quite a few options and actually you can get some very good deals by booking through one of the tour operators like Golfbreaks.com who can mix and match courses should you so wish.
We were just in and out for a couple of days so we did stay at the Dona Filipa hotel. The local economy is not in the best of health of recent years so you can get some absolutely cracking deals there. Have a look directly on the website or at one of the tour operator's packages.
The peak golf season is probably in the autumn and spring where the temperatures are in the early to mid 20s. Mid summer you will get some good deals on the golf as fewer people play in the heat but hotels will be more expensive. The flight from the UK is less than 3 hours long and Faro airport is within a 30 minute drive so it's very accessible for a short trip while the UK is shivering.
When it came to nightlife there was a suitably tacky bar next door to the hotel - Monty's - which is full of the expat community and a good restaurant on site. There are plenty of opportunities around and about for evening activities. Vilamoura is just over 20 minutes drive away and there is a classy port with plenty of clubs, pubs and restaurants. If you want to go all out tacky though then head to Albufeira, about half an hour away. It's got the full range of kiss-me-quick bars and clubs open all through the night. Think Blackpool in the sun. Who could possibly resist?!
When it comes to other courses the Algarve is blessed with a plethora - this really is a golfing mecca. You can see the top100 sites ratings for the Algarve here. We played at Vilamoura Old and Monte Rei so with San Lorenzo we played the top 3 courses in the area and they were all good tracks. While the others may not have quite such good reputations courses like the Oceanico and Quinta da Lago are all very well respected and have held numerous European Tour events so it will be hard to go too wrong.
There is a lot going for the Algarve as a golf destination - the weather, the proximity, the cost (if you do it wisely). As for the golf, well it will be perfectly fine - it's not world beating but equally it won't cause you any offence!
San Lorenzo Golf Course
Quinta da Lago
Tel - +351 289 396 522
Web - http://www.sanlorenzogolfcourse.com/