MONTE REI GOLF COURSE - 17 points
I was really excited about playing Monte Rei Golf Course. A relatively new course it has quickly assumed the title of No.1 course in Portugal and I was excited to see it. The course is about an hour east of Faro and as such a little away from the epicentre of Algarve golf. Everything I read about it said it should be something special - both course and service. Well, the service was fantastic and the course was just fine. I guess.
We were seeing it at far from its best. The course had just been closed for a week and the greens tined, the fairways tined, the tee boxes tined. You name it, they tined it. In San Lorenzo they did it brilliantly - half of each greens at a time so the pin was always clear. At Monte Rei the greens were covered in sand and running pretty averagely. While I recognise they need to work on the course to keep the standards high it would have been nice if we had known in advance. Or had a discount on the highest green fee in Portugal (if you book directly it's 190 Euros a man).
We had pretty much planned the trip around playing this course and booked several months in advance. The work they had done on the fairway and tee boxes was probably more annoying and off-putting. Basically, there were holes everywhere and they had obviously been growing up the grass in preparation. That meant there wasn't much run on the ball and the course played very differently from the way it normally would. However, I recognise that most people will play it when the course isn't being patched up and the condition is great - I'd love to have done that.
Without a doubt this is a challenging course. If you hit it off the fairway your chances of finding the ball are relatively low. It's not normal rough you are looking in but knee deep scrubby vegetation which just eats balls. They have a local rule which says if you go in you can treat it as red staked and drop out. That felt a bit weird to be honest but they probably need to do it for pace of play reasons. So lesson number one is keep the ball in play at all costs. The fairways aren't too tight but you do need to hit them. The course has an unusual set-up of five par 5s and five par 3s in the par 72 and I think Jack Nicklaus could have put a bit more variety into them. Generally, the par 5s are long (over 500 yards) and the par 3s mid to long irons. It would have been nice to have seen a few reachable 5s and shorter 3s in there to mix it up a bit.
It's really hard to comment on the greens given the condition they were in when we played but I imagine they are fun on a good day with good undulation and well protected by brilliant white sand.
The service was great in the restaurant, pro shop and range. They really looked after you and I would say it was a good as anything I had seen - think Troon Golf style on a more personal level. We stopped after nine for something to eat (it was pretty quiet out there!) and ate very well indeed, I would have loved to sample the fine dining restaurant which is open in the evening.
So look, the course is good. It's long, it's tight and it's tough. Was it the most pleasurable 4 hours I've ever spent on a golf course? Probably not because I'm not a good enough golfer and the condition was so disappointing. It's an hour's drive from the main thoroughfare of Algarve golf and if you are a serious golfer who wants a good challenge then probably the drive and the green fee are worth it. But do check they haven't tined the whole thing to within an inch of its life........
BOOKING THE COURSE
If you book directly with the course then it is pricey. The cheapest you can get it for is €170 in the winter (although that does include a very nice lunch!). In the Summer it gets up to €220 for a round. Call up or fill in the form here if you want to book directly. This may be one trip though where a tour operator can help you reduce the price significantly as we did - detail below.
The Algarve is very accessible from the UK and the rest of Europe and things are pretty close together when you are there so it worked out really well for us. I left Edinburgh on a Thursday morning and we were teeing it up at Vilamoura Old on Thursday afternoon, we did 36 at San Lorenzo on the Friday and then Monte Rei on the Saturday.
Normally, I book elements of a golf trip independently but I had been tipped off that there were some great deals to be had and booked through Your Golf Travel this time and that really seemed to pay off. Had we booked the individual elements of hotel and golf separately we would have paid a lot more than the for £460 a person we ended up with.
We stayed at the Dona Filipa hotel which is 15 minutes from San Lorenzo but has the same ownership structure. We could charge extras at the golf to our rooms and they had a shuttle bus we could have used.
The hotel was in a good location in the resort of Vale de Lobo. Vale de Lobo has lots of golf courses and not much else, although next to the hotel there was a great looking beach and bunch of restaurants as well as Monty's bar which kept us occupied until the early hours of the morning. There were a good bunch of people there (99% British it has to be said!) who were all up for a good time.
The staff in the hotel were really great and helpful, and there was a really nice pool which was a good spot to spend a couple of hours before the flight home.
Vilamoura has a marina which was very reminiscent of Puerto Banus and a good place to have something to eat and a few drinks. Again, it's very British dominated but this was the classy resort in the Algarve and a few locals were willing to go out there too!
The same couldn't really be said for Albufeira, a few kilometres further west of Vilamoura. It is Blackpool by the sun. Cheap and tacky with poor food and watered down beer. Good value for a night out!
So, in conclusion I would say that the Algarve is a good venue to go to for a golf trip from the UK. It was easy to get to from the UK, the golf courses good quality (we played two 16s and a 17 which is a pretty high standard, plenty to do for nightlife and didn't break the bank. For most, skipping Monte Rei and adding something more local wouldn't be a bad shout as the extra hour trip to play it will only be really appreciated by the strongest of golfers.
If you want to play really high end courses in Southern Europe I would probably recommend the south of Spain before the Algarve. Valderrama, Finca Cortesin and Sotogrande are probably superior courses to the three highest rated courses in the Algarve. But it's easier to get on the courses in the Algarve, easier to get around when you are down there and definitely cheaper if you organise it well in advance
Monte Rei Golf Course
Sitio Do Pocinho - Sesmarias,
8901-907 Vila Nova de Cacela,
Tel - +351 281 950 950
Web - www.monte-rei.com