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GOLFERS GETAWAY

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GOLF ON THE MAGICAL ISLANDS

Golf on the mid-Atlantic islands of The Azores and Madeira might not be quite so well established as some. But rest assured each of the courses is blessed with a character and challenge all of its own and we highly recommend you bring your clubs. 

MADEIRA

The Madeira Islands were voted the “Best-Emerging Golf Destination in the World” at the annual World Golf Awards for 2019. Coupled with all the other awards the islands have been garnering of late, this makes Madeira the perfect combination of culture and golf. 

The destination currently offers three 18-hole golf courses, two on the main island and a fabled Seve Ballesteros design on the neighbouring island of Porto Santo. There’s a fourth course on its way in the west of the main island, but that’s still a couple of years off.

PALHEIRO GOLF

Let’s start with Palheiro Golf. Set in the high hills above the city of Funchal, Palheiro’s most striking feature is its views! The prospects from most of  the plateaued holes are simply stunning! From a playing perspective, the design is the shorter of the three current courses on offer, yet it is frequently tight and tricky so you might want to be judicious with the driver.
 
It’s also a course that benefits from ‘inside knowledge’ due to the banks and slopes that exist often unseen from the tee box. You can use these to your advantage with a number of ‘speed slots’ that can propel the ball in the right downhill direction adding significant distance. It’s wonderful fun! The routing can also be steep at times (don’t let the 1st put you off) but the course evens-out for the most part, offering an intricate, interesting test that everyone will savour.
There are long holes such as the 6th or 12th, strong Par 5s both, almost impossible to reach in two. Short holes such as the 3rd, 5th and 11th present significant drops in elevation so club choice is critical, but again, factor in the ‘bounce’ effect.
 
It’s a strong finish at Palheiro; the four closing holes are demanding in different ways but they will give way to a cool, calculated approach.
 
Whatever the result on your card, Palheiro’s clubhouse will always ease the effort, not just for its excellent service and superb catering but most especially for its views. Linger and take in the sunset over the city of Funchal, the perfect way to end any golfing day!

SANTO DA SERRA

To the east of the main island, Santo da Serra Golf Club lies closer to the mountains and occasionally you can see snow on their peaks. It too has amazing vistas seaward that take in the Desertas Islands across the Bay of Machico.
 
Santo da Serra’s original course was established in 1937 and redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Sr in the early 1990s when he created a completely new and spectacular 27-hole golf facility. Santo has hosted the Madeira Open several times so it has the calibre to cater for the very best players. It’s a completely different experience from Palheiro, more open with lush conditions thanks to its elevation and more persistent precipitation.  
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th of the Machico section are outstanding especially the 3rd and 4th where feats of ‘derring-do’ are often discussed back in the clubhouse from players trying to take on the deep gullies and risky corners. It’s all most memorable fun though and you’ll come off this section thoroughly tested. 
 
The Desertas section is similar in nature to Machico, perhaps more uphill in its closing holes. It tends to be the prefered companion to the Machico section but many visiting golfers enjoy the easier pace of the Serras section which stands out for its playability. It is flatter without the steep climbs of the closing holes on the other two sections. Whatever combination you choose, Santo da Serra will stand out in your memory for many seasons. 

PORTO SANTO GOLF CLUB

To reach the neighbouring island of Porto Santo you can fly or take a ferry. It’s only a couple of hours on the early morning boat where you can enjoy breakfast on the way over then a marvellous dinner on the way home again, a highly recommended way to travel and a perfect day out.
 
Porto Santo is where Madeirans and mainland Portuguese take their summer vacations when they come to enjoy the soft sandy beaches, world-renowned for their health-giving properties. It turns out Porto Santo sand and its adjacent seawater have notable physical, chemical and thermal properties. The sand is rich in natural anti-inflammatories such as strontium and the water contains iodine, calcium and magnesium which also contributes to health and relaxation. The drill is, cover your self in sand for 30-minutes then take a dip in the crystal clear, very safe water. Rinse and repeat!
 
Porto Santo is also where Christopher Columbus made a home when he married Filipa de Moniz, daughter of the first governor of the island. You can still see part of his house alongside a dedicated museum. 
 
 

SEVE’S LASTING LEGACY

Laid out on the fairly open slopes surrounding Pico Ana Ferreira, Porto Santo’s course catches the wind but the variety of holes is what catches your attention. The front 9 has some excellent tests, long and open or, as at the 5th, tight and testy across tricky little ponds, one of the hardest Par 3s certainly on your nerves. You might think you have the measure of this course until you arrive at the 13th when the ensuing three holes cling to the cliff’s edge and you enter a whole new ball game. Wind is a major factor here especially on the two remarkable Par 3s, the 13th and 15th but it’s how much you dare to bite off the 14th dogleg that will linger in the memory. 
 
Generally,  you need a solid long game at Porto Santo and a deft touch especially coming into the short hole greens.
 
There’s an excellent driving range and a testing little Par 3 course so if you decide to spend a couple of days on this wonderful island, there’s plenty golf to keep you amused. 
 
Porto Santo’s clubhouse also deserves special mention for its catering services. It’s definitely worth booking for lunch or an evening meal here; surely one of the best restaurants on the island. Chef Daniel Rodriguez Mendez, otherwise known as ‘Gato’ (which means ‘cat’ due to his unusually pale blue eyes) is from Uruguay and has “a real passion for cooking,” according to his boss, Patricia which is palatably evident in his excellent dishes. 
 

GOLF ON THE AZORES

The second part of our itinerary takes you back to The Azores which also offers three excellent golf courses.
 
You might think it’s a mighty ‘long carry’ to come halfway across the Atlantic Ocean for a game of golf but let me assure you, it’s worth every nautical mile.
 
The Azores is as rare a golfing gem as you will find with two excellent 18-hole courses going by the name of Batalha and Furnas, both situated on the main island of São Miguel. 
 
Designed by Cameron Powell in 1986, Batalha Golf Club offers 27 holes in a  magnificent setting nestling on the skirts of the surrounding hills and with sweeping views of the ocean. Large flowing greens and wide, generous fairways are brought into relief with a series of deftly placed bunkers. The facility is situated on the north coast of São Miguel island, just 10 minutes from the centre of Ponta Delgada.
 

FURNAS

Furnas is different again, located in the mountains at an altitude of 500m and sprinkled with lakes and stands of Japanese Cryptomeria. 
 
I was fascinated to learn that the original 9-holes at Furnas were designed by none other than Mackenzie Ross back in the 1930s. I’m sure there’s a wonderful account of the Scottish architect’s visit here but I’ve yet to discover it. A native of Gullane in East Lothian where he acquired his trade, Mackenzie Ross is primarily known for restoring Turnberry’s Ailsa 
course at the end of WWII after if had been commandeered as an RAF landing strip – as well as designing the excellent links at Southerness in SW Scotland, a much-overlooked track might I add. He confined his travels to the UK and Europe; Portugal in particular and I suspect that’s how he came to the Azores to layout Furnas.
 
Sitting above Furnas Valley, the golf course here enjoys a spectacular backdrop of a volcanic bowl with abundant tropical vegetation. It’s located close to beautiful Furnas Lake with its famous hot springs and Terra Nostra Gardens. The course was extended in 1992 to give it the full 18-holes. 
 
A third 9-hole track, Vila Nova on the island of Terceira is a heavily wooded course close to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angra do Heroismo. The course dates back to 1954 and is well maintained, offering similar facilities to those on São Miguel.

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