If it weren’t for the jasmine and the jacarandas and the sea breezes and the blazing sun and the blue-tailed magpies swooping through the pines, Quinta do Lago could be a well-heeled village in Surrey.
It is hard to think of anywhere in mainland Europe which has been so assiduously colonised by the British, with a little help from the Irish. You hardly hear anything but English and Portuguese spoken.
Families from the Home Counties cycle past cafés promising fish and chips. Women saunter out of newsagents clutching Hello! magazine. That familiar-looking figure by the hotel pool turns out to be the Chelsea and England footballer John Terry; Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is in the bar.
But it isn’t just Premiership players who love it here. Paul McGinley, Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, spends several weeks a year at Quinta, having discovered its charms in the Nineties.
“It is the perfect place for me to relax with my family while working on my game with top professional analysts,” he says.
He gives regular open-air golf clinics at his academy and has the audience eating out of his hand as he combines expert tips with insider anecdotes.
“Who would you play with in your dream fourball?” someone asks.
“Let me see, now,” he replies. “Tom Watson – my boyhood hero. Tiger Woods. And, er, Monty. Yes, definitely Monty.”
“And how about the best craic in the bar afterwards?”
“Ah well, now…”
It is all huge fun, McGinley himself is articulate and charming, and as the 100-odd members of the audience drift off into the sunset, their pleasure is tangible. They have learnt things about the game – not just gossip, but nuggets of technical insight.
A villa at the resort
They are also in the ideal place to try to put that insight into practice. It is the quality of the courses here that has people coming back again and again. The resort has three championship layouts – including the landmark South Course, as technically challenging as it is easy on the eye – and another half dozen within easy reach. Best of all, from the perspective of the serious golfer, for whom happiness is 18 holes in the morning and another 18 in the afternoon, is the state-of-the-art Paul McGinley Golf Academy, one of the most impressive of its kind anywhere in Europe.
As an enthusiastic but occasional golfer, the closest I ever get to working on my game is spending the odd half-hour on the practice range, trying to work out why my drives head nor-nor-west when I want them to head due north. Here I am inducted into the weird and wonderful world of golf science, where every detail of my swing is subjected to pitiless analysis by experts who live and breathe the game.
“Come on, Max, that’s a lazy journalist’s swing,” says Jose Ferreira, the head of the academy, as I unleash one of my wobbly drives. “Did you know that, the older you get, the taller you have to stand? And you must rotate your hips more. Try again. That’s better.” I feel like James Bond in the presence of Q.
A hi-tech gizmo called the 3D Trackman Pro records my swing and, as the recording is played back to me, a raft of incomprehensible statistical data is displayed at the bottom of the screen. I peer at the numbers, intrigued in spite of myself.
“It says my ball speed is 107. Is that good?”
“Not very. Tiger Woods’s ball speed is more than 200.”
“And my smash factor is 1.5. What would Tiger’s be?”
“Wow! So I must be doing something right?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Max.”
The latest addition to the academy is the TaylorMade Fitting Centre, the only one of its kind in Portugal. The idea is that, once your swing has been analysed, you are fitted out with a bespoke set of clubs that take account of your individual quirks and enable you to hit the ball just that little bit farther and straighter.
A rock arch near Carvoeiro
All professional golfers would have fitted clubs as a matter of course, but extending the same technology to aspirational amateurs is typical of the high ambition on display at Quinta do Lago. It does not just want to offer high-standard resort golf in an attractive setting: it wants to position itself as one of the leading golf centres in Europe.
There is no shortage of competition. A few hundred miles to the east, Sotogrande in Spain, which includes Valderrama, targets a similar market. But Quinta’s combination of outstanding golf facilities with an elegant residential development which does not feel precious or overcrowded is very hard to beat.
Golf buff Sven Hanfft from Hamburg, one of the few Germans at the resort, is certainly impressed by what he has seen. “I first came to Quinta do Lago more than 10 years ago. It was a nice resort, but slightly old-fashioned, in terms of the facilities. Now the whole set-up is very professional indeed.”
The next morning, Sven and I tee off at the Laranjal, the newest of the resort’s courses. I may have the same smash factor as Tiger Woods, but it doesn’t seem to do me much good.
My opening tee-shot lands in an orange grove which would look fabulous on a postcard but is a bit cluttered for swinging a 7-iron. Does a rotting orange count as a movable obstruction? I shut my eyes, swing and hope. Down the fairway, Sven is sizing up a birdie chance.
But what fun we have negotiating the course in our contrasting styles! Unlike the two main Quinta do Lago courses, which are adjoined by residential villas, Laranjal is tranquillity itself, cooled by sea breezes, ringed by agricultural land. Grapes ripen in the sun. Butterflies zigzag through the olive groves. The loudest sound all morning is an ibis taking off from the lake like a rocketing pheasant as my drive finds the water.
The greens at Laranjal are fast and undulating, but the course itself is not too daunting. It is challenging for a good player without scaring the pants off a hacker like me – just right for an upmarket resort course like this. And as the 19th hole beckons, and the talk turns to lunch, I couldn’t be happier.
Paul McGinley shows how it’s done at a clinic
Quinta do Lago is a few minutes’ drive from Faro Airport, which is served by many airlines from UK airports. Try easyJet (easyjet.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com), British Airways (ba.com), Monarch (monarch.co.uk), Jet2 (jet2.com), Fly Thomas Cook (flythomascook.com) and Thomson Airways (thomsonfly.com).
WHEN TO GO
April to June and September to November are the best seasons for comfortable golfing temperatures, though using a buggy and playing early or late in the day makes July and August bearable if you don’t mind the heat. In December and January, although it’s colder at night, there’s often warm sunshine in daytime. The most likely times to encounter heavy rain are late October and November.
WHERE TO STAY
Five-bedroom villas with private pool at Quinta do Lago cost €10,500 per week in high season (€ 7,500 in October); a two bedroom “town house” with shared pool costs €1,885 per week (€1,250 in October).
Best deals for this summer: Laranjal from €95 per person including a shared buggy, North/South €82. Three-round package (North, South and Laranjal) from €229. Current rates for internet booking for October: North/South €106; Laranjal €116; three-round package (North, South and Laranjal) €296.
TELEGRAPH JUNIOR GOLF
Quinta do Lago is the new host course for the finals of the Telegraph BMW Junior Golf Championship (October 9-11). Previous winners of the event include Justin Rose, who triumphed by one shot in1997, and who is now the new US Open Champion. For more information, see telegraph.co.uk/juniorgolf.
ALGARVE TRAVEL GUIDE
Telegraph Travel’s detailed guide by our Algarve expert, Mary Lussiana, is available online at telegraph.co.uk/algarve.
Mary Lussiana’s selection of great beaches near Quinta do Lago includes:
Praia do Anção
A golden, blue-flag stretch of sand, popular with families. Well-signposted from Quinta do Lago.
Praia de Albandeira
Unspoilt and tiny, with pale sand sandwiched between ochre rocks. Follow the signs towards Porches from Benagil. Turn left onto a narrow, single-lane road and after a few miles you come to the car park above the beach.
Praia do Barril
This blue-flag beach is on an island that forms part of the Ria Formosa Natural Park. Go to the tourist village of Pedras d’el Rei and in summer, a miniature train takes you across the marsh.
Praia da Marinha
A white sandy stretch, nominated one of the 10 best beaches in Europe by the Michelin Guide. From Portimao take the N125 to Porches and once you have passed the International School in Lagoa, take the next right, signposted to Praia da Marinha.
Praia do Alvor
Much loved by locals and visitors, Alvor blue-flag beach is popular for kite-surfing, but you can also rent pedalos or kayaks and the waters are often beautifully calm. As you drive into Alvor turn left down the hill, signposted “praia”. At the roundabout where there’s a chemist, go straight on and then take the second right. At the next roundabout go straight on. At the T-junction turn left and you will find the beach car park.
Read our complete travel guide to The Algarve
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