The Algarve region of Portugal is one of the world's most highly regarded golfing locations. With glorious weather practically all year round and more world class courses than you can shake a 9 iron at, it is a popular destination for those of us who have gotten tired of the wind and the rain and playing in fleeces and waterproofs.
Oceânico Golf is now one of the major players in this region with 8 championship courses under their management including Vilamoura's famous five – Oceânico Victoria (host to the World Cup of Golf 2005 and the Portugal Masters 2007-2009), Oceânico Old Course, Oceânico Pinhal, Oceânico Laguna, Oceânico Millennium and the newest Oceânico Golf 3 Oceânico Faldo and O´Connor Jnr. Courses at Amendoeira Golf Resort, complemented by a unique flood lit 9 hole Par 3 Academy Course, whilst Severiano Ballesteros has lent his experience to the course at Royal Óbidos on the Silver Coast. On a recent trip to the Algave, Bag Chatter got to play on 3 of the best Oceânico courses.
The Millennium course was, as its name suggests, founded in 2000 and is one of the more accessible courses on the Algarve. Because of this it gets quite busy and waits at the tee boxes are common at busy times. With 9 of its 18 holes originating from the neighboring Laguna course, it mixes short tight holes, especially between the 3rd and the 7th, with longer open ones. It plays a little shorter than its 6793 years but has a lot to offer. Because of the relaxed handicap requirements you might find yourself sharing the course with those who are not quite as familiar with the finer points of golfing etiquette but it obvious that everyone on the course is there to enjoy themselves.
The 15th at Millennium
The experience at the Victoria is 5 star all the way. The club house is stunning and would not look out of place anywhere you choose to mention. The driving range and practice facilities are world class and you could play a game of football on the enormous putting green. The Arnold Palmer designed course is a true test for the modern professional so it's a real examination for club golfers. At 7209 yards playing from the tips you'd better have your driver in full working order if you want to play to your best but the 5 sets of tees prevents it from being too intimidating. Thankfully the course is far more open that you normally find in this region as there are less trees but compensation comes with many more water hazards especially on the back 9. The course does not have any great elevation changes but the fairways are constantly undulating and the contours can sometimes take the ball completely away from where you expect, so you need to pay close attention to the landing areas. The greens are fast and true and when they are dry they are lightning fast.
The 18th at Victoria
There is a real championship finish at the Victoria. The 16th is a 209 yard par 3, demanding in any circumstance. The 17th is a peach of a 593 yard par 5 where you can play safe down the left or if you want to get on the green in 2 you need to take on the 290 yard carry over the water. If you successfully manage that, your ball will shoot forward to a more accessible position where you then have a long iron or more likely a wood in to a green that is only 15 paces deep and protected by water on the front and on the right. The 18th is a 465 yard par 4 with water all the way down the left and penal bunkers right at driving distance on the right hand side. One of the pros explained to me that you hit it towards the left hand edge of the bunkers. If you get lucky and end up on the fairway you can go for the green – if you can unlucky you can still play for your par but either way you keep that big score off your card. With the prevailing winds being into your face on this hole, this is the last thing that any championship leader wants to see at the final hole but everything that the fans (and the clubhouse leader) would be looking for. Given the demands of the course, it was no surprise that it was the huge hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros who birdied the last to lift the trophy in 2008.
The Old Course is hidden away in the hills and nestles among a forest of umbrella pines. Opened in 1969 it ranks alongside the Henry Cotton designed Penina as one of the oldest courses in the region. In complete contrast to Victoria this course is a shot-maker's dream. The 'Grand Dame' of the Algarve is simply an absolute gem of a course.
As soon as you stand on the first and see how the umbrella pines encroach on both sides as the fairway swoops down towards the green you are aware that this is a course that will severely punish bomb and gouge style golf and rewards the ability to move the ball in the air. Some of the tee boxes are positioned in such a way that a straight shot can see less than half the fairway but that a gentle fade or draw suddenly opens up the course. The constant change in elevation means that you need to be precise with your irons as you are sometimes taking 3 clubs more or less than you normally take. An example of this is 6th. A 233 yard par 3 would normally be unplayable for mere mortals but with an elevation drop of about 40 yards it plays almost 45 yards shorter but you need to hit it straight to get it close as the steeply sloped green requires a deft touch.
The 6th at the Old Course
Given the closeness of the course it's not to say that errant shots are an automatic penalty. If the ball takes a dive off the fairway you'll find yourself in a world where the ground is made of pine needles and the sky is nothing but green branches. It's easy enough to get clean contact in this sort of lie but the challenge is how to play the recovery shot. You can take the easy option of knocking the ball out sideways or you can take the shot on and hit a low screamer of a punch straight towards the flag. If you do the latter you need to make sure that you can keep it low enough to stay under that branches and straight enough to dodge the trunks. It's tougher than it looks but incredibly satisfying. One of the glories of the course is that there are so many ways to play it and only those with a complete game will be able to take it on and score well. If you do keep it on the short stuff you will be hitting the ball from fairways of carpet-like perfection and greens that roll as smooth as you could wish for but as you wend your way past the semi-hidden luxury villas you'll find that it's the long irons that are most in use. For the longer hitters the driver will only get you into trouble.
It is such a pity that the remorseless march of technology has rendered this course too short for the modern pros as it would be an absolute treat to see them playing this course. The sloped greens hark back to a time where the stimp speed would be closer to 10 than the 12 commonly found on tour now so it would be almost impossible to speed them up more than they are.
These three courses have very different personalities. The Millennium course is a good honest fun course that can be played be any level of handicap and is an enjoyable day out. The Victoria is a true experience of tour standard conditions with a finish that will leave you wrung out and the Old Course is an absolute gem that will have fans coming back year after year to play on one of the great courses in this region, if not the world.
For more information, visit www.oceanicogolf.com
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy
Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.
Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.
The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.
The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.
Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.
I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.
The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.
Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.
Barnbougle Dunes: World Class Golf
We arrived to Launceston Airport in Tasmania just before sunset. Located on the Northeast Coast of Australia’s island state, Tasmania, Barnbougle is almost as far from Sweden as it gets… yet it immediately felt like home when we arrived.
The drive from the airport was just over an hour, taking us through deep forests and rolling hills before we arrived to Barnbougle Golf Resort, which consists of two courses — The Dunes and Lost Farm — a lodge, two restaurants, a sports bar and a spa. Unfortunately, it was pitch black outside and we couldn’t see much of the two courses on our arrival. I would like to add that both Johan and I were extremely excited about visiting this golf mecca. We later enjoyed a tasty dinner at the Barnbougle Lost Farm Restaurant before we called it a day.
The next day, we woke up early and got out to The Dunes Course as very first guests out. Well, to be quite honest, we weren’t actually the first out. There were a few locals — Wallabies, lots of them — already out on the course. The natural landscape at Barnbougle is fantastic and my cameras almost overheated with the photo opportunities. After two intense hours of recording videos and producing photos both from ground, we headed back to Lost Farm for a wonderful breakfast (and view). After our breakfast, it was time to try our luck.
Before describing our experience playing the courses, I would like to mention about Richard Sattler, a potato farmer and owner of Barnbougle. In the early 2000’s, Richard was introduced to U.S. golfing visionary Mike Keiser, who had heard about his amazing stretch of farmland in Tasmania and came down to visit. Mike convinced Richard that Barnbougle (which at that stage was a potato farm and still grows potatoes and raises cattle today) might be perfect for creating a top quality golf course.
After an introduction to well renowned golf architect Tom Doak and the formation of a partnership with former Australian golf pro and golf architect Mike Clayton, the development of the Barnbougle Dunes Course commenced.
Featuring large bunkers dotted between fun rolling fairways shaped from the coastal dunes, Barnbougle Dunes offers the golfer some tough challenges, in particular on the first nine. This is indeed a course that will entertain all kinds of golfers.
After our round, we looked back at some fantastic highlights such as playing the iconic 7th hole, a short par-3 called ”Tom’s Little Devil,” as well as the beautiful par-4 15th. We were just two big walking smiles sitting there in the restaurant to be honest. Lets also not forget one of the biggest (and deepest) bunkers I’ve seen at the 4th hole. The name of the bunker is “Jaws.” Good times!
As a small surprise for Johan, I had arranged a meeting after our round with Richard Sattler. Richard, ever the farmer, entered the car parking just in front of the clubhouse in a white pick-up van with a big smile un his face. We talked to Richard for almost 30 minutes. He is an extremely humble man and left such a warm impression on us. Richard explained the Barnbougle story: how it all began and the property today.
To me, this is a high-end golf destination offering something very unique with two world-class courses in Barnbougle Dunes and Barnbougle Lost Farm, both ranked in the top-100 greatest golf courses by Golf Digest and Golf Magazine (U.S.). With the courses located just next to each other, it’s probably one of the best golf resorts you can find down under and a golf resort that I would like bring my hardcore golfing friends to visit. Everything here is exceptional with the resort providing spacious rooms, comfy beds, good food and spectacular views.
Barnbougle Dunes is a real treat to play for any golfer and will leave you with a sweet golfing memory. Compared to the golf courses available on the more remote King Island, Barnbougle is accessible (given Tasmania is connected by better flight connections) and the hospitality and service at is much more refined.
The golf resort is one of the absolute best I’ve been to. I can also highly recommend playing Barnbougle Dunes; I had great fun and you can play it in many ways. Tomorrow, we will be playing and experiencing the other course at Barnbougle: Barnbougle Lost Farm, a Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw course with 20 (!) holes.
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