THESE DAYS course designers are becoming increasingly obsessed with creating American style courses. Recent European Ryder cup venues are archetypes of stateside design and there is no shortage of them in Portugal, a favourite amongst British golf visitors, with the likes of Almondeira and the Victoria course at Vilamoura presenting massive challenges with huge bunkers and potentially card wrecking lagoons. Which is what makes Onyria Palmares in the western Algarve such a satisfying change.
Situated close to old port of Lagos on the bay of Sagres, Palmares was designed by a former Royal Ashdown Forest member, Frank Pennink, opening as an 18-hole layout in 1975. It has subsequently been acquired by Onyria Golf Resorts that owns hotels, homes and golf courses in Cascais outside Lisbon as well as in both France and Turkey.
A hotel has been planned for quite some while although the latest report is that it will not be opening until 2015 at the earliest, until when we can still enjoy the sprawling comforts of the Cascade Resort Hotel in Lagos, and enjoy 27 holes that are mercifully free of the sound of power drills as more potential holiday homes are developed.
American architect, Robert Trent Jones junior, has sensibly allowed his design to follow the natural contours of the land rather than involve massive earth movements and the creations of artificial lakes, when extending the course in 2010. There is still a wild and unspoilt feel to the layout with some magnificent views down to the white sands of Meia Praia set against a backdrop on the Monchique hills and an added bonus of all three loops returning to a comfortable and friendly clubhouse.
The best two loops to play, if time is short, are the Lagos and Praia as the opening three holes of the Alvor are somewhat featureless before dropping down towards the bay.
The Lagos nine also starts in a parkland setting but contains the only two water hazards to be found amongst the 27 holes. By the time we reach the seventh and eighth holes we are amongst some towering sand dunes and are most likely to be facing a stiff sea breeze.
The most popular nine with local golfers and visitors alike is the Praia which, as the name suggests, takes us down to the beach.
The four coastal holes on the Praia with the railway on one side and dunes surrounding could easily be on the West Coast of Scotland, were it not for the glorious sunshine so often to be found on this stretch of the western Algarve.
The ninth hole on the Praia, most likely our 18th, is a real beauty. A 508 yard par five, that sweeps leftwards uphill between the dunes along a deep valley before reaching a raised green that sits, like a small amphitheatre, in front of the clubhouse terrace.
As well as being challenging and beautiful, Palmares also has the additional benefit of being affordable despite the continuing strength of the Euro. This summer visitors were able to play all three nines and hire a buggy for just €72, or just under £58, which represents terrific value especially with Easyjet running a regular service from London Gatwick to Faro, just a 50 minute drive away from the club.