Ask someone to point out madeira on a map and they probably wouldn’t be able to. The nearest land mass is Morocco, but the island has it’s own subtropical climate which is ideal for golfers all year round, rarely rising above 26 degrees in the summer months of July and August and not dropping below 20 degrees in the evening. July and August are the low season and there are some great deals for golfers.
This pinprick in the Atlantic has long been associated with flowers and fortified wine, but the golf courses are the real treasure. The latest addition to Madeira golf lies on the island of Porto Santo. This is a big course for a tiny island with a population barely larger than an English town. Seve Ballesteros scratched out the championship layout which includes excellent practice facilities.
The course stretches from the cliffs in the north towards the sandy beaches of the more sheltered south. With little protection, Porto Santo is exposed and the location seems to serve as a wind tunnel on some holes, sometimes to your advantage.
Like any links, a course planner is as essential as your sand wedge. Rocky outcrops, streams and hummocks are invisible to the naked eye from the tee box but are lying like sleeping dragons to catch you out. The first two holes are quite narrow and run downhill towards the sea and the third hole is wide open, curtailed by water in front of the green and a pretty waterfall. The next two holes also feature water and the 5th is a par three which could get tricky if you missed the green – the hole is sandwiched between criss-cross of cart paths plus there’s an out of bounds area to the left. The championship tee on the 10th is elevated though the ladies tee lies at the bottom of the slope just a few yards from the water. You’ll need a clean sweep to get across. Refer to your yardage book again for the next shot as the fairway is sliced in two by a stream before you reach the safety of the green.
Things get exciting around the 13th, 14th and 15th holes, which are close to the cliffs and if it weren’t for the ever present stiff Atlantic breeze the view would take your breath away. The 14th offers a dramatic, steep, downhill drop to the right and is delight to drive. The course finishes with a spacious downhill drawl with a forced shot over water towards the green and the glamorous 19th not far behind.
The clubhouse, a modern marvel of gleaming glass and polished wood looks like something from an upmarket interior design magazine. With its attentive waiter service, sumptuous sofas and luxury changing room it’s tempting to move in.
Porto Santo is a seasonal destination favoured by Madeira families who like to spend summer holidays lazing on its long sandy beaches. The weather averages 19 degrees throughout the winter months offering a warm and quite bolthole for sun seeking golfers. Close to the course lies the Vila Baleria which has a huge thalassotherapy spa housed in a separate building reachable by underground tunnel from the hotel. Guests are entitled to discounted rates on all treatments. With a number of hot bubbling pools, sauna’s, steam and treatment rooms you could easily spend an afternoon or two here. The beach is a few yards away and the hotel has an indoor and outdoor pool.
Away from the golf courses there’s little else to do on this tiny island, which adds to it’s charm. This is truly a place to switch off, escape the real world and relax. The main centre, lined with cobbled streets and palm trees, is banned to traffic. The town offers a few shops, restaurants and cafes plus small tropical gardens. You can hire a car and circumnavigate the island in an hour, passing through small stone built villages and vineyards protected by stone walls.
Drive to the top of the hill and take a pitstop at 43 3XL in Portela. The restaurant, named after the size of it’s amicable, generously proportioned propertier, has the ambience of an Alpine ski lodge. Tuck into the chicken fondue and enjoy views of the sea shimmering in the distance, the green against the desert of the golf course and the houses clinging to the hillside in a long ribbon to take protection from the wind. You may be able to spot the Lobo Marinho II, the large modern ferry which arrives from Madeira in the evening.
On the mainland, Casa Velha offers comfortable and luxurious lodgings for golfers. The old hunting lodge is adjacent to the famous 200 year old Palherio gardens which is home to some of the most valuable exotic plants in the world.
Palherio Golf is a ten minute shuttle away but hotel guest can enjoy the privilege of teeing off from the 10th hole which is a few yards away. The fairways are as manicured as a botanical garden, the greens fast and tricky. The lush flora and exotic flowers make this course truely unique and a wonder to play. From the tee box some holes look more daunting than they play – but the fairways are wider than they look off the tee box. The 13th is particularly memorable with a forced carry over a ravine to a raised green. The clubhouse has uninterrupted views of Funchal and the Atlantic.
About 20 minutes away is Santo da Serra. This 27 hole layout by Robert Trent Jones Sr has hosted the Madeira Island Open for over a decade. Tougher and more challenging the terrain is hilly though not as steep as Palherio, kicking off with a steep downhill slope to a dog-leg left. From the tee box you can enjoy breathtaking views of the course which falls away beneath your feet. The fourth is the most dramatic hole on the course with a sheer drop behind to the sea. On a clear day you can see Porto Santo. The greens are deceptively tricky and it’s worth taking your time to read them in order to score well.
Nick Faldo has set his sights on a particularly stunning parcel of land perched on clifftops hundreds of feet high above the crashing Atlantic Ocean. When the project is complete Madeira will be home to some of the most dramatic courses in the world.
Easyjet flies to Madeira from Stanstead and Gatwick. www.easyjet.com
TAP flies to Madeira from Heathrow. www.flytap.com
SATA flies from Madeira to Porto Santo. www.sata.pt
Poto Santo Line connects Madeira with Porto Santo. www.portosantoline.pt
Where to Stay
Large rooms with private balcony from €70 per night
Casa Velha do Palheiro
Beautifully furnished country house style hotel. Three nights from €785 per room including breakfast and one dinner. There are also a selection of apartments and villas with private pools avaliable for retal on the estate.
Where to Play
Porto Santo Golf
Santo da Serra