Mar 4th, 2017
GolfPunk goes to Onyria Palmares
Western Algarve we are in your debt
Words: John Dean Photography: Azalea
Onyria Palmares is a creation of the legendary Robert Trent Jones Jr, who has brought another 27 holes of golf to Portugal’s Algarve, or strictly speaking, another 9 as a large part of his work here has been to totally remodel the original Palmares, which first opened back in 1975.
There is real ambition here with talk of hosting the Portuguese Open and bidding to be a future Ryder Cup venue. Pulling of such a double will be quite feat, but Jose Carlos Pinto Coelho, President of Onyria Golf Resorts, has already bought European Tour competitions to his other famous resort at Quinta da Marinha, if not the hallowed Ryder Cup itself as yet.
Robert Trent Jones Senior designed the course at Quinta da Marinha, so the work between 2009 and 2011 at Onyria Palmares sees the continuation of a relationship with the Robert Trent Jones family that stretches back for over forty years. I guess that’s how things are done in Portugal, where family and relationships are really prized.
The new owners completed their purchase of the course back in 2009 and since then have set to making the most of the incredible terrain that they have inherited from the original course, under the watchful eye of Robert Trent Jones Jr and his team, which culminated in a successful re-opening in 2011.
The course cascades down from a hill top clubhouse to the Bay of Lagos and the Atlantic Ocean. The three loops of nine – Alvor, Lagos and Praia –all offer expansive panoramic views of the bay, and there is a rare mix of parkland with pine woods and authentic links holes that meander through the dunes down by the beach.
We spoke with Robert Trent Jones Jr and he explained his approach to designing the new course; “We studied the site in detail so that the golf course would only have the slightest impact. In fact, Mother Nature is the best architect so we just followed her lead. Never fight it. We followed the ground, and it gave us an answer.”
RTJJ then nails the appeal of the course on the head:”The ground of the golf course with natural sand-dunes is very rare; it’s almost like Scotland but softer and much hotter.”
And that indeed is it – a unique opportunity to play some proper links holes in the sun, but also with the winds that blow off the Atlantic, so the challenge will change from day to day. There’s even a train line running through the lower course in true links fashion.
We started by playing the Alvor Course, which offers dramatic changes in elevation and a journey through an undulating, heavily wooded landscape, before breaking out into dunes land holes to complete the nine.
We then take on the Lagos nine, and make our way through tall pine and almond trees, before taking on the only two lakes on the course – the 136 metre Par 3 12th, which requires you to hit a longish iron straight over the water.
Then there's the 433 metre Par 5 whose green is guarded by water on the left and bunkering to the right. Distances are off the yellows and you can add another 30 meters to both holes if you want to play off the tips.
The third and final loop is the Praia Course, which has four links holes set between the beach and railway, before making our way back up the hill by way of the final Par 5, 440 metre, dog-leg left to a raised green and a welcoming pint of the local Super Bock.
The course redevelopment has already cost a princely 10 million Euros, but this is just the tip of a 300 million Euro investment iceberg, which will see the building of a 172 room 5 star hotel, beach villas and over 400 residential tourism ‘units’, or rather villas.
But Jose Carlos goes to great pains to explain that all the development will be done with the utmost sensitivity, and over a long period of time, so that the place will not be turned into a building site.
And I believe them; these guys know what they are doing and will make Palmares Onyria into a golfing beacon on the Algarve. I’m just hoping that they invite me back someday, and someday soon.