On the 1st tee, João Carlota, a former Portuguese U21 champion, was athletically warming up to show me around the Dom Pedro Old Course.
Feet spread wide, hands gripping both ends of his driver, his warm-up had all the lithe suppleness of a cinematic martial arts scene: Bruce Lee meets Jordan Speith.
Normally my jerky arthritic semblance of a warm-up would have been even more embarrassing but, staying nearby at Longevity Ceghona Country Club, a Personal Trainer had given me a stretching routine to ease muscles as taut as steel hawsers.
Not only was João Carlota’s warm-up and mental focus impressive, he was a fashion icon too. With immaculately fitting shirt, light grey trousers and spotless white shoes he looked as if he had stepped off a golf catwalk.
His drive described a perfect celestial parabola, soaring into the light azure Algarve sky, seemingly defying the laws of gravity. Finally, the ball came to rest, on the middle of the fairway, 280 metres away: a mere pitching wedge from the flag. Definitely in birdie-land.
My turn. Looking down the wide fairway of the first, this was clearly an easy warm-up of just 310 metres, Stroke Index 17. A mature pine to the left creating a minor pinch point but no real course for concern. For snowbird golfers, arriving in Vilamoura, just off the flight into Faro Airport, a twenty-minute taxi ride away, the first hole gives a welcome as warm as the reception at the Club House.
My drive economising on flight, takes the Tradesman’s Entrance, flopping left behind the protruding lonesome pine, then slicing right to miraculously finish in the middle of the fairway. A mere 110 metres behind Carlota’s drive. Definitely in bogie land.
Tension momentarily released, I appreciate the fresh early morning aroma of pine. On its 50th anniversary the Dom Pedro Old Course is looking immaculate: mature, gracious and above all fair. Fairways are as flawless as Crown Bowling Greens.
Carlota, healthily tanned from a climate that boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year, interrupts my thoughts, “You can hunt down good scores on this course.”
“What’s your best here?” I ask.
“8 under,” he replies As he wipes the morning dew off his driver I feel a little lazy. I can’t remember cleaning my clubs this millennium.
Opening pleasantries over, the second hole means business. It’s a stern 452 yard Par 5, stroke index 5. Any hint of a hook and you are in trouble on the wooded left-hand side, providing an Attenborough style chance to meet some of the local wildlife. This is not just golf, yellow birds flit from tree to tree.
We head for the 4th. Dom Pedro Old Course’s signature hole. A precise 8 iron is required for the 163 yards to the pin.
As soon as the automatic glass doors of the clubhouse had slid open. I had seen the Hole-in-One honours board. This was my best chance for glory, for immortalisation. Hole 4 appeared on that board more often than any other.
A pine tree to the right narrowed the view to the green but the Golfing Gods were with me, the pin was to the left. Remembering João’s tip to fully open my club-face the ball soared towards a white impressionistic wisp of cloud, a guiding halo residing high above the flag.
“Looking good,” whispered João – until my ball hit the top lip of the bunker and energy spent, flopped listlessly back into the sand.
For a man who has hit more bunkers than greens, a bunker presents no fears. Chip to within two metres of the flag, remember that this course is firmly within the metric EU, and then a putt for a par. There’s a consistency of speed to the Dom Pedro greens which brought a previously unknown accuracy to my short game.
Dom Pedro is a course that loves its elevated tees. On the 6th there’s a glorious view down a generous fairway to the green. No such generosity from the 8th tee, the only option is to drive, rapidly gaining altitude, over the trees to the left, targeting the left of the fairway, just past a cluster of bunkers on the right, to stay left for the green.
Talking of dog-legs, after another chance for honours-board glory at the 10th, the back 9 is a succession of dog-legs. Sometimes left, sometimes right. It’s worth saving some power for the 17th, hit a big drive over the ridge and get a down-hill roll to leave a short chip onto the green to set up a birdie chance.
Carlotta is right. It’s a good course to chase down birdies. If a drive is a little wayward you will not suffer harshly: there’s virtually no undergrowth and the only water appears on the 4th. A lack of accuracy tends to be punished by a need to chip back onto the fairway rather than a penalty for a lost ball or out of bounds infringement.
Back at the Club House, an elegant colonial style bungalow, there is a touch of Raffles to the furniture on the veranda, as you wait for your lunch to arrive. On the rare occasions when there’s a chill in the air there’s even a real fire in the lounge for another warm welcome.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT DOM PEDRO OLD COURSE, VILAMOURA
The Dom Pedro Old Course, Volta Golfinho 24, 8125 – 507, Quarteria, Portugal
T: +351 289 310 341
Low season green fees begin at €92 for twilight zone through to €161 for high season.
The nearby Longevity Cegonha Country Club provides transfers to the course and offers single bedroom stays starting from €95/£85 per room per night on a B&B basis or double bedroom stays starting from €150/£134 per room per night on a B&B basis.
From 14th to 16th November 2019 the Dom Pedro Courses will be hosting the Dom Pedro International Pro-Am.