The Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course will host the Portugal Masters for the 15th consecutive year this week since its inaugural staging in 2007. Ahead of the event, Golf Business News spoke to Dom Pedro Golf Chief Executive Officer, Eng. Luis Correia da Silva, about how important the European Tour event is to the resort and what players can expect from the course in 2021.
Luis, the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course has hosted the Portugal Masters for 15 years now. How special does it feel for the resort to have hosted the event every year since its inauguration into the European Tour?
Whenever you host a European Tour event it is always a special feeling, but this year is even more special given that it is 15 years since we first started staging the tournament. We are proud that the European Tour continues to choose us as their preferred venue in the Algarve and it is our responsibility as hosts to prepare the course in the best possible way for the players to enjoy.
In the 15 years that we have been hosting the event, there has been many memorable moments and we hope that this year’s tournament will be no different. Our greenkeeping team has been working hard in the build-up to the event to help set up the course in such a way that we can showcase the best of golf in the Algarve to everyone watching, both live and on TV.
The resort started hosting the event in 2007. What was the process behind Dom Pedro being chosen to put on the tournament?
After the Victoria Course was officially opened in 2004, the aim was to make sure the course should host a major golf event in the near future. Having been designed by seven-time Major champion and golf legend Arnold Palmer, such an event would be instrumental to raising awareness and creating recognition for both the championship course and golf in the Algarve region.
As part of this strategy, the then owners were able to secure the World Cup of Golf in 2005, that featured teams from 23 countries. Following the successful staging of the event, with the support of Turismo de Portugal (the National Tourism Board) and the Algarve Tourism Board, there was an idea to approach the European Tour, to propose an annual tournament in the Algarve.
The proposal was taken onboard by the European Tour and a couple of years later, it was decided that a new event, the Portugal Masters, would be set up and hosted in Vilamoura at the Victoria Golf Course. Since the first edition, the course has hosted the event for 15 years in a row.
Over those 15 years the Portugal Masters has had some high-profile winners of the tournament, including Shane Lowry, Lee Westwood, Tom Lewis, and Lucas Bjerregaard. Do you have a favourite edition of the tournament or stand-out moment?
The Portugal Masters has created a number of memorable moments that will live long in our memory. The standout moment for me would be when Oli Fisher became the first player on the European Tour to shoot a round of 59 in 2018. This was an incredible moment for all who were at the event and one that isn’t likely to be beaten at the Portugal Masters for many years to come.
Another memory that springs to mind would be in 2015 when Andy Sullivan produced a scintillating performance to win the tournament by a record nine shots over fellow Englishman Chris Wood. This is followed closely by Padraig Harrington’s 2nd shot to the 18th hole on the Sunday in 2016 to make birdie and win the Portugal Masters. I can’t wait to see what this year’s event has in store for us. I’m sure there will be plenty more special moments created.
Course preparation plays an important role in the build-up to the event. Are you able to provide us with an insight into how the greenkeeping team prepares the courses?
Our main ambition when hosting the event each year is to always make sure the course reaches its optimum condition in the couple of weeks leading up to the start of the tournament. Once the team has reached this point, they are able to carefully manage the process to allow the course to remain at this point until the first tee shot is struck on the Thursday.
Preparations normally start months in advance, with the course maintenance team working hard to make sure every little detail is accounted for. The greenkeeping team has been altering the pace of the greens and fairways so that they will be firm and fast allowing players to really attack the course and get value for money with their shots throughout the week.
Our aim is to provide both players and spectators with an entertaining spectacle during the event, showcasing the best of the Dom Pedro Hotels & Golf experience and Vilamoura as one of the best ranked tourism destinations in the Algarve.
One of the unique aspects of the resort is that it compromises of five golf courses in Vilamoura. Can you explain how your team manages to maintain all five to such a good condition, especially when it is hosting a European Tour event as well?
Having to manage five championship courses at the same time is a unique challenge and one that our team at Dom Pedro Hotels & Golf Collection thrives on. In the build-up to the event, we not only have to make sure the Victoria Course is being conditioned to European Tour standards, but also that the other courses are ready to welcome a high volume of golfers each day.
The team values the conditioning on each and every one of the courses at the resort and does its upmost to make sure the experience for golfers always remains the same throughout the year.
What, in your opinion, makes the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course such a good one to host an event of this size? And what are some of the hallmark design traits implemented by Arnold Palmer?
The Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course was built with the intention of hosting large scale events such as the European Tour. Designed by the legendary Arnold Palmer, the course showcases generous and undulating greens with large fairways and numerous water hazards that are always in action throughout the round.
Arnold Palmer and his team created the course with both professional and amateur golfers in mind. They wanted all golfers to have a unique golfing experience, with generous grassed areas and bunkers positioned away from the middle of the fairways.
What are the key holes on the course that players must watch out for?
The front nine has a couple of difficult holes, including the seventh hole, but it is the action on the back nine that will make or break a player’s tournament. The 15th is an exciting hole, a short par-4 where golfers can attempt to drive the green and set up an eagle opportunity.
However, the signature holes on the course are the 17th and 18th. The 17th provides an eagle opportunity for the longer hitters, but with water on every side of the hole, any errant shots will be punished heavily. This will be especially true when the pin is either towards the front of the green or towards the right-hand side as the water will be most in play there.
Hole 18 is a difficult par 4, where players must decide whether to play strategically or risk bringing the water into play with an attempt at birdie on the final shot into the green. I’m confident that this year’s tournament will once again be decided on the final day on either of these two holes.
The event is usually a big moment for both Dom Pedro and the Algarve each year. How important is this year’s event to the resort and the Algarve given what everyone has experienced over the last 18 months with the pandemic?
This year’s event is extremely important as the Portuguese golf industry continues to recover from the offset of the pandemic. The last 18 months has seen many golf courses in Portugal closed for several months to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as fewer golfers travelling from aboard due to the travel restrictions in place, resulting in fewer rounds being played.
The Algarve, in particular, was hit quite hard by the pandemic and the resort has had to adapt to the new situation to create a safe environment for tourists. With the world returning to some sort of normalcy, the Portugal Masters is key to showcasing the best of Dom Pedro and the Algarve ahead of 2022. We believe that in 2022, golf rounds and revenue will begin to reach figures close to where they were in 2019.
Our team has been working hard to present the courses and facilities at Dom Pedro Hotels & Golf Collection in a splendid manner and demonstrate why we are renowned as being one of the best resorts in the Algarve to attract more golfers after the tournament has concluded.
Dom Pedro is renowned as being one of the favourite venues for players on the European Tour. What about the resort and the region do you think they enjoy the most?
The Algarve is one of the most popular golfing destinations in the world, and especially in Europe. Many of the European Tour’s best players love visiting the region, not only because it sees up to 330 days of sunshine a year, but because of the quality of the golf courses that are on offer.
Because of the quality facilities, we are often able to accommodate many of the families who accompany the players whilst they are playing in the tournament. Dom Pedro provides them with a safe environment to enjoy all of the facilities and the warm climate.
The standard of the courses at Dom Pedro Golf is also a key reason for why golfers love visiting the region. Each and every course maintains a good level of consistency across the year, and the Victoria Golf Course in particular presents players on the European Tour with a healthy balance, allowing them to play aggressively and make low scores.
Luis, thank you very much.