Ahead of the 11th Portugal Masters at the stunning Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, we speak to Chief Executive Officer, Luis Correia da Silva, about course preparation, what it takes to host one of the European’s Tour’s best-loved events and where the tournament may be won and lost in 2017.
Luis, you have been involved with the Portugal Masters for over a decade. What are the major changes and developments you have seen to the tournament during this period?
The major change is that Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course has now become a mature championship course that all the European Tour pros love to come and play during the Portugal Masters. The Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course is one of the few tournaments on the European Tour that has been played at the same course for more than 10 consecutive years, bringing Vilamoura and the Algarve onto the European and world Golf map.
The Portugal Masters has had some high-profile names winning the tournament over the years, including Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Andy Sullivan and Shane Lowry. What has been your favourite edition over the 11 years of the tournament?
I invited Padraig Harrington nearly 25 years ago for the Vilamoura Golf Stars Week, when The Old Course was reopened after total renovation, with very few having heard of him at the time. Watching Padraig win the Portugal Masters last year after a first fantastic run against Andy Sullivan was an experience that I shall never forget.
What are, in your opinion, the hallmark design features implemented by Arnold Palmer on the course?
The hallmarks are the generous and undulating greens, the large fairways and especially the water hazards with numerous waterfalls. From a spectator’s perspective, the course was built to receive large scale events, with every hole conceived in an Amphitheatre shape in order to enable the visitor to have a great view of the game. Thinking of the “visiting amateur golfer”, with either low or high handicap, Arnold Palmer and his team designed the Victoria to allow a unique golfing experience, with very generous grassed areas and bunkers positioned away from the middle of the fairway, offsetting the ever-encroaching water hazards.
You have some of the finest players in the world coming to the Victoria course for the tournament – are there any special requests you tend to receive from them in the run up to and during the event?
We haven’t had any particularly unusual requests. Every year, an increasing number of players tend to come to the Portugal Masters with their wives, girlfriends, children and families. They love to be in Vilamoura during the whole week and The European Tour and Dom Pedro Golf try to do our utmost to make them feel at home and happy during the days of the Tournament.
Clearly the tournament is a highlight in the year for Dom Pedro as owners of the Victoria Course. Can you give a little insight into what the tournament means both for Dom Pedro and for Portuguese golf?
For Portuguese golf this event is, for sure, the highlight of the year. The Portugal Masters is the sports event with the highest prize money held in Portugal every year, attracting and hosting the stars of European golf. Five hundred million golfers around the world watch the Portugal Masters through television and Portugal, The Algarve and Vilamoura are, for one week, the epicenter of European golf.
For the Dom Pedro Group this is a unique occasion to demonstrate to golfers around the world our golf courses in Vilamoura and to give them the desire to visit us for the first time or return for an always memorable golf and leisure experience.
Can you give us a brief overview of the changes that have been made to the Victoria since the tournament was held last year?
The main change is the gradual transition of the Victoria Course rough from Rye Grass to Bermuda, which is a return to the condition implemented when the course was open. It will be a two-to-three-year program that will not be visible yet this year, but will make a significant difference in the coming years. The greens were also reseeded and reinforced with a new Bentgrass cultivar to cope with the increasing Poa annua growing and to achieve the expected standard density.
We have also improved the Players’ Lounge at the Clubhouse and, for the first time ever, Dom Pedro Golf, Golf Breaks and Rolex will have their own Hospitality Suites to host their VIP Guests.
One of the major advantages about the Dom Pedro Victoria Course is that it can be played by golfers of all abilities as part of the Dom Pedro Golf Collection, comprising the five golf courses in Vilamoura. Can you explain how this was achieved?
Arnold Palmer and his team did an amazing job when designing the Victoria Course layout. Every hole offers 5 or 6 different tee boxes, allowing all level of players to enjoy their game on the course. From the Palmer back tees it is a challenging championship course, but from the other tees it becomes much fairer and easier for the day-to-day golfer with either a low or high handicaps.
Clearly course preparation is paramount to putting on an event of this magnitude. Could you give an idea of what goes on behind the scenes in to getting the venue ready?
Our main challenge is to bring the course condition to European Tour tournament standards whilst welcoming a high number of players to the course every day. Preparation starts months before, with the course maintenance team working hard and carefully, trying to avoid disturbing our regular golfers. Greens have to be firm and fast, with the rough higher and more consistent two or three weeks before the event. Once the event has ended, the course returns to its normal commercial condition.
In 2005, Dom Pedro’s Vilamoura course held a World Golf Championships event. Can you explain how this came about?
The Victoria Course was designed and built to be the venue of great international golf tournaments. Having the possibility to host the World Golf Championship two years after the course was open, meant both the PGA and, at the time, Lusotur Golf management took a risky decision to hold the event in Vilamoura. A substantial investment was needed in order to bring the course to the required condition and all efforts were made to fulfill the higher expectations, with the course’s condition meeting the requirements.
Which style of player do you think is most suited to playing the Victoria?
The Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course will suit the long hitters and will certainly reward those who manage to be consistent with their putting on the greens during the whole week.
The Victoria has multiple holes where water and other dangers lurk. Can you give us your view on the holes where the tournament will be won and lost?
The seventh hole is the most difficult. Those who manage this hole successfully will gain an advantage over their competitors. 15 is an easy par-4, which some players will drive to reach the green and go for an eagle 2. The Tournament however, will be won or lost on the back nine. Hole 17 is an eagle opportunity for long hitters but with water all around, bad shots are heavily penalised. Hole 18 is a difficult par-4 and players in contention will need nerves of steel, with a choice to be made on the final shot into the green – to either play strategically or to risk bringing the water into play with an attempt at birdie.
And finally, a stellar list of names are appearing at this year’s event, including Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Andy Sullivan and Thomas Pieters. Who do you expect to prevail this time round?
It would be nice to have a Portuguese win for the first time! Ricardo Melo Gouveia, an ex Vilamoura Golf School athlete has the capacity to fight for a win this year, but if it’s not to be a Portuguese player, then a golfer from the UK will make our public and the UK residents in the Algarve very happy!
For further information about Dom Pedro Golf, hosts of the 2017 Portugal Masters and owners and operators of Vilamoura’s Victoria, Old, Millennium, Pinhal and Laguna golf courses, please visit www.dompedrogolf.com. To watch the action unfold live, tune in to Sky Sports Golf from 21st-24th September.