Accolades in 2019 suggested Madeira’s golf offering is at last being recognised – and that has been further demonstrated by the inclusion in Portugal’s top 10, of two of its three courses, according to the latest Golf Digest ranking.
Both the Severiano Ballesteros-designed Porto Santo Golfe, at nine, and 10th-placed Santo da Serra – redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Snr in 1991 – are listed in the magazine’s ‘Best Golf Courses In Every Country’ feature.
Last year saw Madeira hailed as the ‘world’s best emerging golf destination’ at the World Golf Awards, and as Europe’s ‘leading island destination’ for the fourth successive year, and the world’s ‘leading island destination’ for a staggering fifth year running, in the 2019 World Travel Awards.
The excellent performance of the courses did not come as a surprise to those working at Discover Madeira, the consumer-facing brand of the Madeira Promotion Bureau.
A spokesman said: “When you look at the number of fine courses in Portugal – indeed the number that have been built in recent years – to have two of our three included in the top 10, by arguably the world’s leading golf title, is quite an achievement.
“But we have known for some time that the quality of golf in Madeira is exceptional for its size and it is heartening that people are beginning to sit up and take notice. In boxing parlance, I think it’s fair to say we are punching above our weight. But it doesn’t seem fair to keep such a fabulous trio of golf courses all to ourselves.”
The best way to enjoy the archipelago’s golf is with a Madeira Golf Passport – available from most hotels and the golf clubs – which entitles the bearer to five rounds of golf across the two ‘mainland’ tracks: Santo da Serra and Palheiro Golf (pictured top). Porto Santo is on the nearby island of the same name.
Trent Jones’ redesign of Santo da Serra – which dates originally from 1937 – created a spectacular 27-hole complex in a beautiful natural landscape, with views of Porto Santo and the bay of Machico, where Portuguese navigators first landed in 1419.
The Machico and Desertas nines form the 6,825-yard championship course, on which the European Tour’s Madeira Islands Open was held on 10 occasions – Mark James winning the inaugural 1993 tournament. The third and fourth on the Machico are regarded as the signature holes, sitting atop cliffs more than 2,200ft above the Atlantic.
The 3,193-yard Serras course offers a delightful alternative, with lakes and mountain views along flatter terrain.
The Cabell Robinson-designed Palheiro Golf opened in 1993 and sits within the magnificent Palheiro Estate, which is more than 200 years old. The course borders the five-star Hotel Casa Velha do Palheiro and meanders through a pristine environment of maritime pine and botanical woodland, garnished with lush, sub-tropical vegetation.
And, at nearly 1,640ft above sea level, the location enjoys dramatic views of Madeira’s mountainous skyline and the vast Atlantic Ocean, as well as – nestling below, just 10 minutes away – the island’s capital, Funchal.
The par-72, 6,656-yard course takes full advantage of Madeira’s hilly terrain, with abrupt ridges and deep valleys. It is listed inside continental Europe’s top 200 in one benchmark course ranking, and the presence of a splendid hotel, secured a spot for Palheiro in the top 80 in two recent ‘best European golf resort’ lists.
A short, 20-minute flight – or a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride – will cover the 27 miles between Madeira and the archipelago’s eastern-most island, Porto Santo, home to Porto Santo Golfe, which hosted the Madeira Islands Open between 2009 and 2011.
Ballesteros’ 7,036-yard course, which opened in 2004 and was built to environmentally conscious standards, comprises two distinct nines, spanning an area from sand dunes to basalt cliffs.
The US-style southern route is dotted with lakes, requiring a long, precise game; while the northern route is atop yet more fantastic cliffs, near a stunning beach, also called Porto Santo. The signature hole is undoubtedly the 200-yard, par-three 13th, which requires a shot over a gorge to reach a cliff-top green.
Located approximately 1,000km from the European mainland – and just 500km from the African continent – Madeira enjoys an amazingly mild climate, ranging from 25°c in the summer to 17°c in the winter, with very mild average temperatures and moderate humidity, making it the perfect year-round destination for a golf break.