Pictured above: Hole no 16, Vale do Lobo Royal
By TJ Rule / Golf Away Tours
One type of trip that we promote at Golf Away Tours is the pro/member trip, because of the inherent benefits to both the Head Professional and the members accompanying them on the trip. It’s sometimes a tough sell to club management, but we constantly gather feedback from both parties upon returning from such a trip, and the comments are always positive. Recently I had the opportunity to experience the benefits of such a trip first hand.
It was certainly a long winter in Southern Ontario, so I am happy that I had the foresight months ago to sign myself up as a tag-along on a trip to Portugal with fellow members from Scarboro G&CC. The trip was led by the long-time head pro Terry Kirkup and he was definitely in his element during the week abroad.
Over his 14 years at Scarboro, Terry was the consummate pro, very organized and professional in all aspects of his job, and he certainly had the respect of his members. However, not many of the members had had the opportunity to see him outside of the formal setting of the club professional serving the club members. This scenario gave everyone an opportunity to interact with Terry in a more relaxed atmosphere, a more social setting, and certainly gave Terry a perfect opportunity to ‘let his hair down’ and enjoy the occasion. It proved to be a perfect fit, with all parties benefitting significantly from the experience.
Ultimately it was a group of 15 that boarded Air Transat on a cold Sunday evening a couple of weeks ago in search of a respite from a long Toronto winter, a week of great camaraderie, great golf and of course, plenty of wine. It was no surprise that Terry was the first one at the airport, waiting to welcome each member of the group.
After a long first day of travel, we arrive in the Algarve on a beautiful sunny Monday afternoon, the first of seven straight days of sunshine in Portugal. While some of the participants on the trip had spent some time in Florida over the winter, for most of us, it was our first time swinging a club outdoors in months. It’s always exciting seeing your first tee shot in months soaring through the air, and in my case, straight into one of the umbrella pines lining the first hole of the Old Course at Oceanico. I don’t care what anyone tells you, the pines in Portugal are not 90% air.
The comment I heard most from our group was that they enjoyed the variety in styles of the six courses we played. The Old Course, with its tree-lined fairways and rolling hills, reminded us the most of our home course, while the other two courses within the Oceanico complex – Victoria, which has hosted the Portuguese Open for seven straight years, and Millennium, a solid if unspectacular Martin Hawtree design – are laid out across flatter terrain with more forgiving corridors. The two courses at Vale do Lobo offered the best views, with several holes on the Ocean course heading to and from the coast, while the 16th hole on the Royal course is no doubt the most photographed hole in Portugal. But don’t let the view fool you – at 220 yards into the wind from the members’ tees, it may look like a beauty, but it plays like a beast!
We had pre-determined that Thursday, opening day of The Masters, would be our tournament day for the week. We had a friendly competition on the Victoria course, with the winners not only walking away with a bottle of the local port, but also a bobble head to proudly display in their living rooms – or perhaps in the back corner of their basements – once they returned home.
The final two days of the trip were spent in the Lisbon area, with our last round at my favourite course in the country, Oitavos Dunes. Located about 40 minutes west of Lisbon near the resort town of Cascais, Oitavos is a mix of woodlands and links-style holes beautifully laid out by Arthur Hills, and provides wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Sintra Mountains on the other. Rated by GOLF Magazine as the 65th best course in the world, Oitavos is a must play when planning your golf vacation in Portugal.
Reflecting on the trip after returning to Canada, I realized that not only were we fortunate to have seven straight days of perfect weather but also fortunate to have Terry accompany the group, as his professional assistance was invaluable. It was great to see him in a different light too – sharing a beer, playing some pool, even sharing the enjoyment of a hand or two of blackjack (the casino in Vilamoura is very conveniently located).
This trip definitely reinforced for me the obvious benefits that a pro/member trip provides to all parties and I look forward to our next trip together.
TJ Rule is co-owner of Golf Away Tours, which offers personalized golf experiences to the best destinations in the world.