MAGICAL MONTE REI
From its stunning Jack Nicklaus-designed championship course and world-class practice facilities, to its sumptuous clubhouse and its quality on-site accommodation, there’s plenty to get excited about staying and playing at Monte Rei in Portugal’s Eastern Algarve, says Matt Nicholson
Monte Rei Golf & Country Club is one of that rare breed of golf courses that simply reeks of class. Located in the hills just a few miles to the northeast of the pretty town of Tavira in Portugal’s eastern Algarve, the place lets you know that you have arrived somewhere special the very moment you pass through the impressive entrance.
Just as you’d expect from Portugal’s most consistently top-ranked course, everything at Monte Rei oozes quality, and the remarkable attention to detail verges on the obsessive. All this quality comes at a price, of course, but it’s well worth paying if you’re looking to create golfing memories that will last a lot longer than most.
Before you head down to the first tee on your mandatory buggy, be sure to hit a few balls on the Tour-standard driving range, where neat pyramids of Tour-quality balls wait to be smacked over an enormous area that can comfortably accommodate the full range of shots. With a practice putting green and bunker, it’s the ideal preparation for the challenge that awaits on the stunning Jack Nicklaus layout – the only one that the great man has ever built in Portugal.
Allegedly armed with a sizeable budget, and a lot of earth-moving equipment, the North Course, which first opened in 2006, is without question one of Nicklaus’s finest layouts outside of America, with the quality of the challenge mirrored perfectly by the pristine condition in which it is presented. Each hole is delightfully self-contained, and even knowing that the Serra do Caldeirao mountains are to the north and the Atlantic Ocean is to the south doesn’t help you maintain your bearings as you weave your way around the vast 70-hectare site. Fortunately, the imposing hilltop clubhouse looms reassuringly as you play up the ninth and 18th.
With tee times spread 12 minutes apart, it’s quite likely that you will play the whole round without spotting another group, let alone be held up. It’s millionaire’s golf for non-milionaires, so you won’t feel rushed as you take on the eight par 4s, five par 3s and five par 5s. Although the course measures significantly more than 7,000 yards off the back tees, the course is progressively less daunting off the three other tees – Championship, Signature and Forward – but whichever tee you play off, it’s hard to avoid noticing the extensive bunkering that is such a key feature of the course. The only upside of landing in one of these many traps is that the sand is made from crushed limestone, which resists plugging and means that your ball will almost always end up in the flat part of the trap.
Talking of hazards, the water that comes into play on 11 of the holes is altogether less forgiving, and rarely do balls that are hit into the numerous ponds, streams and lakes ever reappear. What does make a welcome appearance from time to time, however, is the drinks’ cart, which administers much-welcomed iced towels, as well as a range of cooling beverages and snacks.
There isn’t a weak hole among the 18 on offer, kicking off the par-four opener which plays off an elevated tee down to fairway that dog legs to the right. Bunkers must be avoided to set up an approach to the green, as they must on almost every hole. Other highlights include the 13th, another downhill two-shotter that features a lake protecting a wickedly undulating green, while the 14th is pretty par three, where another water feature must also be negotiated to find the putting surface.
The 18th is a cracking closing par five, with the longest drives setting up a heart-in-mouth shot to the green that must take on the water all the way up the right-hand side of the fairway to the front of the green. As you come off the last, you will be presented with a commemorative Monte Rei bag tag with your name engraved on it, which is another nice touch.
The pleasure, however, is far from over, as you haven’t yet explored the spectacular Mediterranean-style clubhouse that is home to the club’s superb Vistas restaurant, which overlooks the course. The food is easily up to Michelin-starred standards, and well worth booking in advance to ensure you get a table. For more relaxed dining, the clubhouse also offers the excellent Monte Rei Grill and the Academy Café.
And after a suitably indulgent lunch or dinner, golfers can hop on a buggy and make the short drive to one of the numerous luxury villas that are dotted around the estate and available for rent. Ideal for families, small groups and couples, the three- and four-bedroom villas boast their own swimming pools, while the one and two-bed apartments also boast outdoor BBQ areas and are kitted out to the same luxury standards. They are located just a few steps away from Veranda, the social focal point of the village, which houses a restaurant and bar, and features tennis courts and swimming pools, plus gym and spa facilities.
Although slightly off the beaten track when it comes to the main bulk of other golf courses in the region, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you make the extra effort to stay and play at Monte Rei. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
STAY & PLAY AT MONTE REI
Among the current range of packages includes a three-night stay in a luxury one-bedroom villa with two rounds of golf, including buggy, unlimited range balls and daily breakfast, which costs from €671pp from November to March. To book, or for further enquiries, visit www.monte-rei.com, call 00 351 281 950 950 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.