50 years of golf in the Algarve

The Penina golf course is acknowledged as easily the most significant cant in terms of initiating Algarve golf development but the very first course in the Algarve was a modest nine-hole dirt course at Ponta da Areia near Praia da Rocha, Portimão. Ponta da Areia was created by the Sociedade Praia da Rocha which founded the Praia da Rocha Golf Club and, as confirmed by José Casimiro, a well-known figure in tourism, hotels and golf in the region, the land was leased from the Sociedade Foz do Arade in 1937.

Mark Stilwell, co-owner of Vale de Milho Golf, observes that the “course must have been very similar to the first course I played which was the Lisbon Sports Club in Restelo and of which my grandfather was president. Mark also recalls that “the greens were ‘oils’, made of a blend of sand and used engine oil which had to be rolled before every putt.” Ponta da Areia disappeared over time and Mark reflects how “the only sports facilities boiled down to two tennis courts and one golf course – abandoned in 1952 – and these facilities have been practically unused ever since.”

It was many years later in 1966 that the rst 18-hole championship course in the Algarve was established by Penina Golf, owned by Sociedade Turística da Penina, SA, of which John Stilwell, who still survives, was founder and administrator.

John’s son, the same Mark Stilwell, confirms that his father invited Sir Henry Cotton to design the course which was then developed by the company and ready for play on June 1, 1966. In November of the same year the then Portuguese president, Almirante Américo Tomaz, formally opened the Penina Hotel – designed by architect Leonardo Castro Freire – and the prestigious five-star hotel still retains an important place in the Algarve hotel industry. Both course and hotel marked the real beginning of golf in the Algarve and leading to the development of golf across the entire region. The Penina Hotel, then called the Penina Golf Hotel located in Montes de Alvor, near Portimão still proudly retains the first ball and club used by Américo Tomaz when playing the rst shot on Penina, the Algarve’s undisputed first 18-hole course. Despite the nine holes at Praia da Rocha during the 1940s and 1950s golf really began in the region after the opening of Penina thanks to the influential figures of John Stilwell and Henry Cotton.

This year we celebrate with the ‘50 Years of Golf in the Algarve – 1966-2016’ initiative and the work done by the Algarve Tourist Board, in partnership with the Portuguese Tourist Board, deserves praise. The creation of specially commissioned golden tee markers from which golfers can play on every Algarve course for the chance of winning 52 Algarve golf rounds during 2017 marks the landmark anniversary which will also be celebrated at the 10th Portugal Masters at Oceânico Victoria Golf Course, Vilamoura this year.