The Sir Henry Cotton Championship Course was the first course built in the Algarve and therefore is steeped in history. The course has hosted the Daily Telegraph Senior Match Play (2000, 2001) and the Portuguese Open for 10 years. Nearly every golfer visiting the region knows of the course, which opened in 1966 and was totally renovated in 1995. The renovation remained true to the Cotton design.
The course groups par 5s together, making par for the back nine total 38 rather than 36 or 35. Grasses incorporated in the design include Lolium perene (perennial ryegrass), Poa pratensis (smooth meadowgrass) with creeping bentgrass for the fairways and creeping bent cobra for the greens.
Cotton, knighted in 1988 (after his death in 1987), won the British Open in 1934, 1937 and 1948. He also won many events on the European circuit during the 1930s. He moved to the Algarve, giving up his comfortable position as head pro at Temple Golf Club in the United Kingdom.
Golfers can enjoy the Le Méridien Resort connected to the course, which offers full-service amenities from a wellness center and beach club to many fine restaurants.
I was fortunate to play the Cotton Course with a knowledgeable and select group, including Matthieu de Tonnac, hotel manager of Le Méridien Penina; Leonel Rio, director of golf at the Penina Golf Course; and Monia Bernardo, Portugal’s highest-ranked PGA golf professional and resident pro at Pine Cliffs. Monia was kind enough to offer a lesson the following day for my daughter, as well as giving me a little grip advice!
(424 yards, par 4)
Hole 2 happens to be the course’s No. 2-ranked handicapped hole. It is a tricky par 4, as you need to drive your ball right center of the fairway in order to have a clear shot to the green. Too far left and you will either land in the two fairway traps or be blocked from making your approach. My drive landed left center but far enough that I was able to take a high iron to the green and clear the small creek running in front. A simple 2-putt let me card par and take this hole over the competition.
(493 yards, par 5)
This was not one of my more stellar performances at the Cotton Course. You must drive your ball right center of the fairway or nail a drive through the turn of this dogleg left. My drive hooked into the trees, so I had to punch out to the forward on the right. At this point, I was only about 100 yards from the green. Laying two, I made an excellent recovery. However, my approach came up short and fell into a large pond that guards the green. It’s a beautiful hole that is very playable — if you can keep your game in line.
(192 yards, par 3)
This is a straightforward par 3, slightly longer than the others on the front nine. Try to avoid the large trap that sits to the right and forward of the green; it catches a lot of shots. If the pin placement is to the left of the green, as it was the day we played, the second trap (along the left side) can snag overzealous golfers.
(422 yards, par 4)
This dogleg left brings you back to the clubhouse. Your drive needs to land right center but away from the many traps that dart the right side of the fairway. From here, you approach the green and turn to the left, following the direction of the dogleg. This shot needs to clear a small creek; at the same time, you will need to choose a sufficient club to reach this elevated green. There are lots of traps around the green with the hotel as a backdrop, a nice finish to the front nine.
(545 yards, par 5)
This is a great introduction to the back nine; the dogleg right includes a water hazard you have to clear on your second shot. Some might want to lay up just before the water, but that would leave a long third shot to the green. Several traps guard the green from your approach and can easily dash your hopes for par.
(421 yards, par 4)
This is the No. 1-ranked handicapped hole — a narrow hole lined with trees. A pond just before the green adds to the length, making this a difficult hole. It became my nemesis as I drove my ball too far right and ended up in the trees. My partner, Leonel Rio, made up for my error with a perfect drive to the center of the fairway. From here, you must clear the pond and land on the green, which is guarded by two traps at the front, right and left.
(202 yards, par 3)
This hole brought out a shot seldom seen in Portugal: the low screamer. My shot from the tee box was a missed hit. It bladed thinly, making it fly low left, away from the pond in front of the green before bouncing on the right side. Proper play is a clean high shot to the green, perhaps with a fairway wood. But golf is often full of surprises — I putted for birdie and took the hole, which is voted one of the best 500 holes in the world.
(475 yards, par 5)
This is a wonderful finishing hole and became my best tee shot of the day. I drove my ball left center of the fairway and Leonel followed very closely, landing right next to my drive. That gave us a clear team advantage for this hole.
Drives right can possibly reach the fairway bunker just before the creek, which can make par difficult. Bring out all you have for your second shot over the water hazard to the fairway. From your second shot, your approach is to an elevated green with five traps surrounding.
Sir Henry Cotton Championship Golf Course
Le Méridien Penina Golf & Resort
P.O. Box 146
Penina, Portimão 8502-952
tel 351 282 420 2234
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