I’ve promised my friends at TAP Portugal to play golf whenever I am in Portugal, and Madeira remains a golf mecca few Americans know. Fewer than 6,000 American travelers fly to Madeira a year, although Europeans have long been drawn to its tranquility and Levada Walks (mountain trails that follow chiseled water channels). I am almost reluctant to tell others about this lovely island in the Atlantic.
Santo da Serra Golf Club overlooks Machico Bay, where the original Portuguese navigators landed to find Madeira unoccupied and well-equipped with timber and fresh water. Europeans have flocked to Madeira to make it their home, as the temperature fluctuates only about 5 degrees the entire year, averaging 73 degrees Fahrenheit.
Built in 1937, the course was redesigned in 1991 by famed golf architect Robert Trent Jones. Santo da Serra consists of 27 holes broken into three nine-hole courses: Machico (red), Desertas (blue) and Serras (yellow). As the Madeira Island tournament was taking place, I had to tee off on the Serras first, take a 45-minute break and then finish on the most beautiful Machico course, with stunning ocean vistas. I enjoyed my lunch in the bar — a Sagres lager and a ham and cheese sandwich on a lovely Portuguese roll.
HOLE 1 | 518 meters (567 yards), par 5
Rather than driving myself from the hotel to Santo da Serra, I took the course shuttle that picks up guests from various hotel properties. We all arrived en masse. I communicated with the starter and pro that I needed a rental club set (I brought my mini traveling bag of golf balls and tees), and off I headed to the first hole, solo. The course was a little backed up due to the tournament delay, so I played two balls from tee to green.
The first hole offers the opportunity to swing away with a wide fairway as your landing area. To the left lies a stretch of dense trees which can take you out of the game, and to the right a thinner line of pine trees separates the first and ninth holes. The third shot is a simple layup to the green, but this is where the fairway narrows. Your approach is key, as a ball-sucking pond lies in front of the green. I watched many in the foursome in front of me succumb to the depths of this hazard. I overplayed the shot, landing on the back of the green and rolling speedily across to stop on the downslope in the rough for a tricky chip. The chip lined up within 5 feet of the cup, and I secured a bogey.
HOLE 5 | 160 meters (175 yards), par 3
After getting a few holes in Madeira under my belt, it was nice to come to a par-3 which offered a little character. The hole lies below the tee box with a pond guarding the front right side of the green. The entire green slopes from top to back and from left to right toward the water. Given my rental clubs, I was having a difficult time judging the proper tool and decided to tee up high with a rescue wood to clear the pond. As the pin tucks into the highest and longest top lefthand corner, I thought this was the best plan. At the same time, the group ahead invited me to play through, causing me to rush and be done with No. 5 so as to not keep them waiting. My ball sailed strong and hard over the green and rested in the top rough. I ran to the cart and secured a wedge for an impressive chip and one-putt for par as the gentlemen patiently watched.
HOLE 7 | 274 meters (300 yards), par 4
Once again I was invited to play through a group as I was a single, and once again I rushed. In my haste, I had a very difficult time directing my shot to the fairway; you have to drive your ball over a left tree line to a narrow landing area. From here the hole takes a dogleg left down to the green on what I found to be a short but challenging hole. A little course knowledge — and perhaps a slower approach on the tee box — would have improved my play on 7.
HOLE 4 | 185 meters (202 yards), par 3
On the Machico nine I teamed up with two gentlemen, one from Germany, named Marian, and his Italian uncle, Gratziano. This made for an enjoyable round but with limited conversation as we attempted a German/Italian/English combination of communication.
Hole 4 offers beautiful views of the valley below and Machico Bay. With a length of 202 yards, there is no margin for error. Gratziano teed up first and sent a ball sailing into the dense vegetation between the tee and green, never to return from Madeira. Marian took a more powerful approach, slamming his wood over the green and out of play. With examples to follow, I took a safer route and landed to the right of the green but had difficulty putting together a decent pitch and putt. We all stopped to take pictures from behind the green to the bay below.
HOLE 9 | 352 meters (385 yards), par 4
The closing hole is a challenging uphill fight to the green that lies just below the clubhouse and practice putting green. Gratziano and Marian showed signs they were tiring out from the game, and I moved ahead after pushing out one of my better drives to the far left side of the fairway. My second shot landed short on the slope up to the green, as I did not take into account the extra club required due to the elevation. I chipped on and watched my partners hack away up to the green while I witnessed the winning foursome from the club championship posing for pictures with trophies just above us. After we closed out the hole, we sat and enjoyed a final beer, discussing the course and our day of golf on Madeira, hoping to come back soon.
SANTO DA SERRA GOLF CLUB
Santo António da Serra
tel 351 291 550 100
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