TIMING is everything in life, particularly so in travelling. It could therefore be considered perfect timing when our group – bound for a golfing trip to Portugal – escaped the icy-fingered clutches of the British weather by a matter of minutes.
Neil Reeves, organiser of the 12-strong group’s stay at Penina Hotel & Golf Resort, could not claim credit for serendipitously booking us on the last flight out of Manchester Airport before it was closed because of a blizzard.
But what Neil, academy director at the John Letters Golf Academy in Huddersfield, can take credit for is making sure his flock of eager golfers did not have to think about anything other than turning up at the airport with clubs and luggage.
Neil, a PGA Qualified Class AA coach for more than 25 years, took care of everything else, from booking transportation to and from Faro airport and our resort, to booking tee-off times, through to making dining arrangements at specially chosen venues.
But this trip, and those Neil also runs to Corfu, was further elevated way above the ordinary golfing holiday abroad by the expert tuition that he provided.
Each day following breakfast, and before teeing off, golfers joined Neil on the excellent practice range for a two-hour clinic covering all manner of topics, including bunker play, putting, the short game – plus any particular area of the game which was causing individuals problems.
The Algarve, a premier European destination for golfers, owes a huge debt to an Englishman, three times Open champion Sir Henry Cotton, who lit the fuse on an explosion of course-building by designing the area’s first layout in 1966.
Sir Henry was hired by resort founder John Stilwell, who wanted to give travellers an extra reason to visit an area which was able to offer sunshine and tranquillity, but precious little by way of leisure activities.
A 360-acre rice field was drained before Sir Henry oversaw the plantation of thousands of trees and bushes, plus the intricate sculpting of land to provide teeing areas and greens. His aim was to produce a championship course which could – with judicious use of a variety of tee placements – test every golfer.
The towering pines and eucalyptus trees which line Penina’s fairways have now stood witness to 10 Portuguese Opens. Its fairways, meanwhile, have been trodden by luminaries such as Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie and Sir Nick Faldo as well as other sports stars such as Lewis Hamilton and Nigel Mansell, and many a visiting football team, including Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday.
“The people there are both very friendly and very professional,” said Neil. “Service from the moment you get up in the morning at breakfast time, to coming and bringing you drinks out on the course, to having a lovely meal in a five-star restaurant in the evening is all top-class.”
As well as the Sir Henry Cotton Championship course, Penina Hotel & Golf Resort has a short 9-hole Academy Course with a par of 30, a 9-hole Resort course with a par of 35, a gym, outdoor 60m swimming pool and floodlit tennis courts.
For those wanting to enjoy a day on sand not involving bunkers, the resort has its own Alvor Beach club, four kilometres away, with a shuttle bus service providing travel to and from the club.
Sitting in the shadows of the Monchique Mountains, Penina Hotel & Golf Resort Hotel – which has 188 rooms, ranging from family accommodation to suites – is opulent and luxurious. But despite being a high-end establishment, it has a relaxed and informal ambience.
The fact that Neil’s trips are populated by many faces familiar to him from previous excursions is testament to both his teaching and Penina Hotel & Golf Resort. But newcomers are treated just as warmly, as I discovered.
Neil Reeves can be contacted on 07971 127 783