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Alto Golf Course Review

Alto Golf Course

The Alto Golf Course is part of the Pestana Resort and is located between the cosmopolitan city of Portimão and the beautiful fishing town of Alvor. This is a well established golf course that recently became involved in the network of the Pestana Group resources, which include various expertises ranging from course management to marketing. Alto Golf followed an original design by Sir Henry Cotton and presents a traditional layout. To highlight this course, Golf Algarve invited two distinguished guests to play the course and make their respective comments: the Portuguese National Coach, Sebastião Gil from a professional perspective and the Managing Director of Tee Times Golf Agency, Carlos Ferreira from a visiting amateur perspective. Also joining us was Rodrigo Ulrich the Marketing Manager for the Pestana Golf and a real gentleman. During a lunch made for the gods, Golf Algarve presented our panel a number of questions and captured an interesting conversation about the golf course and this interesting game. This was certainly a great Algarve experience!

In general, what do you feel are the outstanding features of the Pestana Alto Golf Course?

Sebastião Gil Sebastião Gil ( Portuguese National golf Team coach and trainer ):
I had played at Alto only once before and I was not too fond of the course. This time, from what I saw, I must say that the course has improved quite a lot. It still does not have a layout that I would consider to be one of the best, but it is one that has plenty of potential. Contrary to what many people may think, the course is not as easy as it appears to be: most of the greens are raised, the fairways narrow, and there are many dog-legs. Players need to have a certain amount of skill to reap the maximum benefits of the course. The Pestana Alto course is very challenging, with many interesting features including some that I feel are important: it has several easy holes; some short par-5s and some long ones too, as well as several challenging holes. There are obviously some details that could be improved, such as some dog-legs that are too tight, especially for professionals who hit the ball farther, but it is a course that demands strategic play and has everything that is key to lead to good overall scoring. Without being a championship course, Pestana Alto Golf is an extremely interesting one that is well worth playing.

Carlos Ferreira Carlos Ferreira ( One of the most prominent golf Tour operators in Portugal ):
From a golf tour operator’s perspective, having already played this course several times over the past few years, I feel that the improvement in its condition is highly perceptible, specially that of the fairways, greens and also the rough which has been cleared out and is now more open, making it easier to find balls that stray from the fairways. It is still a course that retains its original features but there is now more care taken with maintenance, so it is neater. I feel that our visiting golfers will now experience much better playability at Alto than they would have encountered a couple of years ago.

Rodrigo Ulrich Rodrigo Ulrich ( Marketing Manager for Pestana golf ):
Following the improvements that have been carried out, I must say that what stands out at Pestana Alto Golf is the original design, apart from the fact that it is an enjoyable course to play. It’s a good test for both pros and amateurs, but as a course it is now up to the standard of the best we have in the Algarve.

In your opinion, what are the main characteristics of the tees, greens, fairways, bunkers and rough at the Pestana Alto Golf Course?

SG – I noticed that the course was well looked after: the rough was cut low, the tees well mown, the greens were consistent although from my point of view the grass was not short enough, but I realise that this is normal for the height of summer when there are fewer players, so the greens need to have preventive work done so that they are in good shape for the next main golfing season. Before coming I had a negative feeling but I liked what I saw and can assure you that I am impressed, although further improvements should be made to make this course into what it deserves to be. One of the things I liked most was coming to the clubhouse, which incidentally is very attractive, and after all is the one with most history concerning Sir Henry Cotton – history is extremely important to golfers as they enjoy the culture of the game, and sports men and women without culture are not true sports people.

CF – Continuing Sebastião Gil’s point of view, it was really interesting to note on arriving at the clubhouse how the members are involved, and the care management is taking with regard to course upkeep. There is noticeable attention given to Alto Golf history and maintaining the course in good condition since the members represent a considerable critical mass for the owners and it is necessary to have a high standard of quality to offer visitors to the course. The improvements made and the care taken with regard to club history in the clubhouse and not simply neglecting the past but on the contrary cherishing it, and all the involvement of those at Alto, one of the older courses in the Algarve, designed by a famous pro who left his mark in the region – Sir Henry Cotton – all this is sure to make more golfers come or return to play at Alto Golf.

RU – there has in fact been an effort to keep up traditions as this was the last course designed by Sir Henry Cotton, who sadly passed away before it was completed. After the improvements that have been made, the course is much more playable. We have an excellent maintenance team who know how to make the course more pleasurable. Four of us played today, three of whom had not played at Alto for a long time and they all noted a marked change for the better. this is the effort that the pestana Group has made to ensure the course will continue to improve. We know that the work is not over, however we’re sure that we are on the right track.

How do you rate the difficulty of the Pestana Alto golf course?

Sg – my opinion is no doubt different from those golfers who consider Alto an easy course. it has many birdie opportunities but also lots of holes where one can easily score bogeys. it has a high degree of difficulty apart from the fact that it is not a long course, because it has many tricky features: players need to have an exact notion as to the distance of all approach shots; Alto has a large number of doglegs so tee-shots have to be precisely positioned; most greens are elevated and considerably contoured, making it difficult to approach flags with precision. i feel that pestana Alto Golf is a good test of golf, a test for good players too. on a scale of difficulty of 1 to 10 i would rate it as 7.

Cf – From a business point of view, an improvement that could perhaps be made to the course is to establish a better balance amongst the 18 holes. it could possibly be straightening out the dog-legs a little for the higher handicappers and having fewer raised greens and less undulating. these are the features that make Alto Golf somewhat difficult for golfers to play to their handicaps in spite of the excellent state the course that they will find.

RU – Somewhat contrary to the present trend, pestana Alto Golf is proof that a course does not have to be long to be challenging. I agree with Sebastião when he stated that it should be clearly rated as 7 on a scale from 1 to 10.

Sebastião, you’ve travelled practically all over the world, you were recently in Japan and the Scandinavian countries and, as the national coach, you have walked many golf courses. How would you compare Pestana Alto Golf to all those courses you have seen?

SG – My players compete on championship courses and understandably Pestana Alto Golf is not classified in that category. I do feel however that Alto has its place in Portuguese golf and it has a clientele such as the majority of our visiting golfers – the average to high handicap players. I believe that it has everything required for players to thoroughly enjoy golf, and for professionals to compete on every so often. From what I experienced today, I would like to mention that I liked the texture of the greens very much, and I also enjoyed the fairway grass which was excellent. More attention should however be given to the bunkers which are not as good as the rest of the course in general because, apart from being hazards, they could contribute to the quality of the course if they were in a better state. Logically, we cannot compare this course to a championship one, but Alto attracts an extensive clientele and we must benefit from it. I would also like to thank the Pestana Group as it has, like others, invested heavily in the Algarve and continues to have faith in it, and without this Group golf in Portugal and the Algarve in particular would lose considerably. In view of this I feel that it merits a positive opinion. The Pestana Group has other courses with better potential and standing than Alto, but courses are similar to hotels, they have different star ratings. Lastly, I cannot fail to mention that Pestana is a group that has staked a lot in projects that I feel are fundamental for the expansion of golf in this country.

Carlos Ferreira, last year you negotiated about 70,000 rounds of golf for amateur visitors and you of course obtain some feedback and opinions that they have on the Algarve courses. As an agent for these golfers who come to the Algarve what do you think of Pestana Alto Golf in this context?

CF – The Algarve is undoubtedly one of the world’s best golf destinations. Alto is a course near a city in an area that has a wealth of gastronomic, cultural and leisure delights to offer, as well as beautiful days such as this. We played golf at Alto this morning, came to have lunch at a wonderful restaurant in Alvor – the Fisherman’s Rest – with a fabulous atmosphere, and now at 4:30pm here we are sitting around a table having a drink at the end of our meal. This is the Algarve at its best, and what makes it a region par excellence. The Pestana Group has in fact done a great job and Rodrigo is exemplary in his dedication and enthusiasm for the project. This proves that it is an important group that pays attention to details, to its clients and the quality of the final product. It was truly gratifying for me to witness the dedication of the course staff, something that is uncommon with regard to certain projects, especially in large groups, but it ensures us that our clients will be provided with the best possible service.

Rodrigo Ulrich, as marketing director at Pestana Group, what would you like to add as to what was already said.

RU – A large number of improvements have been made since the Pestana Group took over this course in September last year. We have installed new sprinkler systems, planted new grasses, rebuilt greens and we had to carry out a series of changes to enhance the course. Sebastião is absolutely right in bringing up the matter of the bunkers and we are aware that there are, in fact, certain bunkers that require upgrading but we needed to concentrate firstly on the fairways then the greens, and we are now going to deal with the bunkers. We are conscious of the fact that the course has to be improved and that the next step is definitely to work on the bunkers, however compared with a year ago, the overall difference is enormous. Speaking with Carlos, one of our most important tour operators, a year ago the course was practically unplayable and now we have managed to obtain some positive feedback. I would like to thank Golf Algarve for the absolutely undeniable contribution to the quality of golf here. It is fundamental for us to have companies, magazines, etc., who take time to play our courses and arrange to have pertinent individuals to accompany them. We have Alfredo here, for example, an excellent golfer, Sebastião Gil who is one of our golf gurus, and also Carlos - one of the two top operators in Portugal - who has given us the necessary feedback so that we can know what to improve and above all the way to improve. We consequently believe it is essential to have Alfredo and the whole Group on our side, working as partners because after all we have a common objective: to satisfy our customers’ aspirations.

Courtesy of Golf Algarve Magazine, Feature of September 2009