“The courses are of superb quality and extremely varied”, affirms former national player and top coach Marc Amort, who has opened the first German-speaking Golf Academy on the Azores archipelago. An excellent idea – after all, it ensures the option of training in winter; temperatures on these islands off the west coast of Portugal rarely fall below five degrees Celsius.
Batalha golf course is on the northern coast of the largest island, Sao Miguel, only ten minutes’ drive from the capital of Ponta Delgada. The lush green of the 120-hectare course is fringed by giant eucalyptus trees, bay trees and hedges of hydrangeas that have an intoxicating scent when in flower. The three nine-hole courses offer a range of different challenges. “They can be combined in any way to meet all needs”, enthuses Amort.
However, a move to the 18-hole course Achada das Furnas is recommended in the generally rain-free summer months. High on the edge of the Furnas Valley, 500 metres above sea level, this course is a cooler option. The lofty Japanese cedars with moss-bedecked trunks create a fairy forest. With its deep bunkers and plentiful water hazards, the Azores’ oldest golf course – built in 1939 by Scottish architect Mackenzie Ross – is a very special experience.
But the volcanic archipelago is far too fascinating a destination for a holiday there to be restricted to golfing. The town of Furnas lies in a vast crater, creating a pleasant microclimate; its 22 hot volcanic springs feed the world’s largest thermal baths, an ideal place to relax after a tournament. A culinary speciality of the spa is cozido, a kind of stew in which an assortment of meats and vegetables are braised for up to eight hours in the hot volcanic rock. “At four in the morning the pots are placed in holes in the ground, covered with earth and retrieved at midday”, recounts Amort.
The whole island is strewn with excellent little fish restaurants. A classic is Borda D’Aqua directly at the harbour of Lagoa, a small town on the south coast. “You have to order the fish mixed grill!” recommends Amort. Grilled tuna or swordfish is the speciality of 100 Espinhas (the name means “one hundred fishbones”) at Portas do Mar. The crescent-shaped harbour of Ponta Delgada is a well-known destination for large cruise ships.
Some fish are more for watching than eating. The whale-watching tours on the Azores are famous, as dolphins and whales not only pass by here, but actually “live” off the coast. Their huge fins can sometimes be seen from Surf Point on Santa Barbara Beach. “The best place is the terrace of Thukka Tula, a tiny bar with superb views over the sea and miles of fine black sandy beaches”, recommends the golf coach.
Visitors who want to see more than Sao Miguel can go island-hopping; a flight leaves at 7 am for Terceira, the third largest island of the Azores. The island is home to a further 18-hole golf course operated by Ilha Terceira Golf Club. It is to the north of Angra do Heroismo, with a historic city centre that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Well worth planning time for a stroll before flying back at 8 pm!
One small obstacle to a holiday on the Azores is finding accommodation. Many hotels are fully booked in the summer, and private guest houses are hard to find. Insiders recommend simply asking around after arrival. For more information, click here.