After a successful 2014 season, and after the birth of our son, Cohen, my wife and I decided to try something a little different this past winter. Stephany is still on maternity leave through June and since my job as a teaching professional is flexible, we decided to take the opportunity and head for warmer locals. For the last few months we have been living in Lagos, Portugal and I have been competing on the Algarve Pro Tour.
I've always seen the competitive value of playing winter golf but for the last number of years haven't been able to make this happen. I find the winter time lack of tournament play and very wet conditions of the North West challenging and this seems to negatively affects the first portion of the season. Further, Steph and I have often wondered what it might be like to live in Europe and we decided here was an opportunity to try it out.
On New Years day we caught a flight from Vancouver to Amsterdam and then to Lisbon. After a short night in a hotel we took a train south to Lagos, on Portugal's Southern coast. It is a small city of about 30 000 people on the Western edge of the Algarve region. Historically Lagos was an important fishing and trading community. Now it is a haven for northern European tourists, who head south to escape the cold.
The Algarve Pro Tour is a joint venture between the UK based Jamega Tour and the PGA of Portugal. They run a series of 15 tournaments from October to March, all based in the Algarve. My plan was to use these tournaments to play and practice through the winter, and then head home ready for the spring / summer season in Vancouver.
The first event was in mid January at a golf course called Salgados. I'd been practicing for about a week and felt ready and excited to play. A little unsure of what to expect, I was surprised to be paired with a current European Tour player (Top 500 OWGR) and a recent Challenge Tour winner. It was a fun day, where the European Tour player got to 10 under par through 12 holes, eventually shooting a 65. I posted a steady two under par 70 and was in a tie for 9th. I eventually finished the tournament with a frustrating even par 72 on day two in a tie for 14th. Not my best but I had played steady and solid golf for two days, just lacking in birdies.
My intention for these tournaments was to play as much correct golf as I could. This means hitting tee shots in a manner which avoids impeded situations, approaches to correct targets on the safe sides of pins. My goal was to limit the number of bogeys I made and to let the birdies follow. My best scores and best results have occurred when I have limited mistakes and let the birdies happen. For the first two events, I managed to do one (limit bogeys) and not the other (make birdies), eventually finishing 14th and 16th respectively. On the third event I put it all together and finally made a few putts, finishing at four under par and in a tie for fourth.
After a two week break, we began another tournament swing at the Morgado Golf Resort, located about 30 minutes from Lagos. Morgado is a sprawling resort with two golf courses built into the foot hills of the Monchique mountains. Neither course is very difficult but we experienced lots of weather and gusty winds. I once again attempted to play smart and correct golf and in many respects accomplished this. My challenge though was with the gusty wind, inconsistent greens and my lack of scoring on the various par fives. As a par-73 golf course, featuring five par-5's, it was imperative to make birdies on these holes. The winning scores were usually between seven to ten under par and it was hard to make enough birdies on par-4's alone to get to that score.
I am a strong wedge player and also confident with my short game, especially when my approach shot is in the correct place. Unfortunately, here in the Algarve, the soft winter turf conditions were inconsistent and frustratingly tricky. I found it difficult to chip and pitch the ball and the only shot option which seemed to work was to put the ball back in the stance and hit down on it. I found this hard to judge as the greens were both soft from the rain and firm from the wind. Due to the strength of the wind and inconsistent greens, laying up to a favourite wedge distance wasn't much easier. I struggled to make birdies to contend and became a little frustrated with my lack of scoring and constant battling of the wind. 'Horses for Courses' as they say, Morgado was not my favourite.
I should add, on Day One of the last tournament, I incorrectly signed for a 77, when I had in fact shot 78. I failed to check my card properly, and realized the error part way through Day Two. Whenever you sign for a score lower than what you actually shot, the penalty is a DQ. It didn't really matter, as I would be nowhere near the leaders but this is a regrettable mistake and a strong reminder to always check your scorecard properly.
To see a summary of my Algarve Pro Tour results click here.