San Lorenzo is a world-class golf course, which is set alongside the Atlantic on sandy undulating terrain with fairways bordered by umbrella pines and the marshland bird sanctuary of the Ria Formosa.
It’s a stunning location and US architect Joe Lee must have rubbed his hands together with glee when he first clapped eyes on the site. Thankfully he has done a great job and he’s created a wonderful resort course… a shining light amongst the mediocrity of many golf courses in the Algarve.
The golf club at San Lorenzo first opened for play in 1988 and since then it has been consistently ranked alongside the best courses in the world. It’s built on much better terrain and on a much grander scale than its counterparts at Vale do Lobo, so it’s perfectly entitled to the title of the best golf course on Portugal’s Algarve.
Exciting golf and stunning views open up at the par three 5th where the backdrop is the beach and the sea beyond. The excitement continues at the next two holes which take you past the threatening waters of the Ria Formosa. The finish is also particularly strong and entertaining with the opposite side of the Ria Formosa coming into play on the 17th and 18th. The 18th is a wicked 400-yard plus par four with water all the way up the left and a semi-island green. It’s a classic risk and reward finish, which brings the truly magnificent San Lorenzo to a close.
The course played in between a links and parkland course. Played last week when it was wet from lots of rain and noted fairways were in bad condition (I am not entirely sure this was because of the rain as they were very patchy with different types of grass growing all over the place). Greens were in very good condition – quick and tricky with wind whipping up quite heavily lead to many three puts. From my one experience here I think the course is generally over rated vs. previous reviews, but would like to see conditions a different time to make another assessment. Thought the finishing 18th hole was a bit gimmicky the way they the water and lack of bail out area if you don’t hit a good tee shot (or even hit a good lay up.
It's been 15 years or so since our only previous visit; with a lot of golfing water under the bridge, would it suffer from a re-examination ? Other than slightly worn greens and tees, not at all, and if anything it's even better than we remembered. The 15th is a little dull, once again on the Algarve expensive range balls and buggies, and the changing room was described as "non league" by one of our party, but this is a top quality golf course and on a sunny day like we had there can't be many places more enjoyable to spend a few hours with friends and redistributing golf balls to the elements.
The Algarve is well known as a quality golfing destination so, with the increasing number of newly built courses here, maintaining a position near the top of the area rankings isn't going to be easy. One thing that San Lorenzo has in its favour is the natural charm and character that's so often missing in the newly designed courses, as in the quest for length and pristine conditioning, it's becoming rare for a course to use the original lie of the land to sculpt holes in the way the designers of San Lorenzo have managed.
When the course at San Lorenzo was first built there were very few properties on the land here, allowing the designer freedom to chose the routing through the valleys and along the coastline, making use of the subtle topography of the land and the natural wild and rugged terrain, to offer a unique layout that keeps the interest and anticipation of the golfer.
On first impressions the venue feels a little dated, with a quaint clubhouse, a functional driving range and a small short game area. This lowered my expectations, which can often be a good thing. The first four holes offered little I wouldn't expect to see at lesser ranked Algarve courses, built in the second half of the twentieth century.
That changes when you reach the tee of the par 3, 5th, where you get your first glance at the Atlantic in the backdrop of this delightful short hole, with a green perched at the top of a valley, well protected by trees and bunkers.
Grab your par and move on, as the tee box on the par 4 that follows is a sight to behold, elevated high on the side of a hill and requiring a confident and accurate tee shot, to give a short iron approach to a green that juts out into the barranca - play it well and you'll be rewarded but one slight miss hit and you're likely to be reloading.
From the mid part of the front 9 the round takes a huge leap forwards in terms of quality and excitement and doesn't slow down. The 8th is an extremely demanding and tactical par 5, offering the golfer choices of strategy from tee to green. Longer hitters can fly the bunkers on the left hand side of the fairway and open the possibility of reaching in 2, but this would require ultimate precision, as the green is guarded by water short right and OB long left, making it a tough test even when played in regulation.
There is no weak hole as the round continues into the back 9, but the standout hole comes at 12, as you play the rounds longest par 4 along the boundary of the course, with OB running down the left of the entire hole. The approach is long and uphill and requires two consecutive exceptional shots to achieve a regulation par here.
As with any classic course, the finale doesn't disappoint. Working your way from the 13th to 17th continues to be a delight of intelligent course design. The water comes back in to play on 17 and 18, which make the final two holes the perfect stage for match play, or a very though test if posting a gross score, as the final shot of the round requires precise line and length to a small green, protected by water and heavily bunkered.
It's quite unlikely you could walk off this course having not played all of the shots and clubs in your armoury, such is the diversity in layout. To sum up, I feel this course is exceptional and, unfortunately, they don't make them like this anymore! [SB]
This was my first trip to the Algarve and being an avid amateur golfer (11 handicap), I was aware of the high number of quality golf courses I could play, and San Lorenzo did not disappoint. Despite the torrential rain in the 2 days prior to playing, the course played surprising quickly and was immaculately presented. The fairways were generous and rightly penalised you if you strayed too far left or right, and the rough whilst challenging (bermuda grass) was fair. Bunkers were strategically well placed throughout the course from the tee boxes, and again around the Greens making club and shot selection pivotal throughout. Like the rest of the course, the Greens were challenging but fair, and again rewarded you for patience and right shot selection.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the golf course was the way it weaves through the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve and the stunning holes that this presents. Normally, there are one or two holes that you remember from a good course, here I can think of at least 5 that will live long in the memory. Holes 5 - 7, start with a short Par 3 overlooking the water, followed by the two par 4s of hole 6 and 7, that offer a risk / reward off the tee (if you take Driver) again overlooking the water. You then finish off the course in the heart of the Nature Reserve with Holes 17 and 18, which again offer a risk/reward for those taking Driver with a prominent lake to overcome.
Overall, San Lorenzo was a joy to play - a wonderfully presented, thinking man's golf course that offers a true test no matter what your handicap, and if nothing else will leave you with some wonderful memories.
This is a review of having played San Lorenzo a few years ago, so can't comment on the current condition, but interesting to see that many of our observations are still current.
The pro shop was unfriendly, expensive and insisted on seeing handicap certificates before play despite our being late due to getting lost in the sandy wilderness of the area courses with the confusing signage.
That said, having raced up the first to catch up with the player we were we joined with we really enjoyed the course, the tight lagoon holes a particular highlight.
Well recommended, and if you stayed at Penina very good value too.
The San Lorenzo Golf Course is laid out in a figure of eight, which explains the fabulous number of dog-legs you have to navigate. The constant change in direction puts a premium on driving the ball to the correct area, otherwise you’ll be blocked and out of position. I really enjoy a golf course like this that tests my precision off the tee, rather than hitting mindless drives. On the front side, holes 5 through 7 get all the attention as the land begins to undulate and the views of the Ria Formosa Estuary and salt water lagoons leading out to the Atlantic Ocean dominate the horizon. The 6th is the signature hole with an elevated tee shot to a sharp dog-leg left caressing the edges of the lagoon leading up to a small green-site. On a windy day, this quickly becomes a par 5. The tee shot is most demanding in terms of accuracy and distance control, and the exposed nature of the approach shot is a wonderful contrast to the opening stretch through the pine trees. The 7th hole continues down the lagoon with a precedent on finding the fairway that moves from right to left. A noticeable feeling at San Lorenzo is how your surroundings frequently change. It offers a cocktail of holes through pine trees, holes along the estuary, holes around a bird sanctuary lake and holes with blind tee shots where the landing area is out of sight. The routing is highly commendable and makes good use of the natural landscape. While it’s an enjoyable course to play on holidays, I found that the course kept starting and stopping. A world class stretch of holes is somewhat interrupted by a weaker stretch. While this may not be a course where you’ll remember every hole 10 years later, there’s plenty of challenge to keep you interested in scoring well. I noted vegetation and trees that needed cutting back, and tee boxes with longer grass than expected – but the greens are well made and the golf staff takes a lot of pride in their club. Hopefully with continued investment in improving the conditioning of the course, this nature lover’s paradise will continue as one of Portugal’s best.