Palheiro Golf Club Feature Review
Review by Golfshake Ambassador Kevin Paver
Located just 15 minutes to the north-east of Funchal, the capital of Madeira, lies Palheiro Golf Club. The course is set within the 200-year-old Palheiro Estate, which was created in 1801 by João Esmeraldo who used it as a summer getaway (that’s right…a summer getaway!) and is adjacent to the five-star Hotel Casa Velha do Palheiro.
Set at nearly 500m above sea level, this par 72 course was designed by Cabell Robinson (Finca Cortesín, La Reserva de Sotogrande, La Cala to name a few!) and was first opened in 1993. As with many of his designs, Cabell took full advantage of the natural landscape, with dramatic drops, ridges and the lush woodland and vegetation. It really is a special spot.
After the winding roads up to the Palheiro Estate, the first thing you will notice as you arrive, are the views. As you stand at the clubhouse, you cannot fail to be blown away by them.
The impressive clubhouse houses a small pro shop and a fantastic restaurant, with a wonderful terrace (we’ll come onto this a little later). As you grab your scorecard, take this opportunity to purchase a few extra balls…you may need them! You will notice it’s not the longest course, measuring just under 6,400 yards from the white tees, and under 6,000 yards from the yellows. However, you will also notice as you glance over at the first tee and down the undulating fairway, that it’s unlikely to be a piece of cake to play!
Front 9 Overview
The 1st is a super opening hole…and one that gets you on your toes immediately. An elevated tee that drops away to the left with lots of undulations along the fairway. This is definitely one to start with a club that will give you the highest percentage chance of staying in play. Your second should then be quite a simple shot into the green. Despite being a relatively short par 4, it’s a very testing start to the round. The 3rd hole is the first of the three par 3s on the front 9. As is very much the theme around Palheiro, don’t be fooled by what looks like a simple hole. Playing from an elevated tee with some spectacular views, you must choose your club wisely, especially when the wind is up. It’s so easy to get this one wrong and end up in a world of trouble.
As you reach the par 5 6th hole, you should have a better idea of how to tackle this golf course. A gentle dog-leg right, a good tee shot could leave you with a super chance of going for the green in two. But…in doing so, you bring the five very strategically placed bunkers into play that protect the green. The more sensible / less brave of us will lay up, chip on a putt for par. Whichever way you choose, you can’t help but admire the design of this course, proving that short courses can be just as difficult to play.
Back 9 Overview
The back 9 treats you not only to some fine golf holes, but to some incredible views of Funchal and the North Atlantic Ocean. The par 3 11th is a stunner, and I would imagine one of the most photographed holes on the course. A 154-yard hole that plays downhill towards the ocean. Depending on the time of day, you are often faced with what looks like a strange mist almost at eye level. This is actually the clouds..that is how high you are! With bunkers surrounding the green, as with all the par 3s here, club choice is crucial as a long shot will be lost to Madeira!
The 14th is what I thought was the toughest of the par 4s at Palheiro, even if the stroke index doesn’t agree. You are faced with a difficult and quite intimidating tee shot, as the landing area is very small. Anything left, bounces further left and will end only in disaster and anything right is in equal amounts of trouble. The undulations are massive too as you get further down the hole and see the ocean ahead of you. The second shot isn’t straightforward either as the undulating green is guarded by a large bowl. A really fantastic hole.
From the 11th hole, the back 9 really was a super stretch of holes and the par 5 18th is the icing on the cake - a tremendous finishing hole. Another tight undulating fairway to get your teeth into as you make your way back to the clubhouse. A slight dog-leg right, if you manage to hold the fairway you have some options. It’s definitely reachable if you get a good drive away, but there is certainly risk taking it on. As you head to the green, there are bunkers short, left and right…so making the green is crucial to make a score. There is nothing for hitting it long.
Palheiro Golf Club is a really great, fun test of golf for all levels of golfer, and will keep even the best players on their toes. What it lacks in distance, it certainly makes up for in difficulty. The greens are undulating, but not ridiculous, and the bunkers are incredibly well placed. I guess this is what you’d expect when it’s designed by such a world-renowned course architect.
Onto the views. Even if you’re not having the best round, it’s impossible not to enjoy the course. The views are nothing short of spectacular and that really does lift the experience up a notch. And finally, make sure you allow some time after your golf to enjoy a bite to eat on the restaurant balcony looking down towards Funchal…(I’d highly recommend the Portuguese steak sandwich!).
It’s not all about Ronaldo in Madeira…they have some damn good golf courses too! When you do visit, you must make sure Palheiro Golf Club is on your list.
Overall Rating - 9
Course (Conditions) - 8
Course (Hole Variety/Layout) - 9
Course (Green Condition) - 8
Course (Challenge/Difficulty) - 9
Club Facilities & 19th/Clubhouse - 9
Practice Facilities - 8
Friendliness/Hospitality - 10
Pace of Play - 10
Value for Money - 9
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