There are five courses in the Dom Pedro Golf offering at Vilamoura (Old Course, Pinhal, Laguna, Millennium and Victoria). Pinhal was designed by Frank Pennick and opened in 1976 and refined by RTJ Sr in 1985. After a warmup on its excellent practice facilities, Pinhal starts with one of best holes on the course, a straight par five with a relatively open and inviting tee shot and approach down a valley and back up to an elevated green with the signature Atlantic pines all around, which are a feature of the entire course. The par four 2nd and par five 3rd holes weave through the pines with flat and twisting fairways reminiscent of Harbour Town in that the threat of being blocked out is real if the fairway is missed in the wrong place.
The 4th and 5th are in a little pocket of undulating land across a quaint residential area and are two good holes, the 4th in particular – a downhill dogleg left par four with a pond short right of green, potentially also in play off the tee if downwind, but if into the wind a precise tee shot is required to find the right position on the fairway. The 5th is a slightly downhill par three with three bunkers around the green. Back across the road, the 6th is a flat par four with no bunkers in play off the tee but plays tough into the prevailing wind, favouring a draw to avoid any tree trouble. The 7th is a bit more open and doglegs to the right with a runout affecting drives too straight and with really just one of the two bunkers in play around the green.
The 8th is one of the signature par threes in all of Vilamoura, over a pond and bunker to a large diagonal green, a hole that reminded me of the 11th at Mount Juliet. The 9th is an undulating par four with a bunker cutting in on right side of the fairway forcing you left and three dangerous bunkers at the green.
The 10th and 11th are par fours that dogleg in opposing directions, the 10th a great hole with a blind tee shot up over a hill, which if on the right line will leave just a flick back down the hill to the green, although the approach is not easy as the green is elevated and very narrow, therefore missing it in a bunker or on the slopes around will leave a difficult up and down. The 11th is a very sharp dogleg left with a pot bunker at the corner and a runout to trees in reach on the far side, so the tee shot needs to be well placed for a short iron to the green. The 12th is a solid par three with bunkers all around and a steep drop off to the right that must be avoided.
The great start to Pinhal’s back nine is enhanced further by the next three holes. The 13th is a tough uphill par five that evokes the 8th at Augusta owing to its demanding tee shot into the upslope and second shot played blind up and over the hill before flattening out in the approach to the green. Whilst the 14th is the shortest of the par threes, two tall trees in front of the slightly elevated green provide a bit of intimidation. The par four 15th is not unlike the 4th in that it is a downhill tee shot tightly framed by the pines that does not necessarily ask of the driver, in this case a creek cuts across the fairway and a tree short of the green forces a tee shot laid back to avoid being too close it to complicate the approach shot. By this point you should be sold on the quality of Pinhal and the variety of its holes and shotmaking required.
The 16th is a more straightforward flat and shortish par four with one of the wider fairways on the course. The 17th was the only hole that I would have any element of complaint with. As a par five it is quite inventive use of a tight space of land, doglegging sharply to the right around the 11th, which is out of bounds to prevent anyone taking a short route to the green, but you are forced to leave driver in the bag unless you want to risk cutting the corner and not finishing up O.B. or in the pines. From the fairway it is a solid hole, not too narrow but with plenty of bunker trouble around the green. The 18th is a great finishing hole, a par four curving to the left up and over the same hill that features on the 10th. The approach sweeps downhill to an elevated green complex that is well guarded, in particular by the small traps in the left-centre .
Overall a great mix of opposites, the challenging and inviting, flat and undulating, short and long, left and right, with the Atlantic pines cheering you on the whole way around.
Pick of the holes: Par 3 – 8th; Par 4s – 4th, 18th; Par 5 – 1st.
(Photo – 15th)