Britain’s finest athletes are no strangers to warm weather training. Cyclists winter in Majorca while tackling the island’s mountainous west coast. Many athletes disappear Down Under to prepare for a season of Diamond League meets and Premier League footballers swan off to Dubai at the merest rattle of their tasteful gold necklaces.
Mindful of this agreeable trend and conscious too of the need to enjoy consistently warm weather in preparation for August’s Farm Foods British Par3 Championship, I took advantage of an opportunity to visit Portugal recently where I met Mark Stilwell, a man who personifies the word ‘urbane’. Mr Stilwell, who sounds a little like the late Christopher Martin-Jenkins, has made his home in Portugal. He is a constant source of anecdotes regarding Sir Henry Cotton, hired by his father to design the Penina golf course in the early 1960s. Stilwell senior is credited with bringing golf to the Algarve, for Penina was the first of more than 30 courses that now pepper this beautiful Atlantic coast. Amongst them is Vale de Milho, a gem of a par 3 course, co-owned by Mark, situated just outside of Carverio, around 45 minutes from Faro.
The course provided ideal warm weather training conditions; playing golf in shorts and t-shirt is always gratifying, even if I did duff my opening shot in front of a crowded terrace.
If you’re visiting the Algarve this summer, I can recommend playing Vale de Milho. Apart from the palm-lined fairways and magnificent ocean views evident between the 4th and 7th holes, the exotic wildlife which either pads around adjacent to the lake, or flies onto the greens, brings out one’s inner David Attenborough.
Ducks wearing red masks were everywhere, together with water hens, but my favourites were the hoopoe with their thin, tapering bills and distinctive crown of feathers. Apparently, the ancient Egyptians considered them sacred; in Portugal they add beautifully vivid colouring to the golf course.
‘What a wonderful game this is’ I mused, after registering four pars in six holes – which isn’t bad for an 18-handicap golfer. That quartet of threes represented the pinnacle of my afternoon’s golfing achievement and I eventually finished with half a dozen pars and eight bogies – mention of the four doubles is hardly deserved. There’s still much work to be done ahead of August’s showdown at Nailcote Hall, but it was evident when I played Vale de Milho for a second time last week that warm weather training definitely agrees with me.
* Peter Sharkey is playing in the Farmfoods British Par 3 Championship, staged at Nailcote Hall between August 6-9. We’ll be following his progress as he prepares for the event.