Santo da Serra golf course, Madeira. Photo by Peter Corden

Our Portugal golf expert, Andy Waple, is back with some more helpful insights. This time, the focus is on the Madeira golf scene and a quick overview of the three Azores golf courses. Over to Andy…

The mainland is undoubtedly the greatest draw for travelling golfers wishing to experience the best golf courses in Portugal, yet the country’s best-known islands should not be ignored by those looking to combine a few rounds with some breathtaking scenery.

Why choose Madeira Islands

Mountains, Serra de Agua, Madeira
Mountains, Serra de Agua, Madeira

Madeira is known as “the island of eternal spring”, is the more popular destination in terms of visitor numbers and is easy to access from Europe and further afield.

A volcanic peak rising from the middle of the Atlantic, it offers some amazing scenery, climatic variations, a unique style of wine, stunning flora and some very special cultural traditions. On the same latitude as Morocco, it is one of the only places in the planet where banana trees grow next to vineyards.

In 1999 the Madeira archipelago was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and five areas have been declared nature reserves. The Madeira National Park covers two-thirds of the main island, where development is prohibited.

Due to its mountainous and rugged terrain, most visitors, especially those disembarking the many cruise ships, tend to remain in the capital and seaport, Funchal. The more intrepid visit Madeira for the fabulous hiking along the ancient irrigation waterways, known as levadas. 

There are plenty of places to stay, depending on your interests and level of independence – see this Madeira accommodation guide for suggestions.

Madeira golf courses

Golfers who like to combine their sport with beautiful surroundings, a wonderful climate, fine food and wines have two courses to enjoy on Madeira Island, with a third on the neighboring island of Porto Santo.

One of the easiest ways to enjoy golf in Madeira is to purchase a Madeira Golf Passport, which offers five rounds of golf at Santo da Serra or Palheiro Golf. The courses will supply free transfers to and from hotels. It is priced at €360 per person in 2019, available to purchase from many hotel receptions or at any of the participating golf clubs.

Palheiro Golf 

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Golfers relaxing over a pre-round coffee on the clubhouse terrace situated 500 metres above sea level may find it hard to drag themselves away from the stunning view of Funchal harbour and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance below. Yet there is plenty to catch the eye around the 18-hole course designed by Cabell Robinson that opened in 1993 and later modified in 2003.

The course winds itself around the Palheiro Estate and its nature reserve that is more than 200 years old making it famous for its pine forests, centennial trees, flowering shrubs and lush vegetation.

Book an apartment or villa with sea or city views at Palheiro Village. If you plan to explore the island, you’ll probably want to rent a car as this gorgeous place is up a hill, high above the city. There are buses to and from Funchal if you prefer.

Santo da Serra golf

Santo da Serra golf course, Madeira. Photo by Peter Corden
Santo da Serra golf course, Madeira. Photo by Peter Corden

The original course at Santo da Serra, dating from 1937, was redesigned in 1991 by Robert Trent Jones Snr, who created a new and spectacular 27-hole complex known for its stunning sea and mountain views, challenging any setting to be found in Europe. Featuring generous fairways, its difficulty lies in the sand and water hazards, and some steep undulations. 

Its proximity to Funchal (a 15 minute drive), the airport (5 minutes) and Machico (5-10 minutes) give you plenty of options for where to stay.

Porto Santo Golf

Porto Santo Golf Course, Madeira Islands. Photo by Peter Corden
Porto Santo Golf Course, Madeira Islands. Photo by Peter Corden

Day trip packages from Funchal to play golf on the smaller island of Porto Santo via ferry are popular and it is possible to take a short flight from the airport.

The Seve Ballesteros designed course opened in 2004 on this small island and has become a bit of an eye opener. Some regard it as Seve’s greatest lay-out, featuring some impressive, testing holes.

Comprised of two distinct nines, the southern route – a US-style layout – is dotted with lakes, requiring a long and precise game, while the northern route is atop fantastic cliffs, near the stunning beach of the same name.

Azores Golf

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You aren’t going to the Azores unless you have a get-up-and-go personality with a spirit of adventure. The nine volcanic islands that comprise this far-flung green paradise in the middle of the Atlantic are hardly destinations for sunseekers whose idea of a holiday is sitting by the pool all day with a book in hand.

Golf is probably the least energetic activity to be enjoyed, but by all accounts it is certainly worth it. I cannot vouch for this myself as I have yet to make a visit – something I hope to do in the near future.

There are three courses on the Azores island group, two of them on the largest island, São Miguel, with the third on the smaller island, Terceira.

Batalha and Furnas Golf Clubs are run by the company Azores Golf Islands.  Batalha is a 27 hole lay out with beautiful views seen from its 300-acre hilly, tree lined fairways, just 15 minutes by car from the capital city of Ponta Delgada.

The highly-praised Furnas course is an 18-hole configuration and comes with some glowing reports. Furnas itself has a lot to offer as a relaxing base – see this article for more about Furnas’ charms.

Golfe da Ilha Terceira was built in 1954 as a nine-holer for off-duty servicemen stationed at the former US Air Force base nearby. It was later expanded into an 18 hole layout. Noted as a rural paradise amid rolling hills, small lakes and lush vegetation, it is prized for its late spring show of azaleas and hydrangeas.

Even if you’re not staying on Terceira Island, it’s possible to arrange a day’s golfing there through Azores Golf Islands.


A word about the golf photography

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All of these gorgeous golfing destinations lend themselves to some stunning course photography and hopefully you will agree that the ones featured here are of the highest quality.
Many have been taken by Swedish professional photographer Peter Corden whose work is renowned throughout the golfing industry globally.

I am delighted to announce that Peter has agreed to team up with me and supply his superb photographs in my future blog posts for Julie.

Peter knows all about the importance of capturing landscapes in the best possible moments when the light is at it best. This means he is often seen out on golf courses with his camera and sometimes a drone in the early morning or late afternoon after he has thoroughly checked out the best viewpoints.

His work is used internationally in upscale publications and often adorn clubhouse walls in large format. He also works on behalf of tour operators and numerous tourist boards, including Visit Portugal, so we are lucky to have his services.

You can see more of his work at Golf Is Art


Golf gear

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Browse men’s golfing shoes on Amazon.

Take a look at women’s golf shoes.

Or treat yourself to some new golf clothes for your next round.


Andy Waple golf journalist
Andy Waple golf journalist

Golf travel journalist Andy Waple struck his first ball in Portugal in the early 1980s at Quinta do Lago and was immediately hooked. He has since travelled the world playing and reviewing some of the finest and far-flung courses and resorts and as a long standing member of the International Golf Travel Writers Association, his work has appeared in many UK based publications. Andy visits Portugal regularly to enjoy the country’s golf, culture and cuisine. 

Follow Andy’s golfing updates on Twitter: @andywaple

Check out all of Andy’s Golfing in Portugal articles on Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal

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