I don’t think there are many golf courses like Santo Da Serra….at least I cant recall any.
The Island of Madeira offers little opportunity to sit a golf course given its topography. To put it bluntly Madeira is one tropical mountain stuck out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I will write a separate blog on Madeira but all that I will say for now is that it is a remarkable place with wonderful people and spellbinding scenery.
As bizarre as this sounds the only flattish areas on the Island are on the mountaintops (think Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa) and this is where you find Santo Da Serra high above the clouds. But the golf land is far from flat and I would estimate around a 200m (600ft) elevation change from the highest point to lowest…..perhaps more. There are 27 existing holes on the property all designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr (Cabell Robinson was his lead Architect on the project) and this was the first golf course to be built on the Island.
It is hard to believe that Santo De Serra is a walking golf course and I suspect most people walk it – at least when I played this was the case. The walk is a pleasant one, with spectacular scenery, until you reach the closing holes that is. Both nines end with holes that play steeply uphill and this can be a massive drag to get back home. You see clubhouse location is always important and whilst it may make sense locating it at the highest point so as to afford views all around you need to consider that this will ultimately mean that the closing holes will play uphill…this can prove to be tough as is the case in Madeira.
The Madeira Island Open has been a fixture on the European Tour for some time and whilst it was hosted at Porto Santo last year (the Ballesteros Course on the adjoining Island) it has mostly been played at Santo Da Serra. Whilst the field is not a strong one past winners have included the likes of Henrik Stenson. This year there are a number of past Ryder Cup players contesting like Jarmo Sandelin (remember him), Soren Hansen and Oliver Wilson. It may not be the best field in golf but those golfers playing can expect great hospitality, food and good wine.
The opening stretch of holes are the most memorable given you play along a deep chasm with views down over the Atlantic ocean and surrounding mountains. These holes are no pushover and require precision and accuracy. There are some interesting holes in the middle of the golf course mixed in with some clunkers but the fun really starts towards the end of each nine when the golfer has to negotiate a mountain – what for a better word. The gradient uphill is incredibly steep – to the point where there is every chance your ball will roll the 200m back down towards you. The greens are not visible as well as the flags – pick a point and trust your caddy – he certainly would have earned his keep for the week
Santo Da Serra is not a great golf course by any standard but that’s bye and bye. For the people of Madeira it is an opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the property and surrounds. Its about playing unforgettable shots in an unforgettable scenery. If you live or die by your score you are likely to hate Santo Da Serra but if you forget your score altogether and take in the views you will leave with a smile on the face and a couple of kg’s the better – now that’s something to make everyone happy
I leave you with Tillinghast from Golf illustrated 1923 ‘But in every human there lurks somewhere the admiration of the beautiful, and there are few, indeed, who are so callused that the emphasized features of a golf hole will not sink in somewhere and make him enjoy his round, even though it is subconscious’.