Our itinerary listed this as a ‘free morning’, but Joke (pronounced ‘yokay’), our minder and host for the three days, had tempted us with a final morning kayaking excursion. There were the expected ums and ers and polite refusals – some of us were still carrying the scars of the previous day’s bike ride – so it was left to Dermot to man-up. In return for a chance to relax, however, we were all expected to turn up on the beach for Dermot’s epic voyage at 10am. The ‘free morning’ had evaporated before our eyes.
Generally speaking, the O’Connor course is on the low ground, while Faldo’s slips up and down a nearby hillside. The O’Connor is longer too with constant water hazards, but by all accounts it is the less strenuous test. We played off the forward tees (we weren’t blessed with time in terms of our flights) and the course was remarkably benign from such a position (5,900 metres). Big fairways and greens and, despite water, it is spacious for much of the round.
Buggies are almost a must. Temperatures aside, there are some walks from green to tee – and late on a buggy may prove a blessing. As we split up into our two threeballs, someone came out and poured ice into the buggy’s drinks box. I’d bought two 2 litre bottles of water for the heat and it was almost too cold to drink after 15 minutes. There’s a winding drive down to the first tee, past a statue of Christy himself (there’s one of Faldo too), and then a par five to start proceedings. An opening salvo of pars is always going to leave you liking a course, but at the end I preferred Penina. The O’Connor has some superb holes (3, 10, 14, 15 and 18 come to mind) and it is clearly a driver’s course, but Penina demands more restraint and imagination.
There was one final twist as we sat on board the Aer Lingus plane at 8.30pm, waiting on someone who’d decided to go walkabout. The Portuguese air traffic controllers were going on strike at 9pm. If we didn’t take off by 8.40pm we wouldn’t be taking off at all as we wouldn’t clear Portuguese air space. The errant passenger finally arrived, a gentleman who looked to be in his 90s and on crutches. As he took his seat – sloooowwwwly – the air hostesses were running up and down the aisle checking that the doors were shut. Yea, I thought as the plane headed for the runway, that helps.