Going Green at the Algarve’s Oceanico Resorts
Environmental Sustainable Portugal Golf and Travel

Story by: Bill Nestor 

Oceanico Group’s golf and residential contributions are enhancing efforts that look well into the future.

Going green, in environmental as well as golf terms, is nothing new to Europe, and the opportunities in the Algarve region of southern Portugal are more plentiful and varied than ever before. Oceanico Group’s golf and residential contributions are enhancing efforts that look well into the future.

The green revival is first evident on the road from Lisbon to the Algarve.  The byway passes through Alentejo, a region of green hills and fields known for cork and pinion pine trees accompanied by grazing cattle, sheep and pigs. On more productive soils the crops are citrus fruit, grapes or olives.  Many abandoned farms are being renewed and once fallow fields of parched soil are now lush and green, producing some of Portugal’s best wines.

Adjacent to the sea in the southernmost portion of Portugal is the more arid Algarve region, which reaches 100º in summer.  But Atlantic Ocean breezes blow onshore and keep humidity at bay.  It was a popular resort destination years before the first bona fide golf routing appeared in the mid-sixties. In the next three decades courses sprung up all along Portugal’s southern coast. Today there are 36 courses in a 74-mile stretch.

Golf brings tourists at a time when hotels would otherwise be closed. Lagos beach is a big draw to bringing families to the area.

Chris Stilwell, President of Algarve Golf and Oceanico’s Managing Director of Golf, said, “Golf represents over 10% of tourists coming to the Algarve- an extraordinary contribution, because it is outside the sun and beach time of July-September.  Golf brings tourists at a time when hotels would otherwise be closed and accommodations would only be able to demand very low rates.”

It is estimated that the golf industry is responsible for filling one million hotel rooms annually. Unsurprisingly, the Algarve was selected “Golf Destination of the Year” by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) in 2006 and the “Best Golf Destination in the World” by Rheingolf Magazine, a leading German golf magazine, in 2008.  More than 1 million rounds are played in the Algarve each year.  Although it is one of the best golf destinations in the world, the region offers plenty for non-golfers as well, including miles of golden-sand beaches, beautiful walking nature trails, sailing and other water sports.

The Oceanico Group owns, manages and operates seven area golf courses and five resorts, including fractional owner opportunities as a member of the Oceanico Prestige Residence Club.  The cost-effective fractional property title-holders at one of Oceanico’s seaside beach or golf vacation developments--Belmar Spa & Beach Resort, Vilamoura Golf & Garden Resort, Amendoeira Golf Resort--can spend periods of the year in luxury apartments, townhouses or villas for a portion of the market price paid for an individually owned residence at similar amenities-rich upscale communities.

Oceanico Environmental Initiatives
Legendary Irish golfer Christy O’Connor Jr. recently spoke about the 2008 opening of his golf course design at the Amendoeira Golf Resort: “Two of my par fives were designed to make going for the green reachable in two---I still believe in eagles--a wonderful thing. A pity some designers are eliminating them."

But it was Manuel Vasconcelos Abreu at Villa Sol, a spa and golf residential development adjacent to Vilamoura Golf & Garden Resort, whose efforts made possible the first environmental golf course in Portugal--the only one in the county given the rare Green Flag designation for its environmentally-friendly practices.  Abreu’s inventory of birds and monitoring of wildlife populations subsequently led to the preservation of important habitat for these creatures--both wintering stopovers from Northern Europe and summer migrants from Africa. 

The #1 hole on the Faldo Course at the Amendoeira Golf Resort

“Populations of numerous species throughout Portugal have increased over the years as a result of the work by many who have been able to protect valuable migratory and nesting habitats,” said Abreu who was also part of a team that did the plant and animal inventories at Amendoeira.

Simon Burgess, Oceanico director and partner, said, “Oceanico is expressing an environmental message through high quality products that are supported by concrete, ecologically responsible actions. We are focusing on creating premium luxury golf resorts with distinctiveness while investing in solar energy, water reclamation, recycling, conservation and preservation of plants and animal that are migratory, historically cultivated and indigenous residents.” 

Susana Cavaco, Oceanico’s full time Environmental and Quality Manager, oversees and directs the company’s green initiatives at its golf courses and resorts. “I’m responsible for defining and monitoring the performance of all environmental objectives, targets and performance. Oceanico has a strong commitment with the environment. We look at environmental management as part of the business with the golf course resorts and related infrastructures to minimize the global environmental impact of operations, from water management to waste recycling.” 

Amendoeira Resort’s Clubhouse

Stephen Richardson, director of golf maintenance, added, “All our courses are moving away from using inorganic short term fertilizers.  Today our greens get only slow release products and smaller applications of nutrients.  Each year European governments remove even more of the chemical applications traditionally applied to golf courses because of concerns about water and soil quality, animal populations and people. The industry will one day be totally organic.”

Oceanico’s green initiatives began following its 2007 purchase of Vilamoura Resort. The five golf courses there had an existing environmental sustainability plan with certifications for the courses, clubhouses and maintenance infrastructures.

“For us these are not an end but the only possible manner in which to do business in a sustainable way. These certifications are reviewed annually by SGS ICS, an internationally recognized company, which assesses the implementation of all established requisites,” said Cavaco.

The certifications will be expanded to include Amendoeira Golf Resort.  According to Richardson, “The market for housing in the Algarve is a sophisticated, environmentally aware audience of consumers that demand green programs.  Northern Europe has been at the forefront of this movement and mandated environmental plans are an integral part of all development.  The combination of market demand and government regulations for sustainable tourism requires Oceanico and other developers to follow guidelines and implement environmental programs.  Environmental assessments are essential.”

Millennium hole #5
Old Course hole #11

Cavaco added, “Oceanico’s green programs are driven by Portuguese requirements and market demand but the environmental sustainable responsibility and consciousness of Oceanico’s investors, partners and business associates is genuine.  It is the only possible way to conduct business.  It can also be considered a sales tool but it creates and promotes awareness and develops practices and initiatives that minimize negative environmental impacts.”

Troon Golf manages Oceanico’s portfolio of golf courses, and in 2008 launched its own Environmental Management Initiative (EMI).  It is a unified plan for environmental stewardship that incorporates policies and procedures for all Troon managed courses worldwide.  Troon’s EMI combines three notable programs: Troon Golf Environmental Management System (EMS), Troon Agronomy Standards, and the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (ACSP) for Golf Courses.

"Responsible environmental management has been a key component of Troon Golf's operating philosophy since the company's inception nearly two decades ago," stated Jeff Spangler, Troon’s senior vice president, science and agronomy.

“Having both Oceanico’s and Troon’s programs together guarantees the most environmentally aware and responsible of golf operations.  It ensures the golf course footprint remains in harmony with its surroundings,” said Jon Schauder, Troon’s on-site manager.

Oceanico Fractional Ownership
Fractional ownership offered at Oceanico developments is particularly appealing in the current economic climate and likely to remain popular for some time. Clientele wanting to own but not put all their money in one place get a diversity of locations and consistent lifestyle of luxury living while on holiday throughout the world.

“It differs from timeshares that sell you a chunk of time.   Fractional owners co-own the residence.  Their ownership gives them all rights afforded any homeowner.  They can rent, sell, will, deed, put in a trust or give it away. Fractional owners are guaranteed pre-planned property use on a rotating basis and unlimited use of space-available at their home property and other Oceanico Prestige Residence locations,”said sales associate Matt Darcy. 

Oceanico’s developments in the Algarve include Amendoeira Golf Resort, Vilamoura Golf & Garden Resort, plus non-golf resorts Vila Baia and the Belmar Spa & Beach Resort.  Christy O’Connor Jr and Nick Faldo-designed courses opened in 2008 at Amendoeira.  A parade of homes adjacent to the 16th fairway on the O’Connor course showcase spacious, stand-alone villas owned by touring pros David Howell, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke.

Atlantic Ocean view from Belmar Beach & Spa

Vilamoura Golf & Garden Resort incorporates Victoria--an Arnold Palmer design that has hosted the Portugal Masters for the last few years--The Old Course, Millennium, Laguna and Pinhal courses.  North of Lisbon is Royal Obidos Spa & Golf Resort, a Seve Ballesteros design currently in development.

Oceanico Prestige Residence Club members and guests will be able to stay at the Algarve resorts as well as Royal Obidos, the Little River Golf Resort near Pinehurst, North Carolina, and other future golf and residential developments currently under consideration in the United States, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Caribbean and Germany.  “We expect to have ten properties completed by the end of this year with six additional developments anticipated each of the subsequent years,” said Burgess. 

The Oceanico Group currently holds a portfolio valued at more than $5 billion.  Partners Simon Burgess from England and Gerry Fagan from Ireland together own this nine-year-old company.  Fagan’s corporate focus is operations, a natural fit with his background in hospitality.  Burgess’s experience is in construction.  He concentrates on the development of residential and golf resorts.

“The Group’s primary target is the high-end leisure resort market. Ultimately the company is looking to have one third of its holdings residential, one-third fractional share ownership and one-third senior living,” said Burgess.

The Algarve is heavily influenced by tourism but still reflects the charm and customs of the country and people.  Nearby towns offer an authentic taste of Portuguese culture and cuisine. Seaside Lagos and Praia da Luz, surfing village Sagres, and mountain settlement Monchique are rich in a lifestyle with warm and welcoming people happy to share a Portuguese way of life. 

Laguna hole #11

The sharing of food and wine is central to the culture, perhaps more important than eating the magnificent meals prepared and served in quaint restaurants of Algarve towns. The quality of Portuguese wines magnifies the dining experience.  Local restaurants are a cross-section of traditional Portuguese local fare and gourmet cuisine. Some offer service by white-shirted, black-vested servers whose presentation befits an upscale urban establishment, while others are more homespun.  All are pleasurable with a local ambiance and many specialize in seafood dishes conjured from fresh catches collected at local docks.  

The Algarve, a two to three hour flight from most European capitals, has attracted astute travelers for many years.  Portugal’s southernmost province is popular for its golf, mild climate, reasonably priced restaurants, friendly people, whitewashed villages and coastal scenery. "You would be surprised at the number of people who do not play golf but buy next to a golf course. There are good reasons for that, mostly because the environment is always going to be kept for them," said Chris Stillwell.   The green qualities and environmentally sustainable focus of Oceanico make it an even more desirable destination to tee it up and go for the green.

Oceanico Group’s Resorts
Oceanico Prestige Residence Club
Golf in Portugal or other locations

Phone: UK: 0871 990 3451
Ireland: 01 617 7933
Portugal: 00351 289 310 333
USA: (910)-949-4600
Website: www.oceanicogroup.com

Bill Nestor writes about travel, golf and lifestyle from his home in Vermont. nestor@sover.net