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Eden of the Algarve

"One's own damned fault, of course," he said. "Like a poorly played marriage."

"Stroke and distance," I said, and then, after a pause of maybe two or three minutes, long enough to signify disdain for the card-and-pencil point of view, ". . . same as an expensive divorce."

The economy of the remark enlisted my companion's confidence, and before the plane reached Faro he'd named the golf courses in the Algarve that he thought worthy of an approach in "the spirit of adventure." He owned a property at Vilamoura, had played a round at Vale do Lobo with Cotton and the donkey, and thought that the real estate speculation on the coast had inclined too many of the natives toward the corrupting worship of Mammon.

"The Portuguese know three hundred and sixty-five ways to cook a codfish," he said. "A different recipe for every day of the year. They also know three hundred and sixty-five ways to stuff a tourist."

Knowing nothing about the several hotels that I'd seen illustrated in the travel brochures, I had arranged to stay at Hotel Quinta do Lago on the assumption that the expense ($195, out of season) guaranteed a view of the Algarve from one of its more favorable points of vantage. The road from the airport at Faro turns off the highway at Almancil, wanders for a few miles among rows of signs--in German, English and Portuguese--advertising properties at bargain rates, passes a number of campgrounds and threadbare restaurants, and in a matter of no more than thirty minutes comes to the entrance of a two-thousand-acre estate similar to the upscale resort communities in the States.

The hotel is recently renovated, owned by Orient-Express (which also owns the Cipriani in Venice and 21 in New York City) and built in such a way that it agrees with the lie of the land, the architecture fitted into the face of a steep embankment fronting on the beach, almost all of the glass and cantilevered concrete impossible to see from the road. (Most of the hotels in the Algarve stand within the boundaries of similarly large plantations.) The management goes to considerable trouble to make good on its promise of an escape from the world of death and time with a spa and heated swimming pools, an Italian chef in the two restaurants, the stillness of polished marble and the reassurance of burnished wood, and a view of fishing boats on the horizon that might have been painted by van Gogh. The young ladies at the golf desk discuss the fine points of the many courses in the region, arrange tee times, provide transportation, complete foursomes. Basically, they do everything except line up the putts.

Heeding The Words Of My Companion on the plane, I first played the three courses that he thought deserving of MacKenzie's approval. They proved to be the best of the eight courses that I saw over a period of four days, each of them so arranged that in reply to the doctor's leading question, "What kind of difficulties make interesting golf?" they presented three splendid variants of his own answer:

"We can, I think, eliminate difficulties consisting of long grass, narrow fairways and small greens, because of the annoyance and irritation caused by searching for lost balls, the disturbance of the harmony and continuity of the game, the consequent loss of freedom of swing and the production of bad players."

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