Former national champions Mónia Bernardo and Sara Gouveia are the only Portuguese female professional players in the Algarve
In Portugal, you can count the number of professional female golfers on the fingers of one hand, and this also extends to the Algarve, even though it has the largest number of courses in the country – around 40.
Nevertheless, it is also here that the first Portuguese female professional golfer can be found. As well as being the first Portuguese woman to compete on the international circuit, she was also, years later, a pioneer in coaching, becoming the first female coach. She recently took the referee’s course and is the first woman to complete it in Portugal. Mónia Bernardo lives in Albufeira and has been working at the Pine Cliffs Golf Course since 2003. With 35 years’ experience in the sport, she has played in more tournaments than she can count.
“I picked up a golf club for the first time when I was about 11, and it was very spontaneous. I already played other sports, but my father played golf and was the manager of the Santo da Serra Golf Course on the island of Madeira. I used to go with him, and it always amazed me how small the ball was, but the motor skills required to play the sport were interesting. One day, a coach was there and asked me to hit a ball. It travelled a distance of 80 metres. From then on, my father booked me a lesson with a professional and I progressed very quickly. A year and a half later, aged 13, in my first tournament, I became national junior champion in Espinho,” recalls Mónia Bernardo.
Sara Gouveia shares a similar path. The 23-year-old is originally from the Azores but has lived in the Algarve since she was five. She also started practising at the age of 11, in Vilamoura, and is currently coaching at Quinta do Lago, after having competed in almost every country in Europe and having represented the national team at the World Amateur Team Championships in Ireland in 2018. She finished second in La Coruña, Spain, in 2022, where she equalled the best-ever result by a Portuguese woman on international golf circuits.
“After playing many different sports – seven at the same time – and even becoming national champion in squash and basketball, I had to make a natural selection at the age of 16, when I realised that golf needed a greater time commitment, and I began competing outside Portugal. I started golf to try something new and it became my passion,” says Sara Gouveia.
Together, Mónia and Sara are the only professional female golfers in the Algarve. Mónia’s example has been important in Sara’s career, especially in a sport dominated by men. “In a way, she is my mentor. Sometimes it’s necessary for someone to open the door, so that someone else can succeed. That’s important in any game and in any dimension. To know, whilst I was growing up, that there was another athlete like me who later made the transition to coaching, something which I had also started, made me believe that there could be a chance for me as well. It really helped me to have some guidance to follow,” she explains.
And although there are few professional women in golf, the truth is that the social scene is very different. “There are lots of women in recreational golf. We are talking about leisure, for those who like to play occasionally, at the end of the day, or on holiday. In competitions, there are few female athletes. And when there is no support nor the will to invest in the few women who do compete, it is difficult for anyone to make it. In Spain, for example, out of 100 athletes, 50 play very well, 25 are well supported and 20 become successful. When this happens on a much smaller scale, like in Portugal, the result is also much smaller. Recreational golf, on the other hand, is booming,” compares Sara Gouveia.
On this subject, Miguel Franco de Sousa, president of the Portuguese Golf Federation (FPG), says that there has been great progress at all levels. “Today we have more players, more and better athletes competing, clubs are doing a remarkable job in attracting and training athletes and there is an increasingly professional ecosystem,” he points out. As far as women’s golf is concerned, “there is still a lot of work to do, even though the percentage of women playing is increasing. Strategies need to be developed, both in terms of communication and promotion, to contribute to a more favourable environment for female players to join golf courses and clubs,” he states.
Mónia Bernardo and Sara Gouveia entered the world of golf at the same age, and both started coaching in their 20s. Despite the age difference, they both felt the same way. “At the time, people looked at me and thought it was funny that a girl was coaching in a world of men. It wasn’t normal. But the truth is that I am tremendously lucky because I have never felt discriminated against for being a woman, whether by colleagues, students or professional athletes,” says Mónia Bernardo.
When asked about their client profile, both answered similarly. According to Mónia, around 98% are foreigners, mostly tourists who come back every year, with 20% of those being foreign residents. “Some of my students have been with me for 15 years and come to practise two or three times a year,” she says.
“It is the only sport that is really for everyone, regardless of ability, gender, age and physical condition, even in cases of reduced mobility. You can have an 11-year-old child competing against a 60-year-old man, or two people of the same age, one of whom has been competing for many years and the other who has only just started. It is the fairest and most honest sport there is, and when you start playing at a young age, it shapes your personality and character” for the better, the pair agree.
Algarve is “best” place for golf
Both golfers believe the Algarve has the best conditions for practising the sport. “No other place comes close. The variety of courses we have is extremely difficult to find elsewhere, even in Europe where the biggest problem is the climate. No other country has the climate that we have in the Algarve and there is no other region of this size that has 40 golf courses. The climate, quantity and quality that we have here are very difficult to match,” says Sara.
Mónia shares her opinion. “Our courses have an enviable reputation, and we are number one in the world. Florida, in the US, has some good courses, but here we have several good courses,” she compares.
By Maria Simiris