Meet the Golf Pros: Luís Espadinha

WORDS Hugh Carslaw

“If I had my life all over again, I would definitely come back as a golf pro,” concludes Luis Espadinha. “Golf has been good to me.”

As a youngster, things were not easy. The money Luís earned as a caddy at Golfe Estoril from the age of ten was an important part of the family income. Learning to play golf was certainly not easy as the opportunity to practise, never mind play, was off-limits. 

“We were forbidden to go onto the course and anyone sneaking on would find that their caddying duties would be suspended for two weeks–a big deal in terms of loss of income.”

However, Luís did get some limited playing experience at the annual caddies competition. “When I was 12, I reached the semi-final and one of the club board members told me that I had a good swing and should consider turning pro. This compliment really stuck in my mind and my ambition to follow his advice became a near-permanent fixture in my thoughts as I explored other career options.”

Luís was helped to achieve his ambitions when the club members helped to set up a school at the course. Thus, at the age of 14, he was attending school and caddying in his free time.

“I did have some regulars that I caddied for who were really ‘big hitters.’ They would quite often ask me to play with them. There were never any objections from the members as one was the King of Spain and the other a NATO Colonel by the name of Leroy Nigra. The Colonel was very good to me and got me to caddy for Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was visiting Portugal on a state visit. As we chatted on the way around, the Vice President asked if I would like to visit the USA. I said ‘yes, please’, so the Colonel was instructed to start the necessary paperwork.”

Sadly, this was in 1972, immediately before Luís started his national service. It was also just before the revolution. With a communist government in Portugal, the Americans were not as enthusiastic. Luís’ American trip never materialised. 

Between 1972 and 1975, Luís was stationed in the Azores, fulfilling his national service as an air force policeman. “I was free to play as much as I wanted in my free time, which made a real difference to my game.”

After completing his national service in 1975, Luís moved to France. His stay turned out to be only for a month as the newly completed Palmares Golf Course contacted him, inviting him to return to Lagos to become the teaching pro. This was to be his golfing home up until 2009.

“My early days at Palmares were different than the experience we enjoy today. It was not long after the revolution and Portugal did not have many golf pros. Although there was very little competitive golf, some of us did get to play in the Portuguese Open, which was a great experience. Teaching was our main activity and as the years progressed, I was able to avail teaching courses and also to learn from visiting touring professionals.”

Brian Barnes, who won the European tour nine times between 1972 and 1981 (complete with pipe) and Bernard Hunt, the leading player on the circuit in the 50s and 60s, used to visit regularly. The two ex-professionals would bring clients for a week’s coaching and invite Luís to be their assistant. Luís also received some coaching over a couple of days from Bob Toski. “Working with these top players was a big help in learning more about golf technique and – equally important– how to impart this knowledge to my students.”

In 2009 there was a big change at Palmares, which also coincided with the financial crash of 2008. The old Palmares course was taken over under new management and heralded the end of Luís’ relationship with the course. He moved to Boavista Golf, where he continues to be the resident pro. 

So after 46 years as a teaching pro, it is fair to say that Luís has a wealth of experience behind him and the knowledge he has acquired over the years is easily available to those seeking to improve their game.

One thing I see in the pro is his commitment and encouragement for youngsters. In previous interviews with his colleagues, it’s been clear that there are more youngsters taking up the game in Vilamoura than in the Lagos area. Luís has not remotely given up on “levelling up” in this regard. He remains a true and committed ambassador for golf in the Algarve. 

Bravo Luís!


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