When Americans think of golf and Portugal – if they think of golf and Portugal – the Algarve region springs to mind. Portugal’s answer to Spain’s Costa del Sol, the Algarve rests on the country’s extreme southern coast and boasts more than 30 courses, heavily patronized by Brits and other northern Europeans seeking a bit of sun to go with their golf (one might think of it as a less hurly-burly version of Myrtle Beach for the Old World).
The Lisbon area, 150 miles or so up the coast, presents a different – and perhaps slightly more refined retreat. Often overlooked by travelers, this capital city that dates back to the 5th century mixes remnants of its Moorish and Visigothic past with an energy that’s spread through many of Europe’s sleepier capitals in the last decade. A stroll to the hilltop Castelo de Sao George (once a royal residence) and through the labyrinthine streets of the Alfama district, with is painted tiles, fruit stands and scent of cooking shellfish, is a feast for the senses. Its appeal is only enhanced by the nearby presence of a number of fine (and largely under-subscribed) golf courses – including Oitavos Dunes, just 30 minutes to the west of the city.
“I’ve played golf at great seaside venues all over the world,” Drew Rogers began, “places where there’s a great sense of tradition and a rich culture. Oitavos Dunes (and its accompanying resort, Quinta da Marinha) has this special sense of tradition, even though it’s a relatively new course (built in 2001). This is thanks largely to the owners, the Champalimaud family, who are very eager to have visitors experience the best of what Portugal has to offer; in addition to the course, they’ve developed top-flight vineyards and boast a world-class equestrian center (the family’s operations here started with a horse race track in 1924). There’s also the weather. Oitavos has a micro-climate—it has weather patterns similar to San Diego, always temperate and sunny. It’s a pleasing sea-side alternative to what you may experience in Great Britain.”
Oitavos Dunes rests on high, rolling ground within the boundaries of Sintra-Cascais National Park, and offers unparalleled views of the park’s mountains and the Atlantic below; its site a bit above the sea may contribute to its constantly pleasant temperatures. The course’s dramatically rolling fairways run through a variety of terrains – sand dunes, stands of Umbrella Pines, rugged rock outcroppings and back again to the dunes. Though not a pure links course, there are elements of links golf here. “It’s a very open design, and the wind can really whip through,” Drew continued. “Each time I walk or play the course, I come away with impressions of blue – the perennial blue sky, and the blue of the Atlantic that’s in view on every hole. The links element of the course is especially pronounced on the dunes holes.
“Miguel Champalimaud (the course’s owner) was very keen to keep the property as intact as possible, as it had been in the family for nearly 90 years. There’s a tradition of land stewardship in the family–Miguel’s grandfather planted many of the pines to help prevent erosion of the sand dunes. From a design perspective, there was great pressure to insure that the golf coexisted with the elements of the land. Fortunately, the land had many fine natural features that lent well to golf. We took the philosophy of moving as little earth as possible and using no more turf than necessary. The result is a rugged, natural golf layout – with sun!” (Oitavos Dunes was the first course in Europe to receive Audubon International’s Certified Gold Audubon Signature Sanctuary designation, testimony to Drew and Arthur Hill’s success.)
It’s not often that you find back to back par-3s on high-profile courses; this may be the results of the awesome precedent set by Alister Mackenzie at Cypress Point on the 15th and 16th holes. At Oitavos Dunes, Drew Rogers rolled the dice on adjoining par-3s at 14 and 15, and they turned out to be his favorite holes on the course. “The 14th plays 167 yards from an elevated tee to a green in a benched-in area of sand dunes,” Drew described, “carrying over a draw of scrubby dunes. The cliffs of Cabo de Roca are in the background; the lighthouse out there is the westernmost point in continental Europe. There’s a sense of nothingness beyond the green. Some days the wind howls in off the water and funnels past the green, enough to make this a hybrid or even a fairway wood shot. The hole does contour so you can run a low shot up. The 15th plays 186 yards back in the opposite direction, through a valley of dunes, to a long narrow two-tiered green that’s nestled in an amphitheater of dunes. Where the wind is generally strong against you on the 14th, it helps you on the 15th.” Golf travel expert Gordon Dalgleish has compared portions of the back nine at Oitavos Dunes to Cypress Point – high praise indeed.
“I can recall every time I’ve set foot on Oitavos Dunes, from walking the grounds before we’d broken ground to when the course hosted the Portugese Open,” Drew reminisced.“Every time – from every vantage point – I’ve thought that there’s no place I’d rather be at that moment, and that hopefully it will be like this next time I visit, and I’ll appreciate the same things, and get to share it with others.”
One of the appeals of a visit to Oitavos Dunes and the Atlantic coast near Lisbon is the chance to drink in the region’s easy-going vibe. “The speed of life along the Estoril coast if very comfortable,” Drew added. “People are very friendly and welcoming—tourism is their top industry, and they’re conscious of this. The gastronomy is wonderful—great seafood and comfort foods, excellent wines from the Douro Valley (both reds and whites) and of course, ports (tawny, vintage and even white, a dry to semi-sweet aperitif). There are many things to do off the course between meals. One of Europe’s best surfing beaches is nearby, and there are many walking and biking trails. The place has a healthy feel.” Should time permit, the village of Sintra merits a visit; sequestered in the craggy mountains, it’s home to a Moorish castle that has served as the summer residence of Portuguese royalty for 500 years.
If you’ve played Oitavos a few times and desire more golf, there are (as of this writing) nine other 18-hole tracks in the vicinity, including Troia Golf Championship Course, a classic Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design that’s considered Portugal’s toughest track.
Drew Rogers is a golf course architect who until recently was a principal in the golf architecture firm of Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest & Associates,which he joined in 1992. As a Senior Design Partner, Drew was responsible for all aspects of design development, plan production, bidding, construction management and client communications. His new designs include Legends Course at LPGA International (Daytona Beach), Mirasol Golf and Country Club (Palm Beach Gardens), Newport National Golf Club (Middletown, Rhode Island), Lowes Island Club – River Course (Potomac Falls, Virginia ), The Club at Olde Stone (Bowling Green, Kentucky) and Oitavos Dunes. Drew’s renovation projects include Chevy Chase Club (Chevy Chase, Maryland), Country Club of North Carolina ( Pinehurst, North Carolina), Belle Haven Country Club (Alexandria, Virginia), Siwanoy Country Club (Bronxville, New York), University Club of Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky) and Country Club of Columbus (Columbus, Georgia).
IF YOU GO…
Getting There: Oitavos Dunes is in the seaside town of Cascais, about 30 minutes from Lisbon. Lisbon is served by many carriers, including Continental (800-525-0280; www.continental.com) and British Airways (800-247-9297; www.ba.com).
Course Information: Oitavos Dunes (+351 21 486 0600; www.quintadamarinha-oitavosgolfe.pt) plays 6,893 yards from the championship tees to a par-71. Green fees are €115.
Accommodations: Oitavos will soon have a five start hotel – the Oitavos Palace – to accommodate visitors. In the interim, the Hotel Palacio (; www.hotel-estoril-palacio.pt) in nearby Estoril or the Hotel Albatroz in Cascais (www.albatrozhotels.com) will more than suffice. If you prefer to stay right in the city, Visit Lisbon (+351 210 312 700; www.visitlisboa.com) highlights the city’s many lodging options.