A holiday destination that combines stunning city with great golf, fine food and white beaches is too good to miss. Paul Trow headed west of Lisbon to sample the Atlantic golfing havens that adjoin the historic towns of Cascais, Estoril and Sintra.
The Cascais Golf Passport has been put together by seven clubs that occupy the rugged yet fertile headland to the north-west of the Tagus estuary. It entitles golfers to play rounds on a selection of three or five courses per visit, and none of the clubs involved is further than a half-hour drive from Lisbon International Airport.
Three of the clubs are near the ports of Estoril and Cascais, while two more are on the outskirts of the former Moorish stronghold of Sintra, a few miles further north and inland. The remaining two are just north of the medieval garden town of Queluz, a short distance from the airport. Our group stayed at the elegant Palacio Estoril Hotel, which opened in 1930 and is just a five-minute walk from the delightful Praiado Tamariz beach and the town’s casino. The hotel is also a short drive (less than two miles) from its own course - Golf do Estoril, the game’s oldest playground in this vicinity dating from 1929. Philip Mackenzie Ross, whose cv includes the Ailsa Course on the now Trumped-up Turnberry, remodelled the original nine holes and added a further nine in the mid-1930s while a third loop was introduced more recently.
Offering superb views of both the estuary and the Serra de Sintra mountains, Estoril hosted many of the early Portuguese Opens but its last professional tournament was the Estoril Ladies Open in 1997. After being reduced to little more than 6,000 yards from the back tees during the 1990s due to the construction of a motorway, it is obviously way too short for today’s top players. But with fairways and greens lined by an abundance of mature pines, eucalyptus and mimosa trees, it still places a premium on accuracy.
To the west of Estoril, between Cascais and the ocean coastal town of Guincho, is Lisbon’s second oldest course, Quinta da Marinha. This imaginative and challenging design by Robert Trent Jones Sr opened in 1984, yet has tended to disappoint in recent years because of its often poor condition and limited clubhouse facilities - nothing, though, that some tender loving care and a splash of cash can’t fix. Set on mainly flat terrain dotted with lakes and pine woods, its calling card is a selection of six par-3s that are all sensibly measured.
Next door is Quinta da Marinha’s sister course and the region’s newest layout, Oitavos Dunes, which opened in 2001. With the ocean visible from virtually
every hole, several of which run directly past the sandy Guincho Beach, the views here are little short of spectacular. Yet the golf, with the exception of one or two quirky holes, is pure enough to have earned this rare European design by the celebrated American course architect Arthur Hills the privilege of hosting four
recent Portuguese Opens.
The undoubted jewel in the region’s golfing crown is the Atlantic Course at the five-star Penha Longa Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort. Formerly a retreat for the Portuguese royal family, its generous grounds were converted to golf by Robert Trent Jones Jr in 1992 and have since staged four European Tour events. The holes near the clubhouse run through a wooded vale overlooked by the Sintra Cascais National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, while those around the turn bob and weave across scented hillsides in an almost links-like manner. For those who don’t have time for 18 holes, the property also offers the nine-hole
A short distance from Penha Longa is Pestana Beloura Golf Resort, crafted by the American Rocky Roquemore in 1994 to make the most of the imposing mountain scenery. Relatively flat, Beloura is worth a visit for its 40,000 or so trees alone. Oaks, cedars, magnolias and palm trees jostle with the eucalyptus and conifers that are standard fare for this region to deliver a delightful arboreal variety. Water comes into play at most of Beloura’s holes, the pick of which is the par-4 7th. With a large lake eating into the right of the fairway and a distant, island green protected by a stream across the front.
The two other 18-hole courses that form the Cascais Golf Passport are Lisbon Sports Club, an expatriate establishment with British origins that was founded in 1922 but only became a golf venue in 1992 courtesy of Hawtree & Sons, and Belas Clube de Campo, a particular favourite of mine. Belas, another Roquemore creation, is distinguished by its meandering water hazards, awkwardly sloping greens and beguiling views of the Serra de Sintra range. It is also divided into two distinct sections - the first nine crosses a hilly, naturally preserved landscape of scrub, ferns, brambles and wild grasses while the back nine is routed mainly through valleys past the multitude of houses and apartments that are part of the overall development. At present, however, a first-class round here is spoiled by its bunkers, most of which are fairly shallow and in need of a radical overall.
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