With the long-awaited opening of the West Cliffs Golf Links in Portugal, Carly Frost discovered how one of the few female course designers has been sympathetic towards the lady player in the layout.
It is incredibly fitting that on the inaugural worldwide Women’s Golf Day I should be teeing off on a brand new Portuguese golf course designed by one of only a handful of female golf architects in the world.
For West Cliffs Golf Links designer Cynthia Dye, golf course architecture is very much a family trade. She learned her skills from both her parents and more notably her famous uncle Pete Dye, whose vast list of world-renowned course designs include the home of The Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass with its iconic 17th island green, and Cynthia’s personal favourite, US Open venue Whistling Straits.
“I grew up colouring course maps and sketching ideas in my families design office,” she recalled. “My uncle’s biggest influence on me is undoubtedly in his famous green topographies, as well as his passion for being sympathetic towards the natural landscape you are working with.''
''At West Cliffs I have really tried to let mother nature dictate the layout. The bunkers have raw edges, the pine groves are natural and the ‘ice plants’ in the sandy wastelands are a sensitive part of the indigenous surroundings.“
West Cliffs Golf Links has been something of a labour of love for Cynthia, who first inspected the special piece of land some 14 years ago. Environmental red tape caused delays in the transformation of the 200 hectares of the Silver Coast but the long wait was worth it because what has resulted is a course of incredible natural beauty.
The sleek, eco-friendly, contemporary styled clubhouse with its impressive panoramic glass-fronted viewing deck gives you a glimpse of what’s to come. The front nine holes weave through the inland pine forest with sweeping coastal views and reward the player who can drive the ball straight. The back 9 heads along the edge of the cliffs allowing you to relish the roar of the waves crashing powerfully to shore from the Atlantic Ocean. It’s easy to see why this area is a surfers paradise.
“We don’t have ladies or mens tees,” explains Cynthia “we just have distance markers. There are five to choose from ranging from 4,856 to 7,003 yards and my advice to first-time visitors is be sensible selecting the length that will give you the most enjoyment out of the course.”
From the front markers this par-72 layout is incredibly fair to the lady golfer. Rather than long daunting carries to clear the undergrowth, there are sensibly short distances to reach the fairways. Of course, you’ll still find trouble if you hit the ball sideways, and the real punishment lies in the dense coastal vegetation that literally swallows your golf ball, making it virtually impossible to find a stray shot.
From the very first fairway that rises and falls like a roller coaster you are treated to a visually-delightful golf course. You need to carefully place your approach shots as the greens are protected by soft sand traps with clever run-offs and intriguing slopes that test your full vocabulary of short game shots. The pace of the putting surfaces is sensible, not scary, allowing a well-struck iron shot to stop.
The par-3s are some of the most dramatic on any course I have played in Europe. You are eased in with the pretty little downhill par-3 2nd but then follows the dramatic 5th, where you tee off towards the Atlantic and an elevated green that slopes treacherously from right-to-left. With the prevailing breeze off the distant sea into your face, any shot pulled left is dead.
The back 9 holes are simply spectacular. You can hear the chorus of the crashing waves from the moment you head down the par-4 10th towards the sea, and the view of jagged coastal cliffs, that undoubtedly give the course its name, from the back tee on 11 is particularly beautiful when the sun sets and turns them
a golden glow of red.
My favourite hole is the par-3 16th, the highest point on the West Cliffs Golf Links, and one of the best views from any golf hole in Europe. Make sure you take a peek at the shot from the back tee, it’s a monstrous 186 yards carry over a giant sand dune to a tiny target in the distance!
West Cliffs Golf Links won’t feel like the fairest course at times but I guarantee that it will leave you wanting to return and play it again (and again), if for no other reason than to enjoy the sensational seaside location. Such is the quality of the job Cynthia Dye and her team have done with the design, I believe that it won’t be long before it is ranked as one of the finest courses in Europe.
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