|Oitavos Golf Club in Cascais anchors Lisbon's Golf Coast. (GolfPublisher.com)|
CASCAIS, Portugal - Visible in the distance from the 10th tee at Oitavos Golf Club, the Cabo de Roca lighthouse has stood for centuries, a signal to ships that they've reached continental Europe.
Since 2001 it's also been a beacon for one of Europe's hottest golf regions - the Portuguese Riviera, long a playground for the continent's elite, and just minutes from historic Sintra and all the urban action of Lisbon.
Oitavos is a focal point for the boom, one of the linchpins of the upscale mega-resort-in-progress at Quinta da Marinha in Cascais, which also features a stunning new fitness center and spa, equestrian center and luxury housing. (A hotel is slated to open in 2009.)
Host of the European Tour's Portuguese Open in 2005, Oitavos is the first overseas project of Ohio-based design firm Arthur Hills & Steve Forrest Associates. Senior golf course designer Drew Rogers says the property in the Sintra-Cascais National Park is among the best the company has worked with.
"We were given a great site and an open slate to do the very best job we could," Rogers said. "You've got the Sintra Mountains, umbrella pines and a view of the Atlantic from almost every hole."
Preserving the natural coastal area was a high priority, manifested in the course's designation as Europe's first Audubon International Gold Signature Sanctuary.
"The first indication we gave [the designers] was that we wanted a championship course, but we wanted them to leave the land as it is," said Frederico Champalimaud, director of golf (and son of a well-known Portuguese vintner whose wares are on offer in the clubhouse). "We wanted to preserve the pine trees and sand dunes, and that's why we brought in Audubon."
The design reflects that effort. Back-to-back par 5s on the front side and consecutive par 3s on the back make for unusual but effective routing through several different micro-environments.
The first four holes weave through umbrella pine forests, wild shrubs, fauna and sand, after which No. 5 tees off into an expanse of dunes and sea breeze. From these holes you can see the highest point of the course, occupied by an abandoned military post that adds a singular historical element to the course. (The owners may seek to renovate or rebuild it, but I hope it's left alone.)
One perhaps less successful design element is the parallel 11th and 13th fairways. With out-of-bounds right on the short, par-4 11th, the popular play is to drive into the 13th fairway to the left. The result is a lot of possible wrong balls played by first-timers or golfers too lazy to check their markings.
As the Hills group acknowledges, this wouldn't fly on a course designed for heavy play, but upscale Oitavos sees only 13,000-15,000 rounds yearly. Still, double check your balls in the landing zones on these two holes.
The 17th plays back into the pines, but the real fun comes on the 440-yard, par-4 18th, one of the toughest closing holes in European golf.
There's zero room for error on this dogleg left that plays to a shallow elevated green rendered semi-blind by a dune in front. Be very happy if you bogey it: Tour pro Barry Lane blew the 2005 Portuguese Open title with a nine here.
Oitavos is the top golf course on Lisbon's "Golf Coast," a beautiful ride through woods and out to wide-open links overlooking the ocean. The quirky clusters of par 5s and 3s and several short but tricky par 4s lend an interesting flow to the round, and the management is justifiably proud of the immaculate conditioning.
The new five-star Mirage in Cascais overlooks the ocean and offers full business and conference facilities. The hotel does have that tailored-to-commerce look, but the staff is surprisingly warm. For a cozier getaway, the Albatroz Hotel, in a historic renovated villa on the Bay of Cascais, is a fine option with a secluded private beach.
Gastronomy is an art at Oitavos. No post-round burger and fries in this clubhouse; you're treated to a full menu of fresh seafood and meat, and an extensive wine list featuring wonderful Champalimaud bottles. If you simply must go casual, the beverage cart on the course sells cold-cut sandwiches.
The Mirage Hotel also has fine dining. Fado shows, which combine dinner with traditional Portuguese music, can be found all over Lisbon and are good entertainment.
Barry Lane's 72nd-hole nine in the 2005 Portuguese Open dropped him to fifth place and cost him €55,330.
December 6, 2006
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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