independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Fairways to heaven on a magical day

GETTING THERE

The courses we played can be booked through the following email addresses: quintadamarinha-oitavosgolfe.pt; golfestoril.com; penhalonha.com; golfdomontado.com.pt; troiagolf.com and goldeneagle.pt.

All courses are open to negotiation on their advertised green fees, especially for groups and when playing midweek.

For transport, we used passeiosecompanhia.com, who provide an excellent door-to-door service.

Aer Lingus fly direct from Dublin and Cork to Lisbon

SEVEN days after returning from a glorious week on Lisbon's Blue Coast, I turned on my Golfshot GPS to be told that I was 1,084 miles from the 18th green at Oitavos Dunes.

It's moments like these that can define a holiday. Moments like these that cement the building blocks of happy memories.

It has long been the philosophy of our six-strong crew of high handicappers that if you're going to play bad golf, you might as well do it on good courses. And while most Portugal pilgrims point their clubs towards The Algarve, we have chosen to mine the rich seam of golfing gold that runs around Lisbon.

Our chosen destination doesn't just offer a wide range of courses, from the fiendishly difficult to the gently accommodating, it also boasts some of the friendliest people you are likely to meet and restaurants that serve some of the finest fish you will ever eat.

Our base – the tiny village of Praia Das Macas at the end of the tram line from Sintra – is a bustling surfing centre during the summer months and wonderfully quiet for our annual April trip. The eateries, Buzio, Neptuno, Nautilus, Oceanico and the rest, offer a wide range of local seafood always served with a smile and a chat.

But we're there mainly for the golf, which on our latest trip began in the old world surroundings of Estoril – once a stop on the European Tour where the late, great Seve Ballesteros landed his tee shot on the 18th green as a teenager. It goes without saying that we failed to repeat the feat, but the track, winding through pine and eucalyptus trees and with a premium on accuracy rather than distance, offers visitors a wonderful introduction to the area. Its tricky greens and welcoming clubhouse will leave you itching for another visit.

From there, we paid our first visit of the week to Penha Longa, which houses the magnificent Atlantic Course, venue for the Portugal Open in 2010, and its nine-hole baby brother, the Monastery Course.

Although not the most difficult course in the world, The Monastery does have to be tackled with care, as its narrow fairways can leave you on your knees praying for redemption, or at least for a par.

But the Atlantic is the real deal and is not to be missed by anyone interested in playing a course that will test you off every tee and on every green while delighting you with its spectacular views, including the nearby Estoril racetrack.

In the past we have driven our hire cars to catch the ferry at Setubal, which would bring us to Troia – a long and arduous journey, but one we always considered worthwhile for the pleasure and pain involved in tackling this links-style beast and another former Portugal Open venue.

This time, however, we hired a minibus and driver for the week and it proved to be a great decision. Not only did we eliminate our remarkable ability to get lost en route to almost anywhere, we were also able to arrive fresh and ready to face the challenge of 18 holes.

Unfortunately this will never be enough to take on Troia. This is not a long course by any stretch of the imagination, but its wild and natural beauty will take your breath away and each hole offers a challenge that even the best golfers will struggle to master. At least when you're not driving you can enjoy a well-earned beer at the end of your torture.

The gently rolling fairways of Montado and Golden Eagle provide a welcome relief.

Set in flat terrain, Montado is surrounded by the famous Muscatel vineyards and while it offers opportunities for golfers of all standards to post a score, you do have to be wary of ending up in a watery grave.

When we first played Golden Eagle it was best described as friendly, if a little rough around the edges. However a facelift completed in the last four years has turned the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. Rocky Roquemore's design features rolling hills and pine trees and, with over 80 bunkers and no shortage of water features, you have to tread carefully to guide your ball back to the safety of the wonderfully well-appointed clubhouse. Which brought us to the climax of the week, an expensive but worth-every-penny joust with the magnificent Oitavos Dunes.

Everything about the day was special, beginning with the winding mountain drive that took us from our base past Cabo da Roca, with its lighthouse perched on the most westerly point in mainland Europe, and down past the windswept Guincho Beach, a place for which the term ' surfers' paradise' might well have been invented.

The Oitavos experience screams luxury from start to finish. You deposit your clubs at the door and while you can relax over a pre-round coffee, they are taken down to the course level and left waiting outside the changing room for your arrival. On the return journey, the friendly staff even go to the trouble of cleaning them for you.

But such a level of service and luxury would be nothing without the course to match. And Oitavos has the course. Rated the second best course in Portugal and the 19th in Europe, the ocean views are spectacular, but not enough to distract you from the beautifully crafted holes.

A pair of beautiful back-to-back par threes are a delightful touch on the back nine, but really there is magic off every tee. So if you're winter dreaming of a sunshine golf destination, consider giving the standard destinations a swerve and get yourself to Lisbon and its surrounds. You won't be disappointed.

And as for that Golfshot reading? No, it didn't tell me if that was 1,084 miles to the front of the green or the back of the green. At that moment it might have been a million miles away in any case, but close enough to be looked forward to.

There's always next time.

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