Tee time: The golf courses of Estoril
Saturday 22 April 2006
There is little chance of this happening on the seven courses within half an hour's drive of Estoril - and not much further from the centre of Lisbon - which offer as much to the nature-lover as the player. Almost everywhere you take your clubs, there are unforgettable vistas of ocean and mountain; quiet corners of shrub, blossom and wildlife; holes where taking a divot out of the immaculate, sprinkler-fed fairways feels like an act of vandalism. In this part of the world, golf - not football - is the beautiful game.
The rolling landscape and wild Atlantic coast to the west of Lisbon have been the spiritual home of Portuguese golf since the Estoril Golf Club (00 351 21 468 0176; www.hotel-estoril-palacio.pt) opened in its present form in the 1940s. Set among pine, mimosa and eucalyptus trees, the narrow fairways demand extreme accuracy, with especially tricky approaches to the five shorter holes. You need a handicap certificate to attempt this, but another nine, less demanding holes have recently been added for the casual visitor.
Penha Longa (00 351 21 924 9011; www.penhalonga.com), another 27-hole complex, is a beguiling combination of history, beauty and luxury. History, as it's an ancient monastery. Beauty, as the main Atlantic course winds through the foothills of the wooded Serra de Sintra. The luxury option is the five-star hotel that adjoins the course. Opened in 1992, Penha Longa has twice staged the Portuguese Open, as well as testing the skills of former American presidents George Bush Senior and Bill Clinton.
Another great course of the region is Quinta da Marinha Oitavos (00 351 21 486 0600; www.quintadamarinha-oitavosgolfe.pt), overlooking the Atlantic in a conservation area north of Cascais. While the majority of Portugal's golf courses are the result of bulldozing, Oitavos has been designed around its natural, protected features of pine woods and sand dunes, with the course changing in character as it progresses from one to the next.
Not to be confused with the Oitavos course is the similarly named Quinta da Marinha Golf (00 351 21 486 0100; www.quintadamarinha.com), another championship course on a neighbouring stretch of the coastline. With plenty of lakes and forbidding traps, the first nine holes are inland; the second nine straddle spectacular cliffs.
Over the last 20 years, Estoril has faced a vigorous challenge from the Algarve as a year-round golfing destination for Northern European visitors. The Algarve's climate is more benign, and the scale of its golf resort construction has been phenomenal. Estoril has just about managed to keep its nose in front through the quality and pedigree of its courses, and the sensible pricing of its green fees. In high season, a midweek round at Penha Longa and Oitavos costs €90 (£63) - with two-for-one deals at the latter during five months of the year. The weekday green fees at Quinta da Marinha are €88 (£61), while the Estoril Golf Club charges just €57 (£40) - an extraordinarily low price for a course that has attracted some of the world's greats. On equivalent courses almost anywhere else in the world - the Algarve included - you can expect to pay up to twice that amount. Estoril strives to make the beautiful game accessible too.
For more on golf in Estoril, see www.estorilsintragolf.net
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