It is a disturbing fact that my knowledge of Portuguese geography is quite dreadful. Despite the numerous times I have been there with pals to play golf I am still struggling to name more than four major centres and I only know two of those because I fly into Lisbon and Faro.
On arrival my party invariably gets into a minibus and off we pop to the nearest course where a hotel is located conveniently near the 1st tee. Our latest trip took us down to Lisbon and then onto the courtesy bus into Cascais where we were driven direct to the Onyria Marinha hotel to check in and play its Quinta da Marinha course.
We really should set aside more time to explore local towns and villages but with us it is all about the golf due to the time constraints that a five-hour round can place on you, but let’s take a look at that shortly.
First though, the Onyria is a luxurious and immaculate hotel, with superbly appointed bedrooms and a good deep ensuite bath to ease away those post-round aches.
It is far from the most atmospheric place in the world and those looking for a lively après-golf scene may do well to look elsewhere, but the service is excellent and it is only stumbling distance from both the 1st tee and a most welcoming clubhouse which serves some terrific local dishes as well as traditional golfing staples.
The Robert Trent Jones Snr-designed, par-71 course is particularly tough for a resort course with lots of tight drives along tree-lined fairways. The setting is beautiful with the mountains of Sintra on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other although the configuration is odd, especially on the front nine, where there are four par 3s and three par 5s.
The back nine is far more interesting with the glorious 370-yard, par-4 13th hole sweeping you downhill before turning sharp right to the Atlantic coast.
Big hitters will be tempted to go for the green here and a well- struck ball can get very close.
The next hole is quirky to the point of madness with a 163-yard tee shot needed to land on a sloping, right-to-left, two-tier green over a massive chasm. The pair in front of us took forever, pinging balls into oblivion like some lunatic tribute to the closing scene of ‘Tin Cup’.
Certainly do not expect a quick round at Quinta da Marinha – fourball is by far the best format as singles could be waiting an age on the tee, or else holding you up!
The following morning, after an excellent breakfast, we set off to play what I can comfortably declare, in all my numerous golf travels here, to be the finest course I have played in Portugal.
The Atlantico course at Penha Longa is not only stunning it is also a joy to play and the nearby hotel, and one my group sadly did not stay in, is the Ritz Carlton in all its five-star luxury.
You probably didn’t know that Luis Phillipe of Portugal was only King of his country for 20 minutes. That is about as long as it takes to play a hole when you are forced to stick to a cart path. Set amongst the Sintra foothills, the course snakes its way through wooded valleys and up to tee boxes set on rocky outcrops. It was in 1992 that Robert Trent Jones Jnr brought all his skills to bear, creating what is quite simply a golfer’s delight.
This is no place for the novice, even with five tee-box positions, and the best will struggle when the wind whips in from the ocean.
Atlantico is like a switchback, climbing to the spectacular par-3 5th which drops 25 metres down to the green before sweeping down onto the par-5 6th with an ancient viaduct bordering the back of the green and a lake to the front.
There is not a poor hole on the course and looking back down the sweeping 18th from the sun-splashed balcony of a contemporary and friendly clubhouse with a cold Super Bock beer in hand makes one realise why Portugal is still rightly popular with golfing visitors. If you only have time to play one course in the region make sure it is at Penha Longa.
Our group then had a long and tiring bus journey to the Algarve and the old port of Lagos on the bay of Sagres. If time allows we can visit the oldest church in the region built in 1174, but our group was dashing to get 18 holes in on Onyria Palmares, the sister course to the one we played in Cascais.
The facilities here, especially the changing rooms, are basic – possibly because the residential plots on offer around the course are proving tricky to shift. But the course is hugely enjoyable.
Palmares lacks the fine manicuring of Penha Longa but with three nines is still a true and fair test.
Play the Lagos and the Praia, where parkland openings lead onto wild, rolling dunes and holes down by the coast.
The four coastal holes on the Praia with the railway on one side and dunes surrounding it could easily be on the west coast of Scotland, were it not for the glorious sunshine we enjoyed.
And if you do want to take in historic Lagos as well as Sintra and Cascais then check out flights from Lisbon to Faro airport, and do not allow anyone to suggest the bus.
CLIVE ON PORTUGAL
You probably didn’t know that Luis Phillipe of Portugal was only King of his country for 20 minutes. That is about as long as it takes to play a hole when you are forced to stick to a cart path.
I always find that whichever side of the fairway the cart path is on my ball is always on the opposite side of it. So I set off with an armful of clubs yet somehow manage to leave the one club I really need.
So give us a chance architects and design courses where you don’t have to be Mo Farah to get from tee to green.
Oh, and poor Luis Phillipe was attacked in 1908 whilst travelling with his father Carlos I. Both were shot and Luis lived 20 minutes longer than his dad.
- Clive stayed with Onyria Golf Resorts (www.onyriaresorts.com) flying from Heathrow to Lisbon with TAP Portugal (www.flytap.com). For further information on Penha Longa resort go to www.penhalonga.com