From being one of Western Europe’s poorest countries, Portugal has evolved into a modern state adapted to the 21st century. With a language that has the world’s most beautiful way of saying «thanks».
«Obrigado!» We can not imagine any word more beautiful than the word the Portuguese use to express their thanks. And in this country in Europe’s southern corner you are getting more opportunities to use it.
Even when we made our first golfing trip to Portugal in the 80’s, we were fascinated by how beautiful the word obrigado is. In later years we have been surprised by how the quality of most things in the land of the port wine has approached the rest of Western Europe in giant steps.
Two surprises and a disappointment
Although we have played many of Portugal’s 80 golf courses, there are still shiny spots, many of them around the capital. When we accepted the kind invitation from the Lisbon Tourist Office to play Belas Golf, Lisbon Sports Club and Quinta Da Marinha, we could tick another two courses on the list.
The first two were new acquaintances, while the latter we had played once before. However, that was back in 1989, so we welcomed an update.
Quinta Da Marinha was designed in Cascais west of Lisbon by legendary Robert Trent Jones, Sr. In 1984, with a hotel and villa area. When we played there five years after the opening, it was among the better resort courses we had experienced. So we looked forward to a reunion.
Since the 80s the order of the holes has changed because the original hotel by hole 1 had been sold and a new hotel erected near holes 10 and 11. The owners thought, maybe not unexpected, that the course should start and end at the new hotel. Hull 11 therefore became the new hole 1 and hole 10 became hole 18. Apparently, one would think it should be a straight cut. But we had heard words that the Trent Jones family was not very excited about the change in the order of holes.
The old signature hole, hole 13, a par-4 of 334 meters with the green out to the ocean (pictured above), is just as beautiful even though it is now hole 3. We thought it wouldn’t matter. But as we played through the course, we began to understand a little more of the architect’s objection.
It feel a bit unnatural with the course now having a rhythm it was a little hard to get. There was something unusual about it. It is possible that the comparison is a bit sought, but for us the experience was like a symphony that begins with the third batch, then ending after the second batch. Perhaps there is reason to believe that few cries of obrigado would break out after such a symphony.
Belas Golf is located approximately 30 kilometers northwest of Cascais, close to the historic city of Sintra, Portugal’s main tourist attraction. Also the Belas course, designed by Rocky Rockmore, has a somewhat unusual feel to it.
But it does not seem strange. It’s only a bit different. The biggest challenges are the holes 2 to 4, that together with the last half of hole 1 form a full circle. Here the scenery is stunning with the passage to the wilderness directly from the fairway. But although challenging and difficult, it’s really great to play these holes.
After hole 7 we enter the part of the path surrounded by houses that follow you all the way home. Without the buildings feeling intrusive. Belas has organized tournaments at the European Senior Tour, and is really worth a visit.
The same should be said about the Lisbon Sports Club, which until recently was closed to guests. After the 1922 club opened up for visitors, it has become a wonderful opportunity to experience original 1920s layout. Here, very little has changed over the past 95 years.
The course offers a natural experience from the first tee to the last green, peacefully laid out in the forest and the valley bottom. Also the greens, and one of the best clubhouse terraces we have seen, are good enough reasons to visit this course. Here it should be compulsary to say obrigado repeatedly.
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Nine holes before boarding the plane
While we were in the area, we took the opportunity to a closer look at Oitavos Dunes, that has hosted the European Tour. The course is just as great and well-groomed as it has been all the time since Arthur Hills designed it at the turn of the millennium. However, the hotel is new since the last time we were there. It is an experience in itself, with it’s modern, airy architecture.
Before we boarded the plane home we headed for a look at the nine hole course Paco do Lumiar, ten minutes from the center of Lisbon, and ten minutes from the airport. The course is intimate and cozy, and the clubhouse is a little gem where you can feel welcome. The club is also proud to have the coach of PGA tour member Søren Kjeldsen, Colin Smith, as a pro. The Danish star player does much of his training here.
Between the golf we have also managed to relive the acquaintance with Lisbon, the beautiful capital on the Tajo River. With landmarks like the Vasco da Gama bridge and it’s famous Christ statue on the opposite bank. In the beautiful Old Town you’ll find exquisite restaurants that serves wines in an often underestimated master class. The results being reasonable priced wines. Many thanks for that! Or obrigado, as it is called in these parts of the world.
More about Lisbon: Turismo de Lisboa