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Expert Advice

Portugal’s Lisbon Coast: The good life gets no better

PGA Tour website article The following article was originally written for PGATour.com by David Brice, President of Golf International. The articles represent trips available to Golf International customers.

Finding the ideal vacation escape where each member of the family is going to have a wonderful holiday, is a challenge for anyone. Trying to find that perfect spot when you have an avid golfer or two mixed in with others who have no love of the game at all, can become more like Mission Impossible — but it needn’t be so. Vacation planners take hope; there are a few places in the world where this mixing of oil and water can be easily accomplished, and with amazing results guaranteed to satisfy one and all..

Portugal sits tucked away on the westernmost fringes of Europe, one of the continent’s most charming and under-rated countries. Overlooked by most American visitors with Europe on their minds, just like Cinderella, little Portugal waits patiently to be noticed.

Take the time to discover this jewel of a country and you will uncover a treasure trove of history, culture, excellent shopping, fine dining, warm welcoming people and a generous helping of world-class golf courses.

Making a good thing even better is the perfect climate, where outdoor pursuits, including golf, are a year round affair. Even during January and December and the “depths of winter’s chill”, temperatures rarely drop below the mid-60’s and in July and August, the height of summer, seldom rise above the low 80’s. Pick any other time of the year and you will be enjoying clear blue skies and 70-degree weather – better golfing conditions simply don’t exist.

It’s only a short 6-hour flight from New York to the capital of Lisbon and within an hour of arrival you can be checking into your hotel and 30 minutes later, standing on the first tee of a world-class golf course. But there are other decisions that will have been made prior to your arrival, the most important of which is where to stay?

Stay in the heart of Lisbon, with all of the city’s delightful temptations at your door-step and most of an amazing array of two dozen top quality courses will be within a half hour’s drive of your hotel. Alternatively, choose a hotel in one of the charming coastal resort towns that surround Lisbon and golf will there and the city pleasures, very close by. One of Lisbon’s many benefits is its ability to cater brilliantly to everyone, no matter what their preferences.

If you have chosen a Lisbon hotel, the Costa Azul and Setubal Peninsula are within easy striking distance. Located across the Rio Tejo, immediately south of the city, this is a stunning coast line of magnificent beaches, nature reserves, ancient palaces, monasteries and of course, excellent golf.

The drive from Lisbon to Quinta do Peru, a challenging and extremely friendly championship layout designed by American, Rocky Roquemore, will take half an hour. It’s about the same distance to the two excellent seaside courses at Aroeira, one designed by Frank Pennink and the other by Donald Steel, with a few later improvements by the great, Robert Trent Jones.

Journey a little further south to the port town of Setubal, taking time to visit its extraordinary 15th century church, containing the finest surviving examples of Manueline decoration, before taking the short ferry ride to Troia and one of Portugal’s true golf gems.

Troia Golf Club has been ranked among Europe’s finest courses ever since it first opened in 1981 and it has only improved with age. This is a Robert Trent Jones Masterpiece, acknowledged as being one of his very best design accomplishments. A spectacular setting among pine trees and rolling sand dunes, the layout occupies a narrow, sliver of a beach fringed peninsula, separating the Rio Sado from the Atlantic surf. It’s a magnificent setting with a golfing test to match. Troia might be golfing perfection and is certainly a course not to be missed.

From your Lisbon hotel, the golfing wonderland that lies along the coast, just to the west of the city, will be as conveniently close as the Costa Azul and the magical, 30 minute drive will get you from the heart of Lisbon to most of the best courses. Alternatively, stay in one of the charming, beachside towns scattered along this Lisbon Coast, where golf is so plentiful. Among the resort towns to consider, Estoril and Cascais are especially enticing. Only 10 minutes apart, good hotels are plentiful and a room with an Atlantic view will bring that very special touch to an already wonderful trip.

As an added advantage to staying in either Estoril or Cascais, both are on the commuter train line that runs into the heart of Lisbon, accomplishing the entire journey in a brief, half hour. Anyone who has ever been lost, trying to navigate a rented car through an unfamiliar city, quickly develops a strong affection for this marvelously convenient transportation system.

Popping into Lisbon for a little sightseeing, shopping or an evening on the town, suddenly becomes so easy and totally stress-free. Non-golfers will be especially appreciative of the independence this little train provides them. But for the golfers there’s a banquet of courses just waiting to be tasted and they are all close by.

Located a negligible 10 minute drive from Cascais and only a little further from Estoril, Oitavos Dunes is a stunning design from Arthur Hills that is well established as one of Portugal’s top 5 layouts. This is serious golf, playing a wind buffeted seaside track where a little links experience might be helpful. Compensating for any disappointments in the scoring department are the dramatic views of sea and mountains from practically every hole.

Penha Longa Golf Resort is another member of Portugal’s Top Five Club and only a 7-mile drive from the coast, heading into the Sintra Mountains. This is a lengthy and very imaginative, Robert Trent Jones Jr. design where players of more modest skills will have more enjoyment playing from the front tees. No matter which tees you play from, Penha Longa is a demanding layout, requiring the ability to use every club in the bag – reason enough why it’s a regular host to top tournaments, including the Portuguese Open.

While the golfers are pitting their skills against Penha Longa, the non-golfers will enjoy exploring the nearby historic town of Sintra, with it’s picturesque, hillside setting, cobblestone streets, lined with elegant mansions and magnificent palaces. Now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sintra was the summer retreat for the Kings and Queens of Portugal from the 14th until the mid-19th century.

It’s less than a 15-mile drive to the small town of Queluz and its famous 18th century palace and gardens. This is smaller version of the Palace of Versailles and an intriguing excursion always appreciated by non-golfers. For the golfers lacking an appreciation of either history or formal gardens, there happens to be a rather fine golf course only a couple of miles along the road at Belas. The time it will take to play 18 holes at Belas will coincide quite conveniently with the time it will take the palace viewers to complete their sightseeing.

Don’t overlook the delightful small towns of the coast, Cascais and Estoril included. There are pristine beaches, every water-sport imaginable, horseback riding, and an excellent array of restaurants, outdoor cafes and shopping opportunities; they are all charmers and much loved by those less enamored with golf. Meanwhile there is more golf very close by, such as the Robert Trent Jones layout at Quinta da Marinha. You might even be tempted to walk the 3 miles or so along the beach to reach the course from the hotel, but better to take the car.

A full day excursion heading north along the coast to the beautifully preserved, medieval walled town of Obidos is a must for everyone. Possibly the prettiest town in Portugal, even a day spent exploring this slice of history, simply won’t be long enough. And for the golfers, the superb links layout at Praia d’El Rey is only a few miles away. Ranked the number 2 course in the country, a round on this handsome, ocean front challenge will be a highlight of the trip.

And there are many more attractions, both on and off the golf courses, that shouldn’t be missed. The city of Lisbon is as appealing as Paris or Rome and demands at least some of your time and with only a short train-ride from practically the front door of your hotel to the heart of Lisbon – who can resist?

The Lisbon Coast is enticingly unique with its rich mixture of excellent golf, centuries of history, culture, gastronomy, nightlife and multitude of other off-course activities. Perhaps we have found the perfect spot where even the most ardent non-golfer can share in a golf vacation and enjoy it at least as much as the golfers — maybe even more!

©2014 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.