- Paul Graham-Fielding
KICK START SPRING WITH GOLF IN PORTUGAL.
As I put pen to paper I look out the window and see the small crab apple tree that adorns our front garden being battered by yet another storm. The February heat wave is a distant memory and the constant unyielding rain has set in, its mid-March and thanks to recent weather fronts, golf on the local courses is yet again looking doubtful this week.
Spring hasn’t sprung yet but my golfing season needs a kick start, I’m going to escape, but where to go? The answer….Portugal.
The flight time to the capital Lisbon is a shade over 2 hours, we know that once you add in transfers and travel time to the airports it’s a bit longer than that but if you catch an early morning flight you can be teeing it up before midday at one of the many magnificent courses the Lisboa region has to offer.
Just how good are you? If you want to find out if you would make the grade at Q School then just head 30 mins east out of the city, across the iconic Vasco da Gama Bridge to Riba Golfe, the qualifying venue for the European Tour.
Arriving at the venue can be a little puzzling, the mind’s eye expects to be greeted by the typical visual treat of manicured lawns adorned with swish villas and apartments, but the 2 Riba courses sit on a protected belt of land for the conservation of the region’s cork trees.
The land was due to undergo huge development through the 00’s to construct a hotel and country club, but a change in local government and the intervention of conservation groups scuppered those plans to leave two magnificent courses in the tranquillity of the countryside.
Ranked 34th in Portugal by the website top100golfcourses.co.uk Riba Golf 1, also known as the blue course was designed with tournament play in mind, meeting the challenge delivers a pleasurable round of golf for those with a higher handicap.
This long narrow course is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty surrounded by a large cork oak forest and built on gently sloping terrain; this is an easy course to walk. Tougher for longer hitters the course rewards accurate play, however the excellent placement of bunkers and water hazards create an excellent challenge along the fairways to the greens.
The shortest par 4 on the course is the 14th hole, with a water hazard coming into play in the landing area from your initial downhill drive. Club selection is important for your next shot as there are three bunkers to consider before reaching the small green, over hit to the left and you will find your ball has taken a swim.
The charming clubhouse caters for golfers playing Riba Golf 1 and her sister course Riba Golf 2, and whether you are enjoying the regional Mediterranean menu in the restaurant or relaxing in the friendly lounge and bar, you have the option to improve the technical aspects of your game on the driving range and practice area, browse in the pro-shop or reserve your tee time for Riba Golf 2
Down time in Sesimbra
Before spending a night in the city we travelled to the South of the Lisboa region to Sesimbra, a small seaside town famous for its sport fishing and the sea food that accompanies the winner’s spoils. The town rolls out of the Arrábida National Park, its winding streets offer a multitude of restaurants, bars and nightclubs before the town opens out to its pièce de résistance, its golden beaches enclosed within the Sesimbra bay. The Sana Hotel is the perfect place to stay in the area, the 4* beach front location offers modern, comfortable and stylish rooms, a rich and varied fresh local menu as well as a picturesque roof top pool for those looking to indulge.
Qunito do Peru
Heading 30mins north back towards Lisbon is Club Quinta Do Peru, a majestic course in the Azeitão region and one of the area’s most exclusive. Set in over 300 acres of pine forest the Rocky Roquemore designed course is very special, since opening in 1995 its owners have spared no expense ensuring that the course remains at the peak of cutting edge design mirroring the many villas and luxurious apartments that adorn its fairways.
The facilities here are second to none, numerous European Countries have chosen the venue as a training base in preparation for an upcoming competitive season, it’s currently ranked within The Top 100 European Golf Courses and it has been the venue for various international golfing events.
Quinta do Peru is not short, both the front and back nines start with demanding par 5’s and end with equally testing holes, the 9th and the 18th par 4’s and are both in excess of 400 yards. It’s a serious yet very enjoyable test of golf from the back tees, the American architect has guaranteed that huge bunkers and water are in play throughout your round, if you play to handicap on your first time out here you should be extremely impressed with yourself.
Although the course is challenging it’s not there to punish you at every opportunity, from the shorter tees the lower handicap players will relish the opportunity to take on the obstacles before them and enjoy the lack of rough when not on the fairways. The course applauds you for hitting greens and fairways but if you find yourself the wrong side of the short stuff the dry yet soft pin needle floor - instead of tough long grasses - provide a good platform to get back on track.
The 220 yard 8th and 195 yard 16th par 3’s are the courses signature holes, played across lakes to some very well guarded greens, they are not easy but if conquered they will leave a smile on your face for the rest of your round.
Quinta do Peru Is a wonderful course, its technical challenge never overrides the enjoyment of your round. With its location atop of an undulating plateau it offers fantastic views across the region, this partnered with a variety an interesting holes makes Quinta do Peru one of Portugal’s must play courses. Quite simply it’s stunning.
A night in Lisbon is definitely called for, you’re never more than 40 minutes to a course by car so you can afford yourself a lie in and time out in the evening to gorge on the capitals delights. The Lisbon experience encompasses so many things, from enjoying fresh foods and pastries and bica (espresso) on a petite leafy plaza, mingling with Lisboêtas at one of the many jazz bars and clubs, or watching one of the country’s most famous football teams Lisbon or Benifica
Our final venue for the weekend was Aroeira, a 900 acre resort dubbed by the British press in the 80’s as the Wentworth of Portugal. The private estate is situated just 20km south of Lisbon and just 600 metres from the sea on the Setubal Peninsula within a beautiful Pine land preservation area.
Now I can’t remember which member of the press said it but they weren’t too far off when describing the private estate of Aroeira as something similar to Wentworth, the land surrounding the two courses is worth visiting just to bare witness to the amazing architecture that has folded its self into the undulations of each hole.
The course of Aroeira 1 however is more reminiscent of Woburn with its tall pines trees lining each and every narrow fairway.
The course was opened in 1972 and unlike Quinta Do Peru the course is not manufactured with bunkers, many holes in fact have a complete absence of sand traps, and course architect Frank Pennink lets nature dictate your strategy. The course winds its way through a pine forest and the true genius in its inception was to master which tree to leave instead of which to remove when creating each hole. Each tee box offers you the option to drive away but the lone tree protruding on to the fairway, or the natural undulation forcing your ball towards the rough will mean only the most confident of players will still be taking out the big stick at each available opportunity.
The course is another long one, measuring just over 6,700 yards, it’s opening hole, a 485 yard par 5 sets the tone for your round, although a relatively straight hole the fairway runs down to a bunker on the right of the fairway, avoid this and you still have a difficult approach to the green which is protected by three bunkers on the left. Do not be afraid, the key to Aroeira is course management, playing the sensible shots and picking your spots is the best way to get around, do this and you can score well on a course that has previously hosted the Portuguese Masters.
The course has some wonderfully long winding holes with the natural geography of the landscape creating some very challenging drives and approaches but the stand out hole on our visit was the 14th, the 130 yard par three. You may think a hole of this length would be an oversight but from tee to green there is nothing but water, go long and you’re in the bushes, go left or go right and you’re in the sand. This little gem is a great way to start the run in for the final 5 holes, it’s easy to under club and if there is the added pressure of competitive match on the line it’s easy to end up wet.
Due to its location in the forest and being situated up against the coast line the resort benefits from an amazing microclimate that allows golf to be played in the sunshine all year round, this paired with its naturally challenging geography and the beautiful architecture makes Aroeira an attractive option, particularly in the dark winter months.
If you're struggling to find the will to don the waterproofs, then kick start your spring golf in warmer climates.
#Portugal #Lisbon #golftravel #Aroeira #QuintadoPeru #Ribagolfe #GolfFocused