Ed Butler travelled to Portugal’s Lisbon golf coast expecting to fall in love with an old favourite and had his heart stolen by the last course to be designed by the late great Seve Ballesteros.
• Warm sun
• Over 70 golf courses
• World class culture, history and heritage
• First class food and drink
These are just some of the reasons to play golf in Portugal.
Historically, British and Northern European golfers would choose the Algarve rather than the unspoilt Silver Coast, less than an hour from Lisbon Airport, but I wanted to buck this trend and discover some of the established and newer golf courses earning acclaim close to Portugal’s capital city.
I’d heard so much about the Lisboa Golf Coast. It was voted European golf destination of the year 2007 by members of IAGTO (The International Association of Golf Tour Operators) and with 20 courses scattered between Setabul to the South and Sintra and Estoril to the East, expectations were high.
Praia del Rey is one of the premier courses in the area and has a Marriott hotel attached. Now ranked as the 13th best course in Europe and the best in Portugal in Golf World Magazine’s list for 2012, this course already had a lot to live up to before I got there.
A mixture of links, parkland and American styles, this course certainly is a visual delight and a stern test.
There is a lot of new development in between fairways and at times it’s unsightly and takes away from what should be a picturesque location.
Developments spoiling the view
While the course has been open for 14 years, it is only recently that these big developments have sprung up.
The front nine opens with a forgettable short par four dogleg left, and is followed by a long par five.
The third hole is where the course begins to get a bit interesting with an attractive par-three needing a mid-iron shot.
The fourth is an interesting short par four with plenty of danger in amongst the sand dunes off the drive.
The fifth is an excellent long par four that is the standout hole on the front half of the card requiring a precise drive over a long carry.
What follows can only be described as unremarkable holes all the way up until the turn. They really are an odd bunch of holes. I can only assume the developers plotted where the clubhouse would be first and then routed the course around the ocean and the best bits of land.
The back nine opens with a big par five with the third shot played over water to the green.
Whilst 11 and 12 are okay, the round really comes to life on the 13th a most attractive short par four. With great views of the sea this hole sets the imagination alight.
Two faces of Praia del Rey
As we approached the signature hole, the par three 13th, the two faces of Praia del Rey presented themselves.
To my left, ocean waves crashed into shore creating a spectacular sight, then, straight ahead an eye sore in the distance, half finished building plots and vacant villas.
It is such a shame that these holes – reminiscent of golf on the links in Ireland – are blighted by really ill thought through land grab and building plots that are not in keeping for what should be a five star resort. The par three is a gem and I hit a nine iron one day and a seven iron the next.
The par four 15th is another visually arresting hole where you can hook the tee shot right onto the beach if you aren’t careful. The 16th is a beauty, a really good 450 yarder uphill.
Sadly, just when the course begins to show its full potential it’s let down by a long uninteresting par five at 17, and an average finishing hole at the par-four 18th.
The ocean holes are lovely but the rest of the course is a real hotchpotch.
Could have been so much better
I left thinking it could have been so much better. The clubhouse is soulless and the properties around the course were either for sale or empty.
How it is ranked ahead of some of the other Portugal courses is quite beyond me. I have played Vilamoura Old and Penina and whilst they are certainly different they are better than Praia del Rey in almost every way.
Royal Obidos is a brand new course designed by the Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros. Very sadly Seve died before he could see this new course finished and he never struck a ball on this new course.
It differs in almost every way to Praia del Rey.
For that reason I was pleased. Thankfully the clubhouse had been well built and what a sumptuous clubhouse it is, a totally different specimen to Praia del Rey.
Its elegance is in its simplicity. Downstairs are the locker rooms and rental area and upstairs the bar, pro shop and incredible glass fronted veranda. That’s it, and that’s all there needs to be in a clubhouse.
The views were magnificent. Whilst we weren’t on the beach and couldn’t see any sand, the ocean was in view for about half the round. The round starts with a generous medium length par five before coming alive on the monstrous par five second.
Travelling over the road to start the lagoon side of the course, I was faced by a majestic tee-shot into the early morning sunlight.
Other stand out holes on the front side were the fourth, a long par four requiring an accurate second shot and the 7th, a long par five with commanding views over the massive lagoon in nearby Obidos.
There were plenty of great holes on the back nine, most notably the huge par five 10th with water. In fact water featured so prominently I lost seven balls, a record for about 10 years I think.
It must have come into play on about a dozen of the holes. Playing off the back tees perhaps wasn’t the wisest choice but I wanted to experience it as Seve envisaged. It was a long track off the backs but worth every penny. The rest of the back nine was a very stern test with the last four holes being an absolute stunning set to finish the round with.
The service we received from the caddymaster, the pro shop and the restaurant staff was faultless.
The restaurant had some of the best food we had during our stay, at such great prices that when the bill came, I was pleasantly surprised.
You simply must stay after your round and try some of the authentic Portuguese dishes. One thing I should say that the early bird discount meant that for two people the green-fees were $99 Euros at Praia and $99 Euros with a buggy at Obidos, real value for money.
It is too early to say how Royal Obidos will develop but with a new hotel planned for 18 months’ time and houses to be built to more exacting standards than at Praia, this course is one to watch in the future. There will be winners and losers in terms of golf in Portugal as the country goes through its economic hardships.
What I predict is that if Royal Obidos pulls in the punters then this course will probably overtake Praia del Rey in terms of top destination on the Silver Coast. Seve would have been immensely proud of what he has accomplished and one can’t say better than that. It really is a lasting legacy to the Spanish Master.
Praia Del Rey
Lisbon Golf Coast