Golf in Portugal usually means golf on the Algarve. Fly into Faro and you could be teeing it up at Quinta do Lago within an hour of leaving the airport. And although the courses there are on the Atlantic, unlike their Spanish counterparts, which are Mediterranean, the coastline is south facing and the weather usually somewhere between inviting and idyllic.
Lisbon isn’t such an obviously ‘clubable’ destination but it’s certainly worth the effort. OK, so the wind there can be a bit more demanding, heading as it does straight in off the Atlantic, but something between a 25-45 minutes drive, depending on traffic, from the heart of the Portuguese capital there are eight golf courses along and around the coast. (Lisbon, by the way, is clearly a closet golf fiend itself: the main shopping street is called Rua Augusta.) I sampled three of them.
Oitavos Dunes – designed by Arthur Hills; I’ll leave you to your own pun – is an exacting test of golf, as befitting a course which has recently hosted the Portuguese Open three times. The layout mixes links-like terrain with the holes that run amid trees; a European-style Spyglass Hill, if you like. The views out to sea and up to the Sintra hills (no relation to Arthur) are glorious, and the round climaxes with a tremendous dogleg left par-four which brings all the elements of the landscape into play.
That course is connected to the Quinta da Marinha resort, which has another golf course, this time by Robert Trent Jones Snr. This is not such an exacting test of golf, albeit probably prettier. Also, Jones veered severely off the template of his trademark designs on the back nine here. The front nine is classic Trent – a par of 36; five par-fours, two-par-fives, two par-threes – but after the turn he went bonkers, with only two fours with four threes and three fives. What was he thinking? Probably, as ever, to make the best use of the land at his disposal, which I’m sure he did.
Penha Longa is another past venue of the Portuguese Open, first in 1994, won by Phillip Price, and latterly in 2010, won by Thomas Bjorn. Quite appropriately, it’s designed like Lisbon city. Its topography is very up and down, making it a tough test of driving, meaning you might find yourself inclined to play with the handbrake on. But great fun nevertheless. Afterwards, I had a Caesar Salad for lunch – again quite appropriately, it was served with the iceberg lettuce comprising the bottom eight-ninths of the bowl. (BTW, in other food news on this trip, in some restaurants I felt that Portugal might have a new, not necessarily wanted, USP: portion-wise, it seemed to have become the European USA!)
So, yes, the wind can blow rather hard. I shudder to think what it must be like to play at Oitavos Dunes, for example, if you’ve the need to put up an umbrella on a blustery day, a futility which would be likely to last about one hole before the thing got shredded. But when I was there, it was pretty much non-stop sun, so who cares about a bit of a breeze? Bring it on.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen