Play Away: Penha Longa, Portugal

Golf 13

ROBERT TRENT JONES junior, golf architect and one never knowingly to hide his light under a bushel, said, ‘I always maintain that where great land meets great water you get great golf.’ And at Penha Longa, just 17 miles west of Lisbon, Jones has been as good as his word.

Voted as one of the top 30 courses in mainland Europe, Penha Longa has two big advantages on many of its golfing rivals situated around Lisbon: firstly, the fairways are not lined with houses as what development that has been undertaken is on a low density basis, so there are no fears of peering into someone’s back garden when that slice or hook creeps back into your game.

Secondly Penha Longa’s resort hotel is the superb, five star Ritz Carlton, overlooking the course with the Sintra mountains as backdrop on the site of a 14th century monastery.

There are 27 holes to enjoy; a nine-hole Mosteiro course suitable for beginners or those looking for a gentle warm up before the main course. And the Trent Jones designed Atlantico, opened in 1992, is a feast indeed.

The Atlantico winds its way around the south side of the clubhouse providing wonderful views over the coastal resort towns of Cascais and Estoril. And as well as a spectacular outlook this is a course to be reckoned with as would be expected of a host to the Portugiese Open. Indeed the winner of the 1999 Estoril Open was the only player to complete four rounds under par.

With a stiff sea breeze often to be negotiated and some tight tee shots along tree lined fairways this is no place for the novice but still there are many holes to be enjoyed.  And with three tee positions for men and two for ladies some of the tiger’s teeth can be drawn by reducing the length from 6,903 yards off the tips to 5,568 yards off the forward ladies’ tees.

Trent Jones always looks to give players a bit of a helping hand on the first and often creates slopes on either side of the fairway so that a ball flying a little wide will often run back down onto the short stuff.

The first at Penha Longa is no exception although the second shot in to a raised green with a large figure of eight bunker on the front right edge still makes this short par four a satisfying hole to open with a par.

Stand-out holes on the course include the par three fifth where one launches a tee shot and watches the ball plummet some 90 feet to a green that, from the back tee of 208 yards, looks the size of a pocket handkerchief. We then sweep right handed to another slightly raised tee-box and play the shortest of the par fives on the front nine at 497 yards. But what a stunner it is.

A huge bunker awaits on the corner of this right hand dog leg forcing the drive right which means that the second brings the large lake fronting the left hand side of the green into play. But the real feature of this hole is the ancient aqueduct and tower that lie behind the green forming a beautiful and historic frame.

There is not a weak hole on the course and at the finish a modern and welcoming clubhouse stands behind the 18th green- a perfect spot to enjoy sitting out on a sun-splashed terrace reliving the glories or shedding the horrors of what has gone before.

With TAP running regular flights from London Gatwick into Lisbon Penha Longa is the ideal spot for some winter sunshine.

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