A Northern Portugal Jewel
Wow! - Praia D'el Rey, a Marriott Hotels owned complex at Obidos, an hour north of Lisbon, certainly does have the 'Wow' factor. Opened only a dozen or so years ago, it is difficult to believe that a new course, carved out of the difficult terrain of northern Portugal, could have matured to this degree in such a short space of time. Rated the best golf course in Portugal and the 13th best in Europe, it deserves its rating for a variety of reasons. The eighteen holes are built partly along the side of the ocean and partly through the development of villas and apartments. However, unlike many similar courses, the design of the complex is such that at no time does building development intrude into or detract from the golf course. Portugal has many great courses, most of them charging quite outrageous prices for what they offer. Praia D'el Rey is expensive, but if any course in Portugal can justify the cost, this one probably can. Nevertheless, there is better value to be had in other countries both within and without the Euro Zone. Like all other countries entering the Euro, Portugal has raised prices to an unsustainable level.
At 7012 yards from the championship tees and 6091 yards from the yellows, this is a long golf course that will seriously challenge players of all standards. Each hole has been designed to provide its own unique challenge. From the moment you stand on the first tee you get a good idea of what is to follow. No. 1, (SI 8), at 350 yards (all measurements in this article are from the yellow tees) is a major challenge. A dog-leg left with gorse and pines on the left on the direct route, with a bunkers waiting to catch any drive leaking too far to the right, its not the easy start most golfers prefer. Like every hole on this course, it requires thought and good execution. The second, at 467 yards, is a short dog-leg right par 5. It sounds easy, but drive too far right and you are in the lake, too far left and you are in the gorse. A little short on the correct line puts you in the bunkers; a little long on the correct line and once again you are in the gorse. So you proceed!
Despite the difficult terrain, management and maintenance of the course is superb with tremendous fairways and smooth true greens. Bunkers are well maintained with appropriate levels of sand and there is clear evidence that those who are responsible know what they are doing and have pride in their work.
Superb! The Par 3 - 8th hole
Greens are large, fine turfed and true
The Ocean is never far away
First fairway in the early morning light
The only real fault is that, probably to provide some protection against the summer sun, the fairways are a little long for crisp iron shots. However, if you are the exponent of the lofty wood, you will find this a real pleasure.The best tip for this course : 'select your club from the bag, then put it away and take one more'. Thinking about it, it's probably good advice for an amateur on any course!
There is a delightful clubhouse with a small well-served restaurant and, unlike many continental facilities, smoking is controlled so that the non-smoker is not forced to inhale the pollution created by others! Restaurant and bar prices are very reasonable and the local towns provide a number of good restaurants. The small professional shop is disappointing, with inadequate levels of stock, but the practice area is one of the best I have encountered anywhere.
For the golfer who is prepared to travel and likes the thought of tackling professional standard courses, this is a must. You can fly to Lisbon, hire a car and drive the one hour to Praia D'el Rey, or you can take a cheaper flight to Faro and take on the 5 hours drive. There is a 5-Star Marriott hotel , or there is the option of hiring apartments or villas on the complex. Green fees and accommodation rates are very reasonable.
The ocean-side holes on this course are spectacular with an ever-present breeze off the sea. Lining the fairways are fringes of light rough beyond which there are large areas of succulent plants with very broad leaves and beautiful flowers. If your ball settles in one of these areas you are probably better off not finding it! If you are good out of heather, after a few years practice you could probably learn to play from this type of lie.
Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and a three hours' march to dinner - and then thinking! It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths.
William Hazlitt (1778 - 1830 (not written about golf, but fits the subject quite nicely.)