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A tasty slice of Portugal - Golf in Obidos Portugal

The medieval castle town of Óbidos makes an excellent base to sample a quartet of varied and challenging golf courses, all within a 30-minute drive of this bustling region, just north of Lisbon. Words: Andrew Marshall

Thanks to an enviable year-round climate, with plenty of sunny days, Portugal has always been one of Europe’s most popular golfing destinations and although the southern Algarve may have the lion’s share of the courses, for the travelling golfer looking for something a little off-the-beaten-track, the Oeste region north of Lisbon is an interesting option. Alongside the golf there’s plenty of off-course attractions, from numerous archaeological and historical sites to sparkling Atlantic beaches, enchanting coastal villages, excellent seafood and fine local wines.

On an isolated hill swept by cool breezes, the medieval castle town of Óbidos makes an excellent base to sample a quartet of varied and challenging courses, all within a 30-minute drive. Our home away from home for four nights is the cosy Hotel Real D’Óbidos, and we are delighted to discover that it’s situated within a cluster of cobbled alleys only a pitching wedge away from the castle walls.

The hotel is exquisitely decorated in a medieval style, with suits of armour, tapestries, iron furniture, dark wood and large heavy drapes. Even the guest rooms maintain the theme, right down to old iron door latches and an original medieval iron room key that’s so large it’s a workout just carrying it down to the reception desk each morning and hand it over to the friendly staff (all dressed in medieval clothing). With the key safely dropped off and the clubs packed in the hire car, its time to head off and sample the courses…

GOLDEN EAGLE

Our first 18 holes is at Golden Eagle, originally known as Quinta do Brincal Golf & Country Club. Laid out by the American architect Rocky Roquermore (a prolific and much-respected designer in southern Europe) this is a big-scale course (measuring 6,623-metres off the tips) and one that that meanders its way spectacularly through a wonderful natural landscape of rolling hills and lush Portuguese flora: pines, cork trees, eucalyptus, mimosa, hydrangea and acacias that provide colourful bordering on each hole.

The course wears its American influences well, with a strong emphasis on the need for accurate target-style golf, which thus tests your ball striking from the word ‘go’. There are no fewer than nine lakes and 90-odd sand traps incorporated within the overall layout, some of those bunkers so vast you occasionally feel like an extra on the set of Lawrence of Arabia. (Well, I did, anyway). Needless to say, unless you are striping it the Golden Eagle will test your sand skills to the max.

“A second course is currently under construction and will be open for play in 2011 and it will be designed by a top name, but it’s all hush-hush at the moment,” says David Ashington Head of Golf Operations and PGA Professional. “A 5-star hotel from a leading luxury Hotel brand is also included in these future developments.”

CAMPO REAL

Featuring an 18-hole layout by the noted course architect Donald Steel, Westin’s Campo Real has rapidly become one of Portugal’s most exciting golf and leisure developments. Etched into the dramatic rolling hills, vineyards and steep wooded valleys of the surrounding countryside, the course will challenge and delight even the most experienced players, with several uphill and downhill drives that make for an exciting round.

“The fairways are about 20 centimetres wide – about the distance between your ears, as you really have to use your head here, says Golf Director Manuel Gomes as we wait to tee off. “I’ve played this course many times and I never get tired of the challenge. It’s not a long course, but it’s technical and to add to the drama there are a couple of drivable par fours in the mix.”

Etched into the rolling hills, vineyard and steep wooded valleys of the surrounding countryside, CampoReal is the creation of designer Donald Steel.

He was right. No sooner had we finished and we were eager to play it again. Campo Real has that addictive quality you find at certain destinations – a quality obviously enhanced by the experience of staying at the five-star Westin with all of its creature comforts. Discussions at the 19th turn to a ‘favourite hole’, which for me has to be the 478-metre 17th, a cracking par-five played from an elevated tee offering superb views – one of those tee-shots you want to hit over and over again. Enjoyable, beautiful and serene, the quality of the Campo Real course is matched only by the Westin’s accommodation, clubhouse and spa facilities.

PRAIA D’EL REY

Star billing of the Oeste region’s golfing quartet must surely go to Cabell B.Robinson’s wild and wonderful Praia D’El Rey – a marvellous combination of a parkland front nine that cuts through deep pine forest and a links land back nine that follows the coast with spectacular views over the Atlantic and the Berlenga Islands beyond. “This is the kind of landscape we architects try to create, but at Praia d’El Rey it’s all here, naturally,” said Robinson on first surveying the site. “Now it’s my responsibility to protect it.”

Praie D’El Rey has a collection of great seaside links holes,
with windswept dunes and coastal views

And protect it he has. After the tighter pine-lined fairways of the opening nine, the course opens up and heads towards the pummeling Atlantic offering all the elements of a Scottish or Irish links, but with warmer weather. Bold deep bunkers, undulating greens and natural sand border areas contrast sharply with the lush green fairways. The signature stretch of holes runs from the 12th to 15th, along the coast, and a mention must also go to the 17th, a gigantic uphill par-five measuring in at a hefty 570 metres. If you play just one course in this region this has to be it: a total golfing package that offers you variety, a non-stop challenge and magnificent views. A worthy winner of the 2007 “Golf Resort Europe” and a course rated highly in Europe’s ‘Top 100 Golf Courses’ listings.

BOM SUCESSO

Recent fanfares that greeted the opening of Bom Sucesso noted that this would be Donald Steel’s final course design. If that is indeed the case he can be very proud at what he has achieved. Steel’s fifth design in Portugal is the latest addition to the golfing scene in this up-and-coming Oeste region and the centrepiece of a five-star resort complex that will eventually feature apartments, villas and a 120-room hotel with full leisure facilities.

Bom Sucesso is a landmark creation for Donald Steel, his fifth
creation in Portugal being his final legacy to the game

The two nines are very different in character, the more gentle and opening nine leading to what is the more spectacular back nine on rolling terrain. “At Bom Sucesso, we have created 18 very strong holes – all good even when taken on an individual basis, I don’t feel any of them are weak. They all contribute to the overall appeal of the golf course. It is up to the individual player to be the final judge,” says Steel.

Like all good courses the finish at Bom Sucesso is particularly strong, the par-four 16th played uphill to a green set into a hillside, then it’s a spectacular drive at the dogleg par-five 17th with gorgeous views of Óbidos Lake and the distant mountains, and the final hole is a downhill par-four 18th with a stream cutting across the fairway and water guarding the green.

AWAY FROM THE COURSES

The four courses within 30 minutes or so of the fortified town of Óbidos make for a truly varied golfing experience, but this region offers much more than that. There is genuine history and tradition here. Cobblestone streets are lined with colourful houses, there are Gothic doorways and windows, whitewashed churches, flowerpots and dazzling tiles – all encircled by the walls of the 12th century castle. Óbidos has been painstakingly preserved and its inhabitants take pride in maintaining the architectural image of days gone by.

As we wander along the alleyways, through ancient plazas, and along the walls, we can’t help thinking we are part of a medieval film set. And it’s not just our imagination. Every July a Medieval Fair recreates the Middle Ages with medieval music, knights, witches, and theatre, and during the International Chocolate Festival in November, Óbidos becomes the world’s chocolate capital with exquisite chocolate sculptures on display.

There are four restaurants within the town walls, three on the outside. At each you find cuisine based on typical Portuguese gastronomy. Start your evening with an aperitif of local cherry liqueur – known as ‘Ginja d’ Óbidos’ – inside Bar lbn Errick Rex that oozes with character, and then head off to the Pousada do Castelo for some gourmet dining.

Sampling the local wine and cuisine is an important aspect of any travel experience and the gastronomy of the Oeste region is rich and varied: there are several delicious pork dishes, oven-baked kid, stewed rabbit with rice, celebrated fish stews, baked or boiled sea bream, rock bass from Peniche, eel and cockles from the Óbidos Lake and shellfish from the beds at Porto de Barcas (lagosta suada – ‘sweating lobster’– a delicacy which can only be found in the Western region).

The Oeste is also well known as a wine making district and it’s peppered with vineyards laid out along the ‘Oeste Trail’, a tourist path taking in the most famous wineries. The northern part produces delicious white wine with different grape varieties such as Arinto, Fernão Pires and Vital. More to the south the red wine is produced from Periquita, Tinto Miúdo and Camarate grapes. The region is also known for ‘light wine’ (with lower alcohol levels) and the Lourinhã brandy, the only one in Portugal with origin control.

To the west of Óbidos is the charming seaside town of Peniche, renowned for its excellent fish restaurants, such as the award-winning Estelas, which attracts discerning diners from far and wide. Black-and-white photos of fisherman adorn the walls and there’s a freezer crammed full of fish (such as red snapper, sea bass, mackerel and sole) so fresh they still twitch in their bed of ice.

“The secret of our cooking begins with visiting the local fish market at first light and choosing the freshest and best quality fish available. And then there’s the sauces, but I can’t reveal the actual recipes,” says owner Diamantino Neto with a smile. We are served several small dishes of mussels, octopus, egg fish, whelk, sardines and clams with garlic, olive oil and fresh crusty bread washed down with some fine local wines – its the perfect finish to our Oeste region golf trip.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine











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