A couple of hours drive north from the golfing Mecca of the Algarve is the Lisboa e Vale de Tejo region of Portugal. Bordered in the east by the capital city Lisbon, in the south by the Tagus (Tejo in Portuguese) estuary and in the west and north by the Atlantic, this region is a wonderful place to visit with its lovely coastal towns, mountainous regions and beautiful lush countryside. Set amongst this landscape are the Sintra Mountains – part of the Sintra Cascais Nature Park, a spectacular backdrop for the Penha Longa resort.
The estate is situated in the southern foothills and covers a wonderful landscape of valleys, hills and rocky outcrops, all set in surroundings of green, almost equatorial vegetation, kept fresh and lush by the many lakes and rivers. In fact, the name Penha Longa translates as ‘long rock’. Even though the resort has been developed to include 27 holes and a five star hotel, the area still maintains its beauty, charm and secluded feel.
There are two courses at Penha Longa, the true championship standard Atlântico, and the excellent 9-hole Mosteiro. The Atlântico, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr, opened in 1992 and received such acclaim that it played host to the Portuguese Open in 1994. The course winds its way up and down the hills around the south side of the clubhouse providing some of the most amazing views of the coastal towns of Estoril and Cascais and the blue waters of the Atlantic. The lush vegetation borders many fairways and where it doesn’t, Trent Jones has used the contours wonderfully to create interest, excitement and challenges at every shot. But even though we’re in Southern Europe, it can be remarkably cold, even in mid-summer, so if you’re planning an early start, remember your jumper.
The Atlântico is challenging on a still day, but when the wind blows across the mountains, the course becomes a real test and even the best struggle. So much so, that winner of the 1999 Estoril Open, Jean-Francois Remesy, was the only player under par, and he only managed to break par by two shots. Unlike many courses in Europe, there isn’t a single weak hole on the Atlântico course and certain holes will stick in your mind, bringing great joy and relief from a par or even bogey. Look out for the par five 6th, where the green is beautifully framed by the lake, with the backdrop of a medieval arched wall and castle tower. The par three 15th requires a 155-metre carry over water and, to make matters worse, it often plays straight into the prevailing wind. The 16th is the hardest hole on the course and requires a long drive across a valley and a solid uphill approach shot to a narrow green.
The Mosteiro 9-hole course was also designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. and opened in 1995. The name means ‘monastery’ and the course winds its way through the historical parts of the estate, providing the perfect complement to the championship Atlântico layout. Article by Mark Jeffrey