CASCAIS, Portugal – On an amazing piece of property, just 30 minutes from an historic and amazing European Capital, lies a most amazing public resort golf course run by an even more amazing four-generation family.
Oitavos Dunes, Natural Links Golf at Quinta da Marinha Original, is located in the scenic seaside village of Cascais, Portugal, just west of the historic capital city of Lisbon.
It’s far from the first outstanding golf course in Europe. You may have heard of the birthplace of golf, just north in Scotland, and its golf heavy UK neighbors, England and Ireland.
But while Scotland, Ireland and England have golf history and tradition on their side, they also have plenty of cold and damp weather which has led this exclusive, sunny and warm section of Portugal, on the westernmost coast of Europe, to emerge as one of the hottest golf destinations for 2008.
The par 71 course, which measures 6,893 from the back tees, was opened in 2001, and has continued to improve with age.
It has hosted a tournament on every major circuit on the European Tour, including becoming the three-time site of the Portuguese Open recently won by Oklahoma State standout Pablo Martin.
The international Lisbon airport, which features direct car transfer service to Oitavos, is just six hours by plane from the U.S., and offers easy connections from Dallas and Houston via New York or London.
While far from the first scenic seaside links in Europe or elsewhere, what makes this understated gem so unique is the care and daily hands-on concern the Champalimaud family took in bringing it to life.
Arthur Hills’ first golf design in Europe was also the first with the conveted and rare Audubon Signature Society gold certification. It was awarded for the care and concern in preserving the natural habitat and wild nature of this Southern European dunes and links layout which was routed just above the massive Atlantic Ocean as it laps upon the sandy Cascais shore.
“What we wanted to do was build a course up to our standards with the natural terrain. We wanted something special, not something everyone else has,” said current owner and family patriarch Miguel Champalimaud.
“That’s why I selected Arthur Hills to design the course. He’s the only designer who didn’t want to put a lake on the course. We already have the biggest lake in the world (Atlantic Ocean); anything else would seem small.”
For the real story on why Oitavos became so natural and preserved, you need to go back to the beginning, nearly 80 years, to its birth as humble farm land.
Carlos Montez Champalimaud purchased the land in the 1920s from the Count of Moser. He envisioned it as a natural preserve for the then-quiet fishing village. But succeeding generations have seen even greater potential for the ruggedly beautiful coastline.
After World War II, where Portugal stayed neutral and was never invaded or harmed, Carlos Sommer Champalimaud, Miguel’s father, set his sights on developing a mixture of residential and sport facilities for the nearby Lisbon population.
A generation later, Miguel brought Hills in to design the course on the property, which had been subdivided by family members, with Miguel getting the most scenic portion.
He has determined that his part of the family land will stay natural. That’s why there are no candy bars or corporately wrapped drinks sold on the course so that wrappers or trash cannot mar the landscape. It’s a governing principle used to keep elite courses in the U.S. in their pristine state, but unfamiliar to most of Europe.
“It is going to be his course and his rules, that’s the was it has always
been and always will be,” said son, Frederico Champalimaud.
The first hole of the traditional “out and back” links layout only hints at the beauty and challenge which is to come. It’s a shortish par 4 with a slight dogleg to the right with gnarled and natural trees lining both sides of the fairway.
The next turn toward the par 4 second goes slightly uphill and unveils the glittering ocean in the background in all of its natural beauty. The ever-churning water is in full view for 16 of the 18 holes of the course and confirms Miguel’s wisdom that no distracting lake was needed.
After the par 5 eighth hole, golfers are treated to a brief detour where the original fort or lighthouse still stands on the property. Several centuries ago, the fort was the last signaling post for boats coming into Lisbon to make sure the coast was clear and safe.
Once, Portugal ruled Europe and most of the world with its home-built naval power. Today, the Champalimaud-led, Hills-designed course rules most of Southern Europe golf with its fiercely preserved natural links.
True to the ever-evolving nature of the land, Frederico, who spent two years in America studying hotel management, and his brother Purzua, are overseeing construction of a small, luxury resort which will overlook the clubhouse and the 18th hole.
Another example of progress in action is one of the nicest and most complete spa and sports club in Portugal, Europe or anywhere else for that matter. Golfers can go through a total pre- or post-round workout which simply adds to the entire undiscovered treasure feature of the complete facility.
Golf in Portugal has come a long way since only the Algarve attracted golfers in search of a new adventure, but for a truly unique course and setting in a luxury development, Oitavos Dunes, Natural Links Golf at Quinta da Marinha Original is hard to beat.
That’s why this 18-hole example of rugged beauty has been attracting Northern European visitors for years and is finally beginning to be discovered by the savvy American traveler for ‘08.
Location: Oitavos Dunes, Portugal, a luxury seaside community 30 minutes west of the capital city of Lisbon.
Transportation: Lisbon International Airport is six hours from the U.S. via international jet service with easy connections from Dallas or Houston through New York or London.
Weather: Sunny and warm most of the time. Seaside location can bring in rain on a moment’s notice, but no humidity and fairly constant temperatures in the 60-70 degree range make this a prime European vacation spot.
Attractions: Luxury accommodations in this resort setting are plentiful and include Senhora da Guia and the Hotel Albatroz, both members of the Leading Small Hotels in the World.
Best Nearby Golf: Hotel Qunita Da Marinha Resort designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., is in the same resort setting with a less traditional layout.
More information: www.qunitadamarinaha-oitavosgolfe.pt or 351 21 486 06 00