Insider’s guide to... Lisbon
Golf in Portugal isn’t all about the Algarve – check out its lively capital and you’ll find out why
Portugal’s capital offers some of the best golf in Europe.
The Algarve may well be one of the world’s favourite golfing destinations, but did you know that Lisbon is actually the birthplace of golf in the country? It’s one of those strange-buttrue facts – historic Lisbon Sports Club, founded in 1922, is one of the oldest golf clubs in Europe.
It’s true too that originally Lisbon SC was built by Fred Hawtree as a nine-hole course for British railway workers and didn’t actually become a full 18-hole layout until 70 years later, when the final four holes were completed. Situated amid scenic, rolling hills and valleys, the par-69 course is relatively short, at just 5,520 yards, but the natural layout of the land means it’s more difficult than the scorecard suggests, even though four of the par-4s
are under 330 yards. With tree-lined fairways nestling in the valley and with raised tees and elevated greens, nowadays Lisbon SC is just one of a growing collection of capital courses luring golfers from all corners of Europe and beyond. Indeed, the area around Lisbon has seen a big growth in visitors in recent times with over 100,000 Brits alone flocking each year to play its 20-plus courses, all located within an hour’s drive of Europe’s westernmost capital.
It’s hard to fathom, we know, but Lisbon’s finest are every bit as good as the Algarve superstar courses as a visit south of the River Tagus and one of Europe’s most historic and exciting capitals will readily testify.
The Orizonte-lisbon Golf Group manages seven of the region’s layouts, including the three outstanding layouts we played - Quinta do Peru Golf & Country Club, Aroeira 1 and Ribagolfe 1, the latter two being part of 36-hole complexes.
Quinta do Peru is a 30-minute drive from Lisbon and framed by the Arrábida Natural Park. Beautifully-crafted by Rocky Roquemore, it’s a worthy regular in the Top 100 Continental Europe Courses listings. Opened in 1994, the parkland layout gently meanders through mature pines and provides a demanding 6,640-yard test thanks to astute bunkering and quick greens. There are several stand-out holes and a stellar closing stretch. The spectacular par-3 16th needs a 190-yard carry over water to an undulating green… and nerves of steel. The practice facilities include a double-ended 300m range and are top drawer.
The Aroeira complex is located only 25k from Lisbon, close to the coastal town of Caparica, and its Aroeira 1 course is a deserved new entry into Top 100 list. Designed by Frank Pennink (who created Vilamoura’s majestic Old Course) and opened in 1973, Aroeira 1 was dubbed “Wentworth of Lisbon” in the 1980s, though for us it has more of a Woburn feel about it.
Played through tall avenues of pine trees and surrounded by nature, the par-72 layout plays to 6,650 yards and
demands accuracy and placement off the tee. Probably the best holes are on the back nine the shortish par-4 17th is a clever downhill test to a green on the left of the dog-leg. The course staged the Portuguese Open in 1996 and 1997 and has also hosted several ladies’ tour events.
Sister course, Aroeira II, opened in 2000 and designed by Donald Steel, is longer at over 7,000 yards, boasts large, undulating greens and with water in play on nine holes, regularly bears its teeth. It has hosted the Ladies European Tour Qualifying School and several Ladies’ Portuguese Opens.
Ribagolfe - another two-course complex – is about a 40-minute drive from Lisbon and is plotted within a large cork oak forest; you’re in total tranquility with not a house to be seen and each hole sheltered from the others. Ribagolfe 1 has been hailed as the “Valderrama of Portugal” and provides a great test of golf: it plays a whopping 7,370 yards from the back tees and has hosted the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School since 2009.
Three of the four par-5s have a risk-and-reward aspect for big hitters seeking to find the green in two, including the 12th where the course really comes alive. Water comes into play here, as it does on the 14th and 15th holes.
Ribagolfe II is shorter than its sibling, but still measures more than 6,800 yards. It was designed by former Ryder Cup player Michael King in conjunction with European Tour Design and is slightly more forgiving. Blessed with the same indigenous cork oak canvass, King has crafted an equally appealing golf course, but with wider fairways and landing areas. The huge, moderately-contoured greens, provide a stiff test – especially if the wind blows.
If you’re in this neck of the woods then you should experience Robert Trent Jones Snr classic Troia, which sits on a long flat, sandy peninsula backdropped by the Arrabida mountain range and reached by taking a ferry from Setubal. It’s well worth the effort: the stunning layout guarantees a memorable round, featuring the designer’s trademark bold bunkering, raised greens and some tricky dog-legs as it sweeps between pine trees while offering tantalising glimpses of the sea, most notably at the par-4 3rd hole.
Two years ago, Lisbon received the IAGTO European Golf Destination of the Year title for the third time and it continues to get bigger and better. Not only does it provide a wide variety of quality courses, but affordable green fees, a year-round mild climate, and easy access to one of Europe’s great cities which happens to be right on the doorstep.
With a flight time of just two hours 40 minutes, and routes from many UK airports, it’s simple to get to, driving is easy and if you want to bolt on a couple of extra days, head north to the complex at Praia D’EL Rey an hour up the coast, where you’ll find spectacular links golf, right by the Atlantic. It’s one more great addition to Lisbon’s impressive golfing résumé.
Troia is a constant feature of Europe’s Top 100 courses.
Aroeira has a feel of Woburn, with more water.