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  • Neil White

Oitavos Dunes

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Is that a galleon?”

The replica ship, conjuring thoughts of Portugal’s most famous son, Vasco Da Gama, glided past as we supped our post-game pint at Oitavos Dunes.

It somehow seemed an apt finale to a day at this gorgeous golfing venue that we should be given an extra reminder that this has long been the land of celebrities.

Da Gama’s crews brought back riches to the royal families who had residences at nearby Cascais and Sintra in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Meanwhile, today, film stars and footballers are regularly seen here. Indeed, Cristiano Ronaldo is having a home built near the Oitavos Dunes clubhouse.

It remains to be seen whether he will wield a club here after his Saudi Arabian sojourn but he could do worse. This is a beautiful spot and we found the course thrilling.

Designed by Arthur Hills in the early 2000s, it has dramatic holes and classic views over the Atlantic Ocean and we can testify that, in winds of nearly 40mph, it can be a heck of a challenge.

After our lovely welcome from the Director of Golf, we adjourned to the driving range, right next to the first tee.

A British member was looking for a round, so we asked him to join us and we were mighty glad he did. He pointed us in the right direction and was also wonderful company.

The first hole summed up my game at Oitavos Dunes.

From the tee, I was straight down a fairway that slopes from left to right where trees and sandy waste lurk.

My second zipped over a mound on the left towards the flag, coming to rest about three feet over the green and only about five yards from the cup.

It took me another three shots to finish the hole. I could sense the onlooking greens’ team smirking to themselves as I completely misread their pride and joy.

But who cares about my short-game ineptitude? Our memory of Oitavos Dunes needs to be its ultra-consistent fairways, sublime greens and fabulous views.

As we played the comfortably mastered short par-four second hole I was gaining an impression that this round would be a metaphorical breeze.

Wrong. As the actual wind strengthened, the holes became progressively tougher.

The par-threes all look doable, starting at the third, protected by a bunker in front and hilly scrub to the left, but stopping the ball near the flag is hard,.

Its stroke-index one, par-four fifth hole is where the course begins to show its teeth.

It is more than 400 yards off the yellows and, bang into the wind, demanded a more aggressive drive than I possess to fly the fairway bunkers.

After extricating oneself from the sand there is still a heck of a way to an undulating green. To grab a six to claim and one Stableford point seemed like an achievement.

After the wide open, Scottish links-type feel of holes five and six, we were faced with walking straight into a gale (no exaggeration – our host said he hadn’t known conditions like it) for the par-fives seventh and eighth.

The former demands a precision drive down an avenue between trees before opening out. Bunkers on either side of the target are ready to snaffle the balls of players who sense a birdie opportunity.

It is followed by a cracker. The eighth ascends from the tee, filters down over a ridge and then rises again to a green framed by a sand dune. Against the wind, it is an absolute monster.

The ninth is a corking par-three from an elevated tee. It looks benign but was far from it because of the wind and prompted a quandary over club selection.

Having emerged from the greenside bunker, I thought the job was done but, nope… this green slopes insanely and my putt moved sidewards by about 15 feet. Blob.

The tenth is a lovely par-four with out-of-bounds on the right and scrub on the left from the tee.

The obvious approach is to the right of a sand trap but, if it is not exact, the steep slope will force the ball over a path and into a fence!

The wind was so strong by now that, with it at our backs, tee shots down the left of the 300-yard par-four 11th came to rest at the side of the green.

Beauty abounds on the 12th, a long par-three with the trees and the sea as a backdrop. Finding the target isn’t the end of the show, however, because the putting surfaces are so darn tricky.

I laughed on the 13th tee because the drive was against the full fury of the wind and over scrub. Inevitably, my ball came to rest between a small rock and a tuft of gorse. I hacked it out but still had more than 300 yards uphill to the green.

And then came the signature hole – the par-three 14th, over a sandy chasm to a partially hidden flag. The choice of driver into the wind turned out to be a good one but the front-to-back green was fiendish and I failed to cash in.

The downward short 15th in the opposite direction required a mere clip with a nine-iron to land 12 feet from the pin.

The 16th is another par-five which was reachable downwind in two before the much trickier final two holes.

I was convinced that after narrowly missing two consecutive birdie putts, it would all come right on the 17th, despite a testing drive down a fairway lined with trees.

Sure enough, the tee shot was in prime position but I was so convinced I would find the green in two, I didn’t even see some protruding branches and watched my ball hit them and drop like a stone.

The final hole is a cracker, over the road, beginning alongside the five-star hotel to its left and trees and swanky villas down the right. Either side, the ball can run out of fairway.

Thereafter, some may suggest the placement of the tree directly in front of the fiendish raised green is a bit daft because there is no obvious route but over it.

It is a tad out of keeping with the rest of the course but I thought it was fun despite my ball coming to grief.

Oitavos Dunes lived up to its reputation as one of Portugal’s finest courses and the bonhomie in its clubhouse was given the extra gloss by the modern-day galleon’s appearance.

We had a fine day and I will leave the controversy over Cristiano’s house and what he might do about it for another time.

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