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  • Neil White

Penha Longa (Atlantic)

“Go, go, go!”

On land where silence had been the byword of five hundred years, I shouted in desperation for my ball to clear the water.

And it was as if my prayers had been answered on the former holy ground, as my ball slid towards the flag.

God must have belatedly twigged that I am a heretic because I followed a natty chip with a three-putt.

Penha Longa’s Atlantic Championship Course is on the site of a monastery where the closed Order of St Jerome practised penitence as well as solitude and silence.

Their ruined water tower is the backdrop for the sixth green and I should have followed their lead by giving myself a good whipping over my dismal short game.

Next to it is an aqueduct, dating back to Roman times. The lass behind us was drawn to it like a crazy golf obstacle because she fired through one of its arches and just missed Mrs. W on the seventh tee.

Penha Longa is a high-end resort with a Michelin Guide-recognised restaurant, smart spa and swanky hotel.

Its course has some startlingly pretty holes but, if I am honest, its conditioning during our visit was not of the quality one might expect of its status.

By that, I mean that the fairways were very patchy and many of the greens were bumpy.

Nevertheless, Mrs W and I were up for the challenge on an unseasonably windy day on the Lisbon peninsular.

I confess my decision to go off the white tees was inspired by the extra three shots gained over playing from the yellows.

It meant that I found it tough to reach greens in regulation but gave me a great chance to appreciate the elevation of the course.

The first is a relatively benign introduction to this Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed track.

A bunker and trees on the left mean that keeping the ball down the right is essential for a pop at a green, guarded by a bunker.

This is one of many Penha Longa targets with a false front and was certainly not the last time my approach fell a few yards short.

The course’s stroke indexes baffled us a tad with some being rated as harder than they appeared and some much easier.

The par-four third was the former, an SI 16 demanding a drive down a very narrow avenue between thick trees, followed by an uphill approach past six big sand traps.

The four par-threes are among the stand-out holes on the Atlantic course, beginning with the fifth, a downhill beauty with tall trees lurking on the left and bunkers on the right.

Apparently, it requires greater precision with a six-iron than I possess.

The aforementioned par-five sixth is the signature hole because of the attractive ruins and, according to the stroke index, is its easiest.

To be honest, the water on the left of the target should be comfortably avoided but anyone who veers slightly to the right might find their ball resting against ancient brickwork.

The lesson about historic punishments is followed by a bit of modern-day intimidation in the shape of the par-three seventh with a pond on the right and a fiendishly placed bunker to its left. Mrs W was rightly jaunty about her par.

There are some gorgeous villas abutting the ninth that prompted dreams of a cooling dip in inviting swimming pools as temperatures on the course began to rise.

The hole is a curving par-four that offers a good chance of a score. Once again, Mrs. W grabbed the opportunity.

The stellar homes re-emerge on the lovely 11th, a short par-four that bends sharply to the right up to a green protected by huge bunkers.

I’m not sure that the silent monks would appreciate the noise on the 12th tee overlooking the Estoril racetrack which formerly hosted the Formula One Grand Prix.

Cars were zipping around at full throttle during our visit making it a memorable sight even though I would have benefited from ear defenders.

Meanwhile, once full concentration is established, the par-five is a good one, weaving between its nine bunkers up a narrow fairway.

The sight of the green is completely blocked by traps and requires expert judgment to threaten the flag.

It is followed by the need for strategic thinking on the 13th and 14th, dogleg par-fours on which sand is once more a key factor.

The long par-three 15th caused more loud pleas to the heavens as my drive over water looked destined for the target but this time they were ignored and the ball thudded into the bank of the pond about a yard short.

While the sixth may be the most photographed hole on the Atlantic course, many might argue that the 16th is better.

It requires a drive down through trees and colourful blooms, followed by a tough approach past sand traps to a green also protected by a slope on its right-hand side.

The par-five 18th is also very picturesque, framed by the clubhouse and hotel and presents a chance of belated glory.

It turned out to be my best hole of our round.

The service and surroundings in the clubhouse were impeccable as we devoured the elaborate local take on pizza.

They are rightly proud of gastronomy at Penha Longa Resort and if agronomy was given the same attention, the combination of food and golf would be the talk of Europe.

The course has the layout, it just needs finesse.

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