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  • Neil White

Praia D'el Rey

Mist was lifting, dew was still on the ground and the ball nestled to within eight feet of the flag.

The only sounds were of waves crashing into the sea in the distance, a shutter creaking open and the groan as I missed my birdie putt.

We had asked to swap from an afternoon slot to an early morning round at Praia D’el Rey because of an apocalyptic weather forecast.

It turned out to be a very good move because the heavens opened as we were enjoying a post-game snack.

It meant that we remained dry as Mrs W earned a deserved victory on her birthday thanks to her consistent driving and on-point short game.

Praia D’el Rey earns high marks for service. They were very accommodating about the tee time change and when we arrived early, we were bumped up a further ten minutes.

And even though we arrived at 7.30 am in the clubhouse, we were made a sandwich to take on our round.

It felt like millionaires’ golf as we embarked on the straightforward opening hole, a bending par-four, easily reachable in two.

Little did I know, after a bang-on drive and sublime approach, that would be the best I would play all day.

After the gentle opener, the par-five second presents more obstacles with a tee shot over a bunker and water before it rises to a green surrounded by some of the smart properties on this plush resort.

The short third gave a clue to the problems to come. The dew had evaporated and the putting surface was revved up, so an adventurous first putt saw the ball slip eight feet past and a bogey ensued.

Mrs W and I prefer to push trollies around courses to help maintain our fitness but to do so around Praia D’el Rey would have been masochistic.

The distance from the clubhouse to the opening hole and the ride from the third to fourth prompts the feeling that one is touring the entire property.

I digress.

There are very contrasting stretches at Praia D’el Rey and from the fourth to the ninth is straightforward parkland but was where my round unravelled.

The fourth is a fairly innocuous hole with a slight bend between trees but I found sand with my approach and then, despite a smooth-ish clip from the sand could not hold the green.

A decent carry over lush vegetation is required on the par-five fifth but those who succeed with straight drives should score.

By now, it was clear that a sharp short game is essential at Praia D’el Rey because the greens are slick and undulating. Several times it seemed as if the ball was leaning towards the cup only to slide well past.

Meanwhile, many of the greens have false fronts, so can prompt indecision over club selection.

After a torrid time in the woods, my game needed resuscitation and found it, temporarily, on the eighth, a very short but rather lovely par-three over a pond on a far corner of the resort.

It is interesting that many YouTube videos of Praia D’el Rey begin on the 10th and those who play nine holes usually start there.

It was busy when we arrived at the tee, so had the great pleasure of joining a husband and wife who have a home on the resort.

The course has a completely different feel from this point onwards and has much more in common with its sister, West Cliffs.

The 10th leads the way with a par-five from a sheltered tee box to a wide fairway before an assault on a green defended by water to the front and right and a deepish bunker on the left. The properties overlooking the hole look sumptuous.

It is followed by a curious par-three uphill, lined by bushes with a sharp run-off to the left and three traps also protecting the flag.

The 12th suddenly elicits thoughts of Scottish links with the sea in the distance and a rolling fairway leading to an undulating green.

Sadly, a dab of mist was present for the fabulous trio of holes at the side of the Atlantic Ocean, so I was denied what would have been wonderful photos.

The 13th is a par-four requiring a carry-over seaside vegetation with three big bunkers lurking down the right. The fairway dips before rising again into another of those devilish putting surfaces.

It is followed by one of the most iconic par-threes in European golf with waves crashing into cliffs behind the target and evocative derelict out-houses to its left.

The inaccurate will find deep sand at the side of another fast-running putting surface.

The 15th completes the sequence – a par-four with sandy waste down its entire left side and bunkers and mound on the right before a steep descent towards the flag.

Praia D’el Rey’s long par-five 17th may have a case for being its best hole despite heading away from the sea.

Once again, it demands a carry-over scrub before turning left towards a startlingly narrow entrance to a green surrounded by sand and vegetation. There is so much that can go wrong, I was thrilled with a six.

At more than 400 yards, the 18th is a very stern finish, through trees off the tee before bending right to a plateau green where my short game finally disintegrated.

Overall, I found Praia D’el Rey a curiosity. Some holes, especially in the second nine, were belters but some in the opening half were a tad too similar for my taste.

Meanwhile, the greens were in great condition but there were some areas of fairway that needed a bit of attention.

If I am honest, I much preferred West Cliffs and Oitavos Dunes from this trip because they had more memorable holes.

During our post-match analysis in its high-quality clubhouse, our three-handicap partner said that he favoured Royal Obidos because of fairer bounces and greens that reward good approaches by holding the ball.

As I always say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there will be someone who would make a case for each of them.

Meanwhile, we could all agree that the stretch north of Lisbon is a cracking place to play golf.

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