As the best British golfer of his technology and a three-time winner of the Claret Jug, Henry Cotton might deal with wind and chilly. However, by his later years, he’d had it with unhealthy climate. He purchased a spot in Portugal, the place he ate contemporary seafood, drank good wine and indulged his curiosity in golf design. In 1966, Cotton lower the ribbon on Penina, which wasn’t a world-beater, however was a watershed: the primary course within the Algarve, Portugal’s sun-splashed southern coastal area. A flood of golf improvement adopted, establishing the Algarve as a magnet for Northern Europeans — Iberia’s reply to Myrtle Seashore.
That’s been the picture of golf in Portugal ever since: Resort programs brimming with boozy Brits and Scandinavians on carts. It was actually the golf I heard about so much within the early Nineteen Nineties, after I spent a yr in Lisbon, instructing English to bored bankers. These bundle offers down south didn’t sound half unhealthy, however I used to be car-less, on a stingy funds, and the Algarve was three hours away. The Lisbon space, for its half, had a few good golf equipment catering to rich expats however little else. The lone spherical I performed was at a modest nine-hole observe I attempted to succeed in by bus, solely to wind up misplaced, wandering with my sticks down a cobblestone avenue, the place I met a kindly farmer who took me to the clubhouse on a mule-drawn cart.
Recollections! They appear like one other lifetime in the past. A lot has modified. As an illustration: Uber. Golf in Portugal is totally different too. It’s not all in regards to the Algarve anymore.
“Not a nasty spot, is it?” David McLay Kidd says. It’s a heat October afternoon, about an hour south of Lisbon, and the Scottish-born architect of Bandon Dunes is driving shotgun in my rental. He’s guiding me down unmarked roads by means of a rolling panorama of dunes and pines. We’re in a coastal space referred to as Comporta, which journey magazines have likened to the Hamptons, owing to its reputation with well-to-do beachgoers. The distinction is it by no means had golf.
That modified, in a hushed manner, two summers in the past, when Discovery Land, the private-club community identified for its Tom Fazio programs and fancy consolation stations, accomplished Costa Terra, just a few clicks down the coast. Candy spot, however members solely. The larger Comporta golf information entails the person in my passenger seat and his first-ever design in continental Europe: the Dunas Course at Terras da Comporta. We’re pulling as much as the bag drop now.
Like lots of right now’s marquee golf locations, the place has an understated, upscale air about it. Clear-lined, blondwood clubhouse. Professional-shop counter that would go as a spa check-in. However its most essential minimalist hallmark is the course itself. A brawny, lay-of-the-land magnificence, with broad fairways, ample greens and yawning sandy wastes.
It has been open to the general public since late-summer 2023, however Kidd has winged in to make it official. Tomorrow, earlier than a gathering of native dignitaries, he’ll smack a ceremonial shot and provides a captivating toast to kick off a scramble event. The gang will eat it up. Portuguese TV will cowl the event.
Right this moment, although, there’s time for a apply spherical. The tee shot on the par-4 1st gap provides a touch of what’s to come back. There’s plenty of leeway to the precise, however that leaves a poorer angle to the flag. The higher line entails a dangerous carry over sand. In its rustic look and the strategic choices, I see kinship with such different Kidd designs as Gamble Sands and Mammoth Dunes, on floor so pure for golf I can’t assist however marvel why there was no course right here lengthy earlier than.
“Imagine me,” Kidd says. “It was not for lack of making an attempt.”
Kidd’s efforts on the undertaking date to 2008, when he was introduced aboard, inheriting a routing architect Donald Metal had drawn 10 years earlier. He was desperate to get going, however calamities saved piling up. The ’08 financial crash put a halt on work, which resumed just a few years later, solely to stall once more in 2014, when the venerable Portuguese financial institution that owned the land went down in Lehman Brothers-like flames that singed monetary nerves all through the E.U. In 2017, a brand new proprietor took over at Comporta, however then the pandemic hit. A long time after its conception, the Dunas Course was lastly born.
Now, it’s slated to have a sibling, the Torre Course, a collaboration between Sergio García and José María Olazábal that has damaged floor close by, with a gap date nonetheless TBD.
As all of this was gestating in Comporta, the golf scene in and round Lisbon slowly matured. One notable addition was Oitavos Dunes, an early-aughts arrival that introduced a contact of hyperlinks to the tony seaside city of Cascais. Then there have been the doings barely farther north. A day earlier than I breezed down from Lisbon to Comporta, I made the same size drive in the wrong way from the capital, up the Costa da Prata, or Silver Coast, which, like a lot else in Portugal, now not appears a secret. Strung alongside the water right here, backed by cliffs that bring to mind the bluffs of Torrey Pines, conventional fishing villages double as surf cities, with all of the attendant cultural trappings. On restaurant menus, take your decide: bacalhau or quinoa burgers.
Golf within the space is clustered round Praia D’El Rey, a resort with an eponymous seaside course that Cabell Robinson designed in 1997. Right this moment, its neighboring layouts embrace Royal Obidos, by Seve Ballesteros, and West Cliffs, which Cynthia Dye (Pete’s niece) completed in 2017, after laboring on the undertaking for nearly so long as Kidd did on Comporta.
Dye refers to West Cliffs as “my child.”
“It’s not typically you get to work proper by the water, so it’s particular,” she says.
West Cliffs is linksy, and ocean views abound. Cup your ears on the again 9 and you’ll hear the waves. The opposite soundtrack is development: giant houses bobbing up at a powerful clip.
A lot cash has been pouring into Portugal that the federal government just lately tweaked its tax code over considerations that overseas funding was sending property values out of attain for the locals. Actual property costs have soared, but the golf stays a relative cut price. On my morning spherical at West Cliffs, I’m paired with three buddies-tripping German broheims whose flamboyant neon fashions distinction with their no-nonsense demeanor.
“This place is nice worth,” certainly one of them, an engineer named Ule, tells me. What he and his friends paid in inexperienced charges he can’t recall, since their golf and rooms had been bundled. “But it surely was perhaps 60 euros. You may’t get something near that at residence.”
The Dunas Course expenses roughly thrice as a lot. In its planning and branding, the developer behind it’s going for laid-back luxe, with a blueprint that guarantees low-density, eco-conscious actual property on the encircling coastal land. The goal market continues to be continental Europe, however the hope is to draw extra American golfers, who make up a small fraction of rounds performed in Portugal.
Out on the course, Kidd and I’ve reached the sixteenth gap, a drivable par-4 the place the potential payoffs elevate the prospect of sandy punishment. It’s find-your-ball enjoyable on a structure meant to play agency and quick, the kind of golf for which individuals journey far lately.
It’s not onerous to image stateside golfers hopping on a aircraft and escaping, Henry Cotton–like, to heat, coastal climate. A six-hour flight from New York and a fast drive from Lisbon. Straightforward. Although I wouldn’t wish to guess how lengthy it might take by mule.
Portugal, by the numbers
89 — Programs within the nation
38 — Programs within the Algarve
17 — Programs within the Lisbon space
25,739 — Common variety of rounds per course yearly