I promise there is something for everyone in this post…
Even if you are not a golfer, I think you will still enjoy reading this. It is filled with beautiful pictures of an historic area with structures dating back to the 14th century, two gorgeous golf courses with great views, a few pictures and a video(!) of “the Pea” tossed in for good measure. If you are a golfer, you will enjoy all of that plus, I believe, appreciate some of the practical information provided. I’m pretty sure by the end of this post, you will be adding ’round of golf’ to your wish list when you visit.
As some of you know, Won loves to play golf. We were members of Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Far Hills, New Jersey when we lived in Chester. Won made very good use of his membership by playing nearly every day of the week (when the weather would permit), except Saturdays and Sundays – those were the days we would spend together because I was still working. For me, membership was more social and we ended up choosing Hamilton Farm to host the wedding of my son Matthew to his beautiful bride, Heather, in July of 2017. It brings back such happy memories…
The entire staff at Hamilton Farm loved Won – he knew everyone’s name and enjoyed bantering with them. He played the Hickory Course so often, they would teasingly ask him if it was OK if anyone else could play on it! Needless to say, it was a genuinely heartfelt parting on both sides when Won said goodbye to the wonderful team at Hamilton.
Immediately after we moved to Portugal, golf wasn’t a top priority. However, once we were more settled, it became a frequent topic of conversation. Plus, hearing how Won’s golf buddies back in the U.S. were having a great time playing over the summer meant that it was never far from his mind.
About a month or two ago, Won began talking more and more about joining a golf club. I was on the fence, though. I didn’t want Won to spend days each week playing while I was stuck by myself (we only have one car and COVID concerns make ride sharing and taxis less desirable right now). And, even though Sweet Pea is a wonderful companion, it is somewhat challenging to hold a conversation with her – she gets bored and falls asleep.
Over time I came to realize that Won really missed playing golf. After some discussion, we agreed on a mutually acceptable plan – he would play two days a week and save the rest for us to continue to explore and experience Portugal together. This plan also ensured I would have uninterrupted time to work on my blog while he was out on the course. A win win. With that resolved, his research kicked into high gear. [For those of you who are thinking, why don’t I just learn to play golf so we can be together? I’m not opposed to the idea; I have played a few times in the past. I’m just not ready to devote the time I will need to play even marginally well. Toss in the fact that my hand/eye coordination isn’t great (I swear the holes in a tennis racket are MUCH bigger than they look) and golf becomes a particularly difficult challenge for me. Then there was that time 12 years ago when I fell out of a golf cart and Won accidentally drove over me; but that’s a story for another time…]
Won first checked out a public/private golf club nearby called Clube de Golf do Estoril (Estoril Golf Club). This club is the closest to where we live so the convenience factor was high. Unfortunately, the clubhouse and course were old, and not in a good way. On the plus side, everyone who worked there was great. They were all really nice and helpful. Then he had the exact opposite experience when he checked out Campo de Golfe Oitavos Dunes (Oitavos Dunes Golf Course) – another public/private course about a 15 minute drive from where we live. Oitavos, pronounced oy-tah-vosh, has a fabulous new clubhouse and a great links course with stunning views of the Atlantic ocean, but the staff wasn’t very friendly making it a less enjoyable and, frankly, frustrating experience. Won theorized that they might be more focused on tourists as opposed to members due to its location in Cascais. After a lot of deliberation he decided it wasn’t a good fit for him.
He then learned about Penha Longa Atlantico from his massage therapist, Tania. She told him she had other clients who were members there and said they loved it. He started his research online and learned that Penha Longa (pronounced pen–ya long-ah, with a soft “p” sound) is located within the Sintra-Cascais 545-acre natural reserve and about a 15 minute drive from our home. The resort includes a Ritz Carlton hotel, six restaurants (including Midori, the only Asian restaurant in Portugal to be awarded a Michelin star), and two golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. (one 18-hole and one 9-hole). It sounded promising. Won drove over to check it out. He returned to tell me that he was really impressed, the people were great, and that membership was very affordable. After playing a complimentary round, he signed up. A few weeks later, Sweet Pea and I went to see it for ourselves.
For context, Penha Longa means “long rock” and dates back to 1355 when Friar Vasco Martins and his companions from the St. Jerome Order, built a monastery on the site. The monastery was converted to a palace and became a favorite retreat of Portuguese royal families in the 16th and 17th centuries due to the mild weather and good hunting in the area. During this period many beautiful adornments, some of which remain to this day, were added, including fountains, gardens, and water mills.
The original church was partially destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Construction on the current church was started in 1780 and completed around 1812. The reason it took so long to complete was because work progressed whenever funds were available to pay for it.
Unfortunately, the church and monastery/palace were closed due to COVID restrictions when I was there so I pulled a few images of the interior spaces and the cloister from the Internet to share with you (see below).
Even though we couldn’t go inside, the grounds around the church are really peaceful and lovely. We enjoyed our leisurely walk and Sweet Pea did her terrier thing – she had her nose to the ground nearly the entire time.
Right next to the church, and within view of the driving range, is the 16th century Jardims de Cerco (Cerco Garden) completed by Cardinal King Henrique that includes a small chapel built in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption.
We found a nearby map that outlined a few walking and biking routes, but we decided to just wander around. On our own, we discovered the 16th century Jardims das Damas (Ladies Garden) which was next to a modern day children’s playground that included a miniature golf course and a rock climbing wall. As we passed by the hotel we saw a large-scale outdoor chess game and refreshing pool to help keep guests entertained.
Just past the clubhouse and the first tee of the Atlantic Championship course, we reached the Jardim do Nuncio. The Jardim do Nuncio was built in 1552 by Papal Ambassador Pompeu Zambicario. The garden, surrounded by battlement walls, includes a chapel devoted to St. John the Baptist and has an enormous water tank which originally served as a natural mirror. I let Sweet Pea lead the way down and left her in a few shots just to give you some perspective of the size of this place. I also grabbed a photo from the internet to show you how the resort uses the space for special events. Nice!!
Fascinating history, Beth, but what about golf?? Excellent question!
Penha Longa Atlantico is one of the top 30 courses in Europe and considered a “forest course” (very similar to Hamilton Farm for those of you who are familiar with that location). Along with the requisite water features and sand traps, there are a lot of trees lining the fairways. The natural undulation of the course adds interest and challenge and requires bold and strategic play.
The course requires a minimum handicap to play; 28 for men and 36 for women. Won mentioned that he doesn’t get the same distance here as when he was playing in New Jersey. He theorizes the air is thicker and has nothing to do with his age or skill. (I’ll hold my tongue.)
Because the weather is so mild, you can play year-round. The area’s microclimate ensures there is a sufficient amount of rain so the courses are verdant. It also means that if you lose your ball in the rough it’s very difficult to find (you can’t say you haven’t been forewarned).
In the diagram below, you can see where the clubhouse, putting green, chipping green and driving range are in relation to the two courses (in the middle).
The 18-hole, par 72 Atlantic Championship course (which has hosted the Portuguese Open) and the 9-hole Monastery course provide different experiences and can be played as a continuous 27 holes if desired.
The Atlantic course leverages the natural contours of the land to great effect and has a superb flow. It is said that the Atlantic course is joyously unpredictable and truly exhilarating – escapist golf at its most memorable! The par-five 6th is a signature hole set beside a lake and a centuries-old aqueduct and castle tower. The par three, 15th is also memorable, involving a 176-meter (193 yard) carry over water with unpredictable wind. Once you’ve cleared that hurdle, the toughest hole on the course awaits at 16. You face a par four, 383 meter (419 yard) uphill shot with a dog leg to the right – blindfolded and in the snow – requiring a powerful drive over a lush valley. Ha! Just kidding about the snow!!
The 9-hole Monastery course is less undulated than the Atlantic Championship course making it more suited to players of all levels. But, don’t think that it’s easy; the course has fast greens and narrow fairways.
Here are a few images of the clubhouse and first tee of the Atlantic Championship course.
For all the American golfers, the distances referred to in the tee box signs are in meters – not yards, which is the case for all EU courses. For example, the 1st tee you see above is 335 meters which equates to 366 yards from the back. The total yardage for the Atlantic Championship course is 5,926 meters or 6,518 yards.
While I was taking pictures of the Jardims do Nuncio with Sweet Pea, Won mentioned he needed a bio break and walked back to the clubhouse to take care of Nature’s call. A little bit later, he rolls up in this…
Wonderful!! However, recalling that incident 12 years ago, we both agreed I would drive. Yee haw! Let’s go!
The courses are really pretty. There are beautiful water features…
…ancient structures that have been incorporated into the design of the courses…
…great views looking over Cascais and Estoril to where the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio Tejo meet…
…and well-maintained greens and fairways.
We had a great day scooting around Penha Longa. Sweet Pea even got comfortable in the golf cart – a very good thing because we learned that you can bring your dog with you on the course when you play (naturally, the dog must be well-trained). This means she and I might come along occasionally when Won plays the short course. Even if we don’t accompany Won while he plays, Sweet Pea and I can hike the trails on the property and then meet up for lunch on the deck above the clubhouse, which also happens to allow dogs. I’m starting to love golf…
As if that wasn’t enough to entice you to sneak into the country to play golf, as a part of Won’s membership, he receives three complimentary green fees in 2021 to share with guests, so whomever comes to visit first will be able to take advantage of that benefit.
Oh! And, before I close this post; for anyone who is not interested in playing golf there is still plenty to do at Penha Longa. In addition to hiking and biking trails, the hotel offers guided historical tours, jeep tours, wine and gin tastings, a cataplana workshop (used in traditional Portuguese cooking), and cocktail and mocktail workshops. They also have special programs for kids. If none of that appeals to you, there is always “The Chocolate by Penha Longa.” To learn more about that, click here. See? I promised you there would be something for everyone.
Until next time, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,