West Cliffs 10th green.
There were original plans to have a course at Praia D’El Rey more than 40 years ago, but the project did not come to fruition until an English investor took over the project and started selling property and developing the golf course, using the renowned architect Cabell Robinson. The course opened for play in 1997, the five-star Marriott hotel being built in 2004. The huge global meltdown of 2008 eventually took its toll on the original investor and Oxy Capital, a Portuguese investment company, took the reins in 2014. They were already investing in high-quality hotels and took advantage to add the second course at West Cliffs to the original investment. They had a tight timeframe to build the course, as the strict planning rules required it to be built by 2017, otherwise the planning permission for it would lapse.
Construction of the new course started in 2015, with it finishing in early 2017. Despite its stunning beauty, there are more rounds played on the original course than on West Cliffs. Members - who can play both courses for the very reasonable annual fee of €2,000 - play almost three times as much golf on the Praia D’El Rey course than at West Cliffs. This is because it is easier to walk and much easier to play. Property development at West Cliffs is limited to single-storey villas on holes one, three, four and six, with absolutely no construction on the back nine. There will be a total of 340 dwellings in the completed project and most of these, together with a new hotel, will lie behind the course, giving unrivalled views across the course to the Atlantic.
Both of the courses have fantastic greens which are as fast as anywhere in the world. The resort is being advised by leading agronomist David Bataller, the head greenkeeper at PGA Catalunya in Spain. The greens are now regularly micro-tined at least twice a month with a new double-tine system providing a smooth, unblemished, yet highly perforated surface which allows for a peroxide treatment that effectively dissolves any thatch building up below the surface. This has allowed the greens to be completely free from hollow coring, which previously had required the courses to give discounts and disappointment to those visiting during the affected period. The putting surfaces on both the original course and West Cliffs are hard and firm, yet receptive to well-struck shots, and normally run at 11-plus on the stimpmeter.
West Cliffs Golf Links, to give it its full title, is a rare example of supreme links design. It is a joy to play, it is a joy to walk around and it is a joy to remember. The course nestles in a very special piece of natural coastline covered with sand, rich in flora
and fauna: if there were no golf holes here it would still be an exceptional place to visit. As a golf addict, there is no better place to get your fix. To be clear, there are thousands of good golf courses in the world, hundreds of great golf courses, but only a few dozen that marry up with the quality of West Cliffs.
There is a subtle difference between a golf links and a designed golf links. The natural golf links has had virtually no construction work, which accounts for their seemingly eccentric green shapes and asymmetric features. Their beauty and charm is created by the wind, the rain and the tide over thousands of years of pushing the sand dunes this way and that. They are formed in a scatter of wind tunnels with lapping tides and rain chiselling soft features over the years. It is only recently in the age of sand dunes that man has decided to play golf and even during this tiny period of evolution the dunes have been known to shift.
Of the modern courses designed in a links landscape, many have moved large parts of the ancient landscape to accommodate a viable golf course. This is not the case with West Cliffs. The golf course was designed by Cynthia Dye, a me
mber of the world famous Dye Designs Group. She has long been a fan of links golf, having grown up in the remarkable Dye family; her uncle Pete Dye recently passed away, but the essence of gentle adaptations to already fascinating landscapes can clearly be experienced at West Cliffs.
Cynthia Dye elaborated:
“West Cliffs is one of the most natural golf courses I can ever think of. Its location is superb. We only had to model a little to place the greens, according to the limits of the grass-covered area. The golf course was already waiting for us. One of the main architectural marks of the golf course is the bunkers with different and uneven perimeters, mixing and interacting with native vegetation. It is a fantastic experience for all players.”
The Portuguese government is one of the leading environmental administrations in the western world. They have delightful natural parks and huge areas of land preserved as nature reserves up and down their glorious coast. In the past they have seen many courses built, particularly in the Algarve area, and not all of these paid strict attention to the needs of the natural environment. In recent years the government has tightened up considerably on new course development, particularly in areas of outstanding beauty such as is seen at this resort. The concerns of the environmentalists have been fully addressed at West Cliffs, with even the buggy paths being made of sand. This provides a very natural feel, whilst also using existing materials to assist golfers and greenkeepers with their progress around the course.
Francisco Cadete is the golf director and runs the operations of both courses. He spoke to Golf Features:
“I love my job here. Previously I was a money broker, but I have been working here since 2004. I have an excellent team who are all committed to delivering superb service. There are 31 greenkeepers split across both courses and another 30 staff running the various activities in the clubhouse. The members, visitors and staff are all a pleasure to deal with and we are very pleased with the results of all the investment that have been made in the courses over the last few years. I have the perfect job, even though I have to drive an hour each way to get here.”
Praia D’El Rey golf course is located just 5km away from West Cliffs and opened in 1997. It is close to the Marriott hotel, which bears the same name. The hotel, which was originally built in 2004, was comprehensively refurbished after Oxy Capital took over; it reopened in 2017 and is effortlessly stylish and provides superb accommodation for all its visitors. With such a stunning location, it is no surprise that visitors linger in the bar luxuriating in both the surroundings and the dramatic view of the Atlantic.
Praia D’El Rey’s championship course is a glorious links experience with outstanding views over the Atlantic Ocean, set amongst extensive pine forest and undulating dunes. The par-73 layout was designed by the renowned American golf architect Cabell B.Robinson. There are five different sets of tees, all of which make for a good challenge, with the back tees being particularly brutal with most scorecards.
Like West Cliffs, Praia D’El Rey is rated amongst the top golf courses in Europe by Golf World Magazine and is one of Portugal’s major golfing destinations for both private and sponsored events. The course is a mixture of seaside links and parkland holes, defined by deep bunkers, sloping greens and sandy dunes, contrasting sharply with the lush fairways, making it the complete golfing challenge, offering the golfer a unique experience.
Located on the “Silver Coast”, the resort offers a wide range of activities from treatments at the Kalyan Spa, to a game of tennis or a visit to the health club. There are also plenty of activities to do in the area, including surfing, sailing, bike rides and mini tours. Located just one hour north of Lisbon, there are many good day trips to be had, including visiting Sintra and Obidos. Just a 20-minute drive away, Obidos is one of the finest examples of a Portuguese walled town, and is one of the best tourist destinations in the Lisbon region. It is a charming town to explore, with narrow cobbled streets, traditionally painted houses and an imposing medieval castle. Sintra is 19th century romantic town, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also well worth a day trip.
As with many such resorts, the cost of building such fabulous golfing spaces needs to be funded by the sale of real estate. In the ‘90s, when the plans were being made for Praia D’El Rey, the concerns of the environmental lobby were less, so a small town of multi-coloured villas and other properties surround most of the fairways giving the owners terrific views across the golf course to the Atlantic. For the new course at West Cliffs, there are several properties under construction on the front nine, all of which are low level, blending discreetly with the colours naturally found in this most beautiful of areas. All of the properties at both resorts are unquestionably high-end and, for those lucky enough to own them, will allow fabulous holidays for enjoying golf, the resort, the gorgeous beaches and all of the other delights of the area.
Green fees start at £41 off peak, rising to £73 in peak months, with deals available for those booking multiple rounds and combining rounds at West Cliffs. There are also very competitively priced golf packages that include golf at both courses, accommodation at the Marriott hotel and free access to the Health Club – take a look at their websites www.westcliffs.com and www.praia-del-rey.com.
If you are keen fan of golf, this is a location not to miss.