‘Opportunities such as this are rare’ Arthur Hills on Oitavos Golfe
Pressed hard against the pristine Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, the Oitavos Dunes golf course is part of the five-star Quinta da Marinha resort and residential development, 30 minutes west of Lisbon. Designed by American Arthur Hills, the course was developed by the Champalimaud family, who have owned the property for more than 100 years. Development was apparently part of the forebears plans from the outset here, and the planting of pines to stabilize these untouched sand dunes during the early days was done to aid the approval process and make the environment less fragile.
Essentially arranged in a single, large loop that doubles back on itself in several places, the routing at Oitavos is noted for its use of converging dunes, narrowing valleys and some exceptional coastal outlooks. The starting and finishing areas get nearest the Atlantic Ocean, but the best views and the best holes are out in the middle of the course where the golf is actually half a mile from the shoreline. Through this section the housing is less obtrusive, the fairways less enclosed by the pine trees and the coastal vegetation more abundant.
The design is also more sporty, with Hills unafraid to marry his fairway and green complexes, route consecutive short holes, embrace blindness and add steps and tiers to his putting targets. Not all of these features work as effectively as he would have wanted, but here is where the golfer gets closest to the linkslike character promised in the course marketing.
In order to enjoy Oitavos you’ll have to excuse a handful of awkward green-to-tee transitions and forgive a fairly tame opening stretch through the pine trees. The first hole to reach the memorable duneland is the impressive par five 8th, played initially across a soft rise and then down into a natural sandy amphitheatre. From here through the 16th designer Hills used a series of exposed sand dunes, bulging ridges and dramatic ravines to add to the Oitavos experience.
Better holes through this area include the uncomfortably narrow par four 10th, wedged between a large ridge and an OOB fence, and the excellent short 14th, played across a deep sandy depression and into a target saddled between further dunes. Each sits easily among the best few holes in Portugal. Equally worthy of note are the strong par four closing holes and the short par three 15th, tucked into a cosy dune nook. The driveable par four 11th is also memorable, for an elevated tee shot where golfers must choose to either attack another OOB fence or hit safely and watch their ball feed away from the pressed-up green site. This is one of a handful of holes that would have undoubtedly benefitted from a slight intrusion into the adjacent reserve land, and a green that wasn’t so cruel on the approaching golfer.
A real roller coaster from start to finish, Oitavos Dunes has done well in its short life to attract international attention and acclaim, given a number of obvious weaknesses and a handful of less than impressive golf holes. The Arthur Hills design isn’t near the standard of the best modern courses highlighted in this book, but the sea and mountain views are tremendous and the course comes recommended for its fun central holes and the sheer charm of the surrounding area.