Philip Mackenzie Ross, the former design partner of Tom Simpson, is given architectural credit for several Portuguese courses that were fashioned in the 1930s – including, Vidago Palace and Miramar – and he was also responsible for the remodel of Jean Gassiat's original 9-hole layout (formed in 1929) and the addition of new nine holes at Estoril in 1945, the year that the club was founded. He was then invited back to lay out another nine holes (today's Blue course) a decade later.
One of the most historically important golf clubs in the country, Estoril was instrumental (along with Oporto, Miramar and Lisbon Sports Club) in establishing the Portuguese Golf Federation in 1949 and the club then hosted twenty editions of the national Open championship, from its inception in 1953 until the final one at this venue in 1987.
The modern day layout still extends to 27 holes, with tight fairways positioned on either side of the A5 highway. Only one hole was lost to construction when this road was built – replaced by the current 13th – on a rather hilly but also rather short course, where a lack of length is largely due to having only two par fives on the scorecard, at holes 5 and 10.
Holes of particular distinction on the front nine include the par fours at the short downhill 3rd and right doglegged 9th. On the back nine, the 359-metre left doglegged 14th is another terrific hole, whilst the 179-metre 16th is rated by some as one of the best par three holes in the country.
William fforde, in The Pocket Guide to Golf Courses Spain & Portugal, sums up Estoril in the following way: “Full of history and not to be underestimated, a relatively short, pretty, tree-lined course, whose narrow fairways and subtle, often hard-to-find greens require careful tee shots, and more.” Estoril may never make the upper reaches of the Portuguese golf course rankings, but that shouldn’t deter the more intrepid golfing connoisseur from seeking out its undoubted charms.
The course lies a couple of kilometres inland from the still rather grand Palacio Estoril Golf & Spa Hotel, where the fairways occupy a hilly site which is divided by six lanes of a main road. In order to get from the front nine to the back nine, you have to cross this busy highway via a wide, curving pedestrian bridge that takes you over the traffic thundering past below.
It’s all very old school here, with a lovely old clubhouse at the centre of things, and as you walk up to the first tee, there’s a plaque displaying the dates that the Portuguese Open was played here (1953-1972, 1974 and 1987), a reminder of when this was once one of the top tracks in the country before Henry Cotton and Penina in the Algarve changed the natural order of things in the late 1960s.
Unlike the last reviewer who preferred the holes on the big wide loop that forms the bulk of the back nine (holes 9 to 16) on the other side of the A5, I preferred the more intimate holes grouped together on the front nine, particularly the little sequence from the 3rd to the 5th, swooping left and down into a valley then back up again to the 6th tee with a tough, almost straight uphill, par five.
On the inward half, I really loved the par three 13th, played across a deep gorge to the green, but the other par three on the back nine at the 16th was a bit of a disappointment, with the cart path from the tee running right through the middle of the fairway – even the huge greenside swales by the putting surface couldn’t quite redeem the architectural merit of this hole.
I also quite liked the final two short par four holes, back on the clubhouse side of the road. The first one plays slightly downhill and left off the tee, the second rises steadily up and right towards the large home green next to the clubhouse. Rated stroke index 18 and 16 respectively, these holes present a decent birdie opportunity and the chance to finish with a real flourish.
Estoril may be lacking in length at less than 6,000 yards but there's certainly no shortage of well designed and challenging holes. Although the course is somewhat hemmed in by houses and a busy motorway which dissects the course, the visual impact is fairly minimal. There is plenty of undulating terrain here and combined with some tight tree lined fairways and small greens you may choose to leave your driver in the car.
The best hole on the front nine may well be the 3rd, an attractive downhiller where accuracy is everything. A well positioned tee shot is necessary to open up a tricky green that is surrounded by trouble.
I much preferred the back nine which has a number of fine holes, although it's fair to say that the two finishing holes are both a little weak. The stretch of holes from the lovely 12th, a short dogleg right to a raised green and the excellent long par-3 16th are very good indeed. Included in this stretch is possibly the best par-3 on the course, the stunning 13th. Played downhill over a vegetation filled valley, you simply can't afford to miss this green, short or to the right.
If you fancy a break from the championship length courses in the area then Estoril is well worth a look Brian W.