A couple of hours drive north from the golfing Mecca of the Algarve is the Lisboa e Vale de Tejo region of Portugal. Bordered in the east by the capital city Lisbon, in the south by the Tagus (Tejo in Portuguese) estuary and in the west and north by the Atlantic, this region is a wonderful place to visit with its lovely coastal towns, mountainous regions and beautiful lush countryside. Set amongst this landscape are the Sintra Mountains – part of the Sintra Cascais Nature Park, a spectacular backdrop for the Penha Longa resort.
The estate is situated in the southern foothills and covers a wonderful landscape of valleys, hills and rocky outcrops, all set in surroundings of green, almost equatorial vegetation, kept fresh and lush by the many lakes and rivers. In fact, the name Penha Longa translates as 'long rock'. Even though the resort has been developed to include 27 holes and a five star hotel, the area still maintains its beauty, charm and secluded feel.
There are two courses at Penha Longa, the true championship standard Atlântico, and the excellent 9-hole Mosteiro. The Atlântico, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr, opened in 1992 and received such acclaim that it played host to the Portuguese Open in 1994. The course winds its way up and down the hills around the south side of the clubhouse providing some of the most amazing views of the coastal towns of Estoril and Cascais and the blue waters of the Atlantic. The lush vegetation borders many fairways and where it doesn't, Trent Jones has used the contours wonderfully to create interest, excitement and challenges at every shot. But even though we're in Southern Europe, it can be remarkably cold, even in mid-summer, so if you're planning an early start, remember your jumper.
The Atlântico is challenging on a still day, but when the wind blows across the mountains, the course becomes a real test and even the best struggle. So much so, that winner of the 1999 Estoril Open, Jean-Francois Remesy, was the only player under par, and he only managed to break par by two shots. Unlike many courses in Europe, there isn't a single weak hole on the Atlântico course and certain holes will stick in your mind, bringing great joy and relief from a par or even bogey. Look out for the par five 6th, where the green is beautifully framed by the lake, with the backdrop of a medieval arched wall and castle tower. The par three 15th requires a 155-metre carry over water and, to make matters worse, it often plays straight into the prevailing wind. The 16th is the hardest hole on the course and requires a long drive across a valley and a solid uphill approach shot to a narrow green.
The Mosteiro 9-hole course was also designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. and opened in 1995. The name means 'monastery' and the course winds its way through the historical parts of the estate, providing the perfect complement to the championship Atlântico layout. Article by Mark Jeffrey
Penha Longa was my personal favourite of the five courses we played on our recent trip to the Lisbon coast. I really liked the variety of holes and changes of elevation.
The par 3s were all standouts. Two are from elevated tees hitting down to a green below. The other two are across, or beside water, with the 15th particularly demanding for us into the wind.
The 16th was probably the most memorable hole on the course. It’s great seeing a well-hit drive framed against the trees as it drops to the valley fairway below. Even with a good drive the green perched above is barely within reach for the second shot. I also liked the 11th, a dogleg right with out of bounds right and requiring an exacting mid/short iron to a raised green.
The greens had some sort of disease running through them but it’s pleasing to note from Jim McCann’s recent review that the club are addressing this as a matter of urgency.
Other courses in the area may appear higher in the rankings but I’d choose Penha Longa over the likes of West Cliffs and Oitavos Dunes every time. Well worth a visit.
The course guide describes Penha Longa as “a retreat of magnificent seclusion in the mystical Sintra hills… it blends luxury and class with history and nature to create an elegant and thrilling sporting estate” and I’ll not disagree with any of that statement as it’s a wonderful place to visit.
The Monastery 9-hole layout was a bit of a disappointment but I’m sure nearly all the golfers who play here are only interested in the main event, which is the Atlantico Championship 18-hole layout, host venue for three editions of the Portuguese Open in the mid-1990s and again in 2010.
The opening three holes occupy the same valley as the closing three holes and they’ve been crafted as short par fours to ease the strain of taking you away from the clubhouse and up onto higher ground. It’s never easy to achieve such an elevation change easily but it’s done very well here with these holes.
Fairway bunkers were under repair on the 4th and this was just one of a number of holes where new drainage and liners were being installed as part of an impressive refurbishment programme.
More importantly, all the greens on the course were affected by some sort of disease and I was told a new head greenkeeper had just been recruited with an immediate brief to sort out the damage on the putting surfaces.
After a spectacular drop shot par three at the 5th, the par five 6th and par three 7th lie on either side of an old Roman aqueduct, which provides one of the quaintest backdrops you’ll ever come across on a course. Fairways are then routed uphill and downhill away from the clubhouse until we reach the green on the par four 10th, the most southerly point on the layout.
The 11th is a lovely doglegging par four that runs along an escarpment to the right of the fairway, bringing us to another high point overlooking the famous Estoril racing circuit , where the Portuguese Grand Prix was held during the 1980s and 90s. The par three 15th is another highlight hole, played from an elevated tee across water with a generous bail out area to the right of the green.
The final three holes drop into the valley from where it all started a few hours earlier and this closing sequence kicks off with a fabulous par four (rated stroke index 1) that drops sharply down from the tee then plays up and right to an elevated, offset green. The par three 17th and par five 18th continue this downward trend towards the home green, allowing golfers to largely freewheel back to the clubhouse.
In summary, I can understand if somebody plays here at the moment and they aren’t too impressed by the current state of the greens. For me, I can see past conditioning issues to the architectural merits of the layout and I think this course is beautifully routed across a difficult property, with interesting design features on every hole.
The Atlantico first appeared in the Continental Europe Top 100 at #79 in 2014 but it’s gradually fallen down the rankings since then. It’ll be interesting to see if the ongoing bunker renovation work (and appointment of a new groundsaman) can revitalise the fortunes of the course in the next continental table that’s published early next year…
Just returned from a 4 day "all you can golf" stay at the Penha Longa resort. This little hilly course makes for a lot of fun. Little rough, stunning par 3s, reachable par 5's and and with risk reward par 4s, shot shaping.
Some of the bunkers were under reconstruction and the greens were ill with something that looked earely like Snow Mold(which I'm sure it wasn't).
It's a very playable and fun course that can setup completely different from day to day. Due to plantation and various teeboxes, some teeshots can be a dogleg left one day and dogleg right the other. I may sound "mickey mouse" but it isn't.
Course condition was a letdown - especially greens. Can't imagine the fun I'd have here if in immaculate condition though. Really liked the design, although a liiittle short.
Note: Range is a somewhat narrow uphill thing with a prevailing Atlantic wind from the left. Not fantastic if you're here to practice. (unless you're a lefty)
Desperately wanted to score the course higher but couldn't due to the condition.
Seems lockdown has done the course good. Everything was in much better condition than the 2019 reviews suggest and we really enjoyed the varying options of how to play many of the holes. 14 is a great hole with a challenging approach especially when the pin is towards the front. Great welcome, ice loaded into buggies etc despite a pre 8am tee off. So much better than Oitavos on every single criteria. We were even given an early bird rate despite having booked at full price!
I first played here in December, 1994 and then returned 20 years later. The first time was after a company meeting held in Lisbon and the second was during a company meeting held onsite. I did not see any conditioning issues during that visit 25 years ago but did notice some on the more recent visit such as the pathways were broken/uneven and there were some bare spots on the fairways. It would be a pity if the conditioning had slipped even further because it is a very pleasant resort course to play.
I did like the Championship/Atlantic course at Penha Longa but it was mainly for the hotel, the grounds around the hotel, the view and noise of the nearby Formula 1 race track, and the beauty of the Sintra area. It is a lovely hotel that sits above the golf course which winds its way through some lower terrain around the bottom of a couple of hills and ravines. But we don’t rate hotels, we rate the course.
The scenery is very pretty as you make your way around the golf course and up some hills and down some hills. There is a very pretty view of the stone aqueduct and stone tower behind the sixth hole along with the pond to the right of the green of 486/472 which plays as a par 5. On the next hole, the stone wall is to your left and this par 3 seventh of 199/183 plays over a different pond. The scenery shifts a bit on holes 9-12 as you play around homes to the left of these golf holes.
In sum, while I think Robert Trent Jones, Jr. did a nice routing here, there were no holes that I thought were really special. I gave the course high marks for playability and for the quality of the layout having to deal with the hills. I walked the course the first time when I was younger and it was not that difficult but for some it would most definitely require a cart even if I did not feel I needed one during the more recent round.
The holes are built okay, with the bunkers are in the right places on the fairway but not as much a consideration nearer the greens. These are resort bunkers, not bunkers designed to be overly penal. The overall issue is that most of the holes are simply too short to present a real challenge to the good player. The par 5’s did not present a challenge at all and represented real birdie chances on all four of them. For me this is a course designed for indexes of 15+. Only holes, 4, 5, 16 -18 have any real length to them. The greens were fine, both is size and interest with none of them I recall as being particularly silly or consistently flat. You could read the breaks and you could trust the speed as they rolled consistently.
I would only recommend playing this golf course if staying at the hotel while recognizing that the hotel is the reason you are there, but I would also try to find out about the conditioning as well.
This was the third course on our trip, Troia, Oitavos and here. This is the most interesting of the three set in fantastic scenery with some great holes and amazing views, high tees and interesting shots to play. Sadly it has been badly let down by the owners. Off the whites the tee boxes were in terrible condition, the first has a slope so the ball will be three inches above or below your feet, the fairways would be scrubland on most courses and the greens are appalling, some teen boxes have 6 inch weeds growing out of them and some places on the fairways have no grass on them at all. I have played municipal courses around England in much better condition. This is potentially a great course rendered almost unplayable by the condition. If it was looked after this would easily be top 5 in Portugal, sadly it is not.
Penha Longa Resort is located in the beautiful Sintra Mountains north of Lisbon. The resort includes 27 holes of golf and a luxury hotel (The Ritz-Carlton). Robert Trent Jones Jnr was the architect (one of my favourite designers). The championship course (holes 1-18) is called The Atlantic Course, and opened in 1992, hosting The Portuguese Open in 1994.
Set high in the hills, the course moves through some severely undulating terrain, opening with a few holes in the valleys, and then a number along ridges. The bones of the course are very good, but the overall conditioning was poor. Concrete cart paths were broken and almost undriveable, fairways were patchy and bunker edges overgrown and needing attention.
However there are some excellent holes; 5, 6, & 7 are classy and the two par 3’s in the back nine (15 & 17) are good holes. Perhaps I visited the course out of season, but my impressions were that it was a quality course that was looking tired.
The other 9 holes at Penha Longa – The Monastery nine – opened in 1995. It is not of the same standard as the Atlantic Course. The design and presentation are basic in comparison. Presumably it was built as an executive nine?
Penha Longa is a mountainous site, and the course is a tough walk. You might want to take a cart! Trent Jones has fashioned a good course in difficult terrain, and the quality of his design shines through. In season, and in good condition it would definitely be a nice complement to the likes of Oitavos Dunes & West Cliffs in golfing itineraries.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I so looked forward to play this course. Played twice June 2019 once with no wind and once with swirling winds. What a difference. Enjoyed the location and the course but the tee boxes were poor and the greens were an utter disgrace. There are obviously a lot of high quality villas around the course and the resort does not look like it is short of a few bob. Honestly I don't think I have seen worse greens in Portugal and for a course that is so highly rated I was shocked. Sadly I will not return.
Resort golf that is very high class. Things run real smoothly here.
The course starts and finishes with its best holes (1-4 and 15-18), and they are indeed stunning mountainous holes. I often found myself staring at the mountains during the first holes, and wondering how I got in this tropical part of Africa, almost expecting to see Gorillas walk out onto the course, that’s how fantastic the mountains look…remember the movie Gorillas In The Midst?. The other holes are not quite as good, but the view of the Estoril race track is quite neat.
As most hilly courses, you will need to aim at the flat parts of the fairway, off the tee, to have an easier approach shot to the green. So strategy is of the essence.
Greens seem quite difficult, but they were so over-watered that they were almost unplayably slow (August). Keep in mind, that August is the low season for this part of the greater Lisbon area.
Golfer info : a tiring course, as it is quite hilly, so you may think of driving a cart
Golfer info 2 : the practice (range and greens) area is one of the best I have seen in a long time, and definitely the best in the area
A very different course from the others in the area, so I would recommend playing it
One final note : ask to take a tour of the this old convent
Penha Longa has had a few conditioning issues in recent years but at the time of our recent visit the course was in good condition throughout. This is a hilly layout and when the wind blows, which is not unusual in these parts, this can be an exacting test. About half of the holes are routed through trees, some are tight, most undulating and all good. The other more open holes have a couple of lakes to contend with and are in the main well bunkered. All four of the par 3's are challenging and fun to play. The 5th and 17th are picturesque drop holes whilst the 7th and 15th are well guarded by water. The 15th in particular with a carry of 170 yards over a lake into a stiff wind was a real brute. Of the longer holes the 6th, a short par-5 with a medieval viaduct backdrop, will tempt you to take on the water short of the green if you get a good drive away. The back nine gets better as it progresses although the tee shot on 11 is nothing short of brutal with a left to right wind. Doglegging to the right and uphill for 390 yards anything right of the fairway will be swallowed up by impenetrable gorse. The short dogleg 13th and the difficult 14th are both made tricky by well positioned bunkers and are both good par 4's. The 16th is by some distance the most spectacular and demanding tee shot on the course. An accurate shot down to a narrow bunker strewn fairway is required before playing a long uphill approach to a green perched at the top of a bank and defended by a lone bunker. A very enjoyable course to play and a lovely modern clubhouse to relax in afterwards. Brian W