Vidago Palace was originally built as a summer retreat for King Manuel II, the last Portuguese monarch, but days before it was due to open in October 1910, a coup d’état precipitated the Portuguese First Republic and forced the King into exile in England.
The regally appointed building became a hotel instead and so, a hundred years later – following a €50 million restoration program over four years by Unicer, the Portuguese bottling company that owns the property – the hotel reopened on 6 October 2010, its centenary.
The original par 32 course that Philip Mackenzie Ross laid out within the hotel’s estate in 1936 was remodeled by the Cameron Powell design company during the refit of the hotel. This classic old 9-holer was reduced to six holes then a dozen new fairways added to create a new 18-hole championship course.
All the upgraded greens were increased in size from an average of only 200 square metres to over 600 square metres and they, along with the new putting surfaces, were constructed to USGA standard. The architects also retained existing paths and pink granite retaining walls wherever possible.
Such are the spectacular panoramic views from the elevated tees at the par five 17th (“Eagles’s Nest”), where the fairway drops from the highest to the lowest point on the course, that this hole has been described by some as the most striking in Portuguese golf.
Chris Powell and Bob Cameron seem satisfied with the results of their work here and they have been quoted as saying, “as with our earlier Mackenzie Ross project at Furnas in the Azores, we like to think we have managed to avoid imposing alien design characteristics onto this naturally beautiful and classic golf landscape. We have strived to retain the integrity of the original design and to reflect its aesthetics, playability and spirit. We just hope everyone will agree that we have managed to capture and instil the feel of a classic golf course for the 21st century.”Cameron Powell have built something of a reputation for breathing new life into old, fallow Mackenzie Ross golf courses. Make no mistake, Vidago Palace is a truly remarkable property and the newly remodeled course is the perfect golfing complement at this luxurious five-star resort.
This is a very interesting and enjoyable place to play. The dramatic hotel is a backstop for a course full of contrasts. The opening holes include two incredibly narrow challenging par fives threaded through mature trees and culminating in difficult greens. These are presumably some of the original nine holes designed in the 1930s. From the 5th tee the course opens out and is set in a beautiful valley. The closing four holes are dramatic golf holes with two extraordinary par fives played from very high tees, a very demanding uphill par four 16th and a long downhill par three to finish.
A buggy is very useful for the Disney ride that is the conclusion of this course. My wife and I really enjoyed the course.
Vidago Palace may be a little bit off the beaten track for anyone visiting the more famous golf destinations in Portugal but it's well worth searching out if you are in the north of the country. The rather grand hundred-year-old hotel is the first thing you see on arrival and although the course is not nearly as old or impressive, it's certainly very enjoyable.
On the front nine I particularly enjoyed the well defended par three 3rd and the picturesque par five 4th, which has a number of well positioned bunkers and a stream angling across the fairway. The par four 9th is another quality hole with the same stream coming in to play once again. As with most holes here, there are numerous bunkers to avoid before reaching the sanctuary of the green which is nicely positioned amongst mature trees.
Although the back nine offers up four short par fours, they all offer a different challenge and I found this to be the more interesting half by far. The last four holes in particular are very good. The 15th is a wonderful rolling par five, followed by the extremely tough 16th which is uphill all the way as it doglegs left to a severely contoured green. Don't miss the spectacular back tee on the 17th which offers breathtaking views down the tree lined fairway and beyond.
The hole tumbles sharply downhill and a degree of caution is needed here to stay out of trouble. The 18th provides us with a memorable finish playing from another huge stone-clad tee. Although I'm not generally a fan of par three's measuring 220 yards, this is a good looking hole with a large but heavily bunkered green. Brian W
Vidago Palace lies quite a bit away from the more well-known Portuguese golfing hot spots to the south but don’t let its comparatively remote location put you off if you like playing your golf in more out of the way places as there’s an excellent road system that links it to Porto, the nearest big city.
Six of the tighter, tree-lined fairways of the original 1930s course have been supplemented with a dozen modern, more open holes at Vidago and this combination of old and new offers an engaging 18-hole test of golf.
A stream protects the front of the par three 3rd hole and this same water feature is brought into play at a number of other holes on the front nine, running either alongside or cutting across several of the fairways. I’m not a big fan of sharp, almost 90 degree, uphill doglegs and there are two of these on the back nine at the 11th and 16th - though I have to say the latter hole is somewhat redeemed but an audacious, severely-contoured green which really tickled me when I thought of some of the wicked pin placements that a masochistic greenkeeper could set.
The bent grass greens on the course were perhaps a little slower than some of my playing companions would have liked in terms of putting speed but there was no denying the outstanding quality of these putting surfaces.
I understand one of the new holes on the course had to have a substantial amount of rock removed to accommodate the extension of the course and these large stones have been put to good use throughout the course, forming visually impressive retaining walls on tee boxes at every single hole.
The golfing element at Vidago Palace doesn’t quite match the 5 star quality of the hotel - not many courses would, actually - though it’s certainly worth a very solid 4-ball mark.