This is one of the more unique and incredibly dramatic opportunities that a golf course architect can be given – a free hand with a tumbling dunescape site set against the Atlantic Ocean. Arthur and I collaborated on this design beginning in 1997, and after days of tromping over and through the site and producing countless routing plans, we selected our best configuration - a continuous out and back arrangement not unlike most links courses in the British Isles.
The site is quite narrow and long, begging of the out and back 9’s. Some have pegged the site as having characteristics of Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Pinehurst all rolled into one, homogeneous whole. I’m not sure if that is an accurate depiction, but it is a nice complement and the unique site certainly provides a unique setting with plenty of variety in for the holes. While dramatic in the dunes, the site is rather subtle otherwise…gently sloped, but also rugged.
Like most seaside courses, Oitavos was built on a site with inherent sensitivities. Unique Iberian umbrella pines are grouped throughout, along with broom, madronia and numerous varieties of grass and indigenous plants (some of which are endangered). Along with the flora are the constantly moving sand dunes – deposits from wind erosion from the nearby surfing paradise of Guincho Beach. And beneath it all? Rock – and lots of it! In fact, rock was the primary surface make-up of the site, even under the sand dunes. For this reason, it took two long years to construct the course.
This Portuguese version of links golf rumbles along at the pure whimsy of the natural landscape and the marvelous dunes. The golfing experience is one with variation – it sort of ebbs and flows like a piece of music, always with small tastes of what lies ahead, but without giving it all away. In fact there are vantages of the Atlantic from at least one spot on every hole, but never the total focal.
Some have criticized the course for not being bold enough – not all that special – even plain. And there are, in fact, parts of the course that are purposely benign, much due to the nearly omnipresent NW winds off the water. When the wind is up (which is often enough) this resort course becomes a bear. In fact, there are only 43 bunkers on the course, and the majority of them face south, just to protect them from the winds and to save errant shots on the outward holes. The fairways are generous where need be (hardly any rough) – many of them offer shared access with adjacent holes to provide ample bailout areas and opportunities to take a less direct line to the hole (which is sometimes an advantage in the wind). But rest assured that Oitavos is a fair but firm test in the wind – and five years of European Tour events have proven that. It is also very playable – as a resort course should be.
The course is not without some oddities – as the layout features back-to-back par fives at #’s 7 and 8, a unique, drivable par four at #11 and successive par threes at #14 and #15. The 14th sets atop the dunes and plays into the teeth of the strong, prevailing wind, toward the distant Cabo da Roca lighthouse (the western-most point in Continental Europe), framed perfectly behind the green. The 15th follows, but in the opposite direction of the 14th, with the aid of the wind and contrastingly set into an amphitheater of surrounding dunes.
I’d be kidding if I said Oitavos was not one of my favorite courses. It’s a special place (as a golf course and as a destination) – and obviously a golf course that I have wholly invested my time and efforts into from its inception and beyond. And like with any architect ( and I’m no different) – I think the course can certainly be improved. Yet, some believe it is among the best courses in Continental Europe, and based on my experience I might be inclined to agree with them on that point. Others state that it is among the best courses in the world…. and my response is, “to each his own”. Some describe Oitavos Dunes as an example of true “minimalist” architecture - perhaps it is. I’m not sure there really is a true description or a coined style we can tag, but I am quite certain of one thing: we built exactly the sort of course our client wanted, and we executed with great care and responsibility in respecting all the inherent sensitivities. It is a course that now sets the bar on new course development in Portugal, and perhaps elsewhere in the world. We’re all very proud of that. At the time of its opening in 2001, it was only one of two Audubon International Gold Signature courses in the world. So, If some wish to crown it among the best in the world – that’s great. But in actuality, the course means much more than that to me.
Oitavos Dunes is partnered alongside a spectacular 5-star resort hotel, The Oitavos, which opened in 2010, all within the spacious confines of Quinta da Marinha Original. The resort is located just outside of the seaside fishing village of Cascais, and just a 30-minute drive from the Lisbon airport.
Photos by: Aidan Bradley
Links Magazine 'Real Time' Top 10 in Continental Europe (#5)
Best New Course in Europe by Golf World International
Top 100 Courses in Europe by Golf World International (#33)
Top 50 Courses of the Last 50 Years by Golf Magazine (#47)
Top 100 Courses in the World by Golf Magazine (#55)
Audubon International Certified Gold Signature Sanctuary (1st in Europe)
Estoril Portuguese Open (European PGA Tour event) in ’05, ’07 – ‘09
“I have had the pleasure to know and work with Drew since 1997 when we started to develop Oitavos Dunes. Drew’s passion, technical knowledge, commitment and cooperative sprit were fundamental in positioning Oitavos Dunes among the best golf courses in the world.”
- Luís Silvério, CEO – Quinta da Marinha, Portugal
"I've come across few golf courses that offer such remarkable variety and scenery. I have come across even fewer courses that provide so many enticing shot demands, both for Tour players and the rest of us."
- Joe Passov, Senior Editor Golf Magazine (Travel/Course Rankings)