Oitavos Dunes Review
Before I arrived at Oitavos Dune Golf Club, it would be fair to say my expectations were extremely high. During my trip to Estoril’s fabulous golf coast, a collection of other European journalists and I had enjoyed the delightful Estoril Golf Club – the oldest course in Portugal – and the sublime Penha Longha, a course that immediately entered my European top five. And yet, despite the beauty and quality of those two layouts, there was a simmering sense of anticipation and a profound sense of excitement about what lay in store.
Oitavos Dunes was ranked 68th in the world by Golf Magazine it its most recent rankings, and second best in mainland Europe. In truth, it didn’t quite reach such lofty heights in my estimations, but I suppose that’s inevitable when a course is held in such high regard by everyone who’s been fortunate enough to play it. Still, make no mistake, Oitavos Dunes is an absolutely fantastic golf course.
Designed by Arthur Hills, a man responsible for only two tracks outside of the USA, the course manages to seamlessly combine elements from links, woodland and parkland layouts. In my view, the overall standing of a golf course comes down to five principle factors: design quality, variation, conditioning, scenery and feel. Oitavos Dunes possesses all of these characteristics in abundance.
The front nine appears in two distinct parts, and gently merges from a narrow, tree-lined track to an open, wind-exposed layout in the space of a few holes. The overriding sensation on the first few holes is one of tranquillity and seclusion, but, by the middle of the front side, the course opens up to present almost endless expanses of luscious green grass and panoramas of the picture-perfect coastline.
The first four holes are akin to what you might find on a typical Spanish or Portugese hillside track, with scented trees lining narrow fairways and small, tiered greens well protected by humps, hollows and shrewdly placed bunkers. The opening hole, which turns slightly right and downhill towards a well-framed putting surface, is a beautiful start, and the par-3 3rd – a relatively long hole with a three-tiered kidney-shaped putting surface - is the first of a truly exceptional set of par 3s.
From the fifth hole onwards, the course opens up to reveal the full beauty of the Oitavos locale. The fifth and sixth are good par 4s, but the best hole on the front nine is arguably the par-5 8th – a second consecutive three-shotter that often plays directly into the prevailing wind. Drives are hit to a slightly raised fairway that bends round to the right, with trees left and a steep, shrubbery-strewn bank to the right. Second shots are played to a second portion of fairway that sits noticeably below the first, with the short grass jutting out further right to give a range of positional options. If you negotiate the first two stages effectively, you’ll still be left with a long iron (if the wind is into your face) to a small green that’s wonderfully enclosed by precipitous dunes. It’s a fine long hole which requires concentration, course management and execution in equal measure.
After the 8th, you walk over a ridge to the par-3 9th. It’s not the best short hole I’ve ever played, but the setting is sublime. Look left from the raised tee and you’ll see sun glinting off the Atlantic Ocean; look into the distance and you’ll see a picturesque headland and clouds enveloping the gorgeous Sintra Mountains. You need a good couple of minutes to take in the scenery before hitting your shot to a green that sits considerably below the level of the tee.
Arthur Hills and his team deserve great credit for fashioning a number of exciting holes that sit seamlessly within the natural landscape. The back nine at Oitavos possesses great variation, and the 10th and 11th are a fitting example of this. The former is a long, uphill par 4 that runs parallel to the coastline. A towering dune flanks the left side of the fairway and out of bounds runs all down the right, creating a daunting picture as you stand on the tee. After a good drive, you’ll still be left with a mid iron to a green that is very hard to hold, thanks to its position some 50 yards above the short grass.
Par is a great score on the 10th, as it is on the 11th – which is more than 100 yards shorter than its predecessor. The green is in range for the longer hitter, but the fairway bottlenecks towards the putting surface and out of bounds frames the right of the hole. Many will choose to play safe with an iron, but the fairway filters down to the left, leaving a blind approach over several humps to a severely sloping green with multiple run-off areas. It’s a brilliantly designed hole with huge character and numerous challenges, which offset its meagre yardage.
The term unique is often misapplied or too easily dished out when it comes to golf holes, but the 14th at Oitavos Dunes really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Some people feel this is the best par 3 in the world, and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that, I do agree it’s an absolutely magnificent hole. Tee shots are hit over a huge gully and through a small channel created by two enormous sand dunes, with a view of the coastline and mountains in the background. The green itself is small, and protected right by a wall of sand and left by a collection of trees. It’s one of the toughest short holes I’ve played, but nothing – even a blob - can detract from the quality of the 14th.
From there, the course takes in another short par 3 and a par 5 before reaching a climax with two wonderful yet treacherous par 4s, which both play more than 430 yards from the back tees. It’s a fitting end, and indicative of a difficult golf course that boasts beauty, exemplary design and variation in equal measure. Whilst I don’t rate this course as highly as some, there can be no denying that it’s a fantastic layout. Overall, I’d give Oitavos Dunes a rating of 8.5/10.
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|Oitavos Dunes Golf Club
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