The new West Cliffs course in Portugal, part of the successful Praia d’El Rey resort, was officially opened this week, with course architect Cynthia Dye McGarey hitting the ceremonial first drive.
The course, which lies a few miles north of Praia d’El Rey’s existing eighteen, designed by Cabell Robinson, occupies a dramatic piece of terrain, atop sea cliffs over the Atlantic. The ocean is in view from all 18 holes.
Dye said that the site was only partially sandy, necessitating capping a number of holes with mined sand. Highlights include the par three fifth, a shorter than usual version of the Redan template, with a green that slopes severely from front to back and the epic par five seventh, where golfers drive from a high tee down to a rolling fairway whose contours conceal a Hell’s Half Acre type of hazard that must be carried with the second shot if one hopes to get home in regulation figures.
Dye and her construction team – led by Benjamin Neves da Silva of Portuguese contractor ProGolf – managed to build the golf course while leaving much of the indigenous scrub vegetation intact. This adds to the property’s beauty, but does mean that missing a fairway into the scrub is a likely lost ball. There are other areas that had to be disturbed, and these have mostly been left as exposed sand.
The run of holes at the end of the round, which occupy the highest ground on the site, is particularly memorable. The par three sixteenth has most of its tees on a very high dune, but this same dune obscures part of the green from the lower, back tee (selective blindness is a major feature of the design at West Cliffs). The seventeenth is a mid length par four with a sharp dogleg around another high dune. Golfers who hit a strong drive should get a view of the green, set way below the landing area, but any sort of mishit will result in a blind second over the big dune. Finally the home hole is a long but steeply downhill par four. The drive, from the extremely elevated tees, is threatened by another big dune – golfers can go safely right of it, but then their second will have to be played over a lake and sand hazards, while the player who successfully takes on the dune from the tee has an unobstructed second.
Consensus opinion among media guests at the opening event was that West Cliffs was a fine design on a stunning piece of property, but there was concern over the unforgiving nature of some of the tee shots, and especially the severity of the native scrub areas. Nevertheless, a number of writers said they felt it was a strong contender for the title of Portugal’s best course.