Golf Course Architecture - Issue 73, July 2023

54 COMPORTA course. If you’re lucky, from start to finish, five years might have elapsed. More likely you are ten or more years older than when you first thought about building a course. I hope you haven’t got so old and/or decrepit that your body will no longer allow you to play! Architect David McLay Kidd first came to Comporta, in the Portuguese region of Alentejo, an hour south of Lisbon, in 2008. He was hired, by the Espírito Santo banking family, one of the great business dynasties of Europe, to build a golf course on a huge site about a kilometre from the Atlantic Ocean. Kidd worked on the project for a year, and then things went quiet for a while. Three years later, in 2012, Comporta came alive again, and the course went into construction. By mid-2014, nine holes were completed and grassed, and the other nine were almost ready for seeding. “At the time, I was building the Beaverbrook course south of London, and one morning, I was sitting having breakfast with one of the owners of that club,” Kidd says. “He was reading the Financial Times, and suddenly he looked up from his paper and said to me, ‘You might want to read this’.” ‘This’ was an item in the paper suggesting that the Espírito Santo bank might be in trouble. Kidd flew to Portugal and sat down with his client, who assured him there was nothing to worry about. But at the end of June 2014, the bank collapsed with enormous debts, the product of some very dubious financial dealings. And with it went the Comporta development. The course sat there for six years, with the irrigation system still running – “they basically flooded it and cut it to four inches occasionally,” says Kidd – until it was acquired by leading Portuguese real estate developer Vanguard Properties. Vanguard has never previously had any involvement with golf, but CEO Jose Cardoso Botelho knew a good proposition when he saw one. Vanguard acquired the Comporta development in 2018 and made contact with Kidd to bring the golf course back to life. It needed a lot of work: the bunkers were completely overgrown, and there were trees growing through the tees. Kidd’s former staff shaper Conor Walsh, now an independent contractor, first came to the property in 2019 – by this point Kidd, now US-based, no longer had a Europeanbased construction operation – and work was just getting under way when, in early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Kidd, helped by Vanguard’s influence, was eventually able to get a permit to enter Portugal, but could The central bunker provides a target line for the drive on the par-four eleventh Photo: James Hogg “ The holes rear and fall across enormous valleys; it is the kind of property a golf architect dreams of”