What are the best link courses in Portugal and Spain?
There is undoubtedly something very special about links’ courses, for it was on the barren stretches of infertile land that literally links the mainland to the sea that golf began. Exposed, unproductive and no good for anything else, this sandy land was perfect for golf. It drains well, the humps and hollow create interest and the turf was delightfully springy. And, best of all, the mighty dunes provided a dramatic backdrop as well as some welcome shelter.
How these dunes were created is rather more complicated than you might think. Yes, the wind whistling in off the sea certainly played a part. But, curiously, the dunes were originally formed at the end of the Ice Age when the glaciers retreated. Finally relieved of the enormous weight, the sandy land sprung up and the towering dunes took shape.
Apologies for the geology lesson but it’s important to understand the process for it explains why, in Europe for example, true links courses are only found in the north where glaciers rumbled up and down. Further south, if the soil is sandy and the course is right next to the sea where the wind howls and the sand mounds up, it’s quite possible to create links-like conditions that are a perfectly acceptable imitation of the real thing. But purists might object to describing them as links.
Because it’s on the Atlantic where powerful winds blow in from the west, Portugal’s coastline is more likely to experience conditions suitable for the creation of links-like courses. The one that comes closest is Troia, the truly magnificent course on a peninsula just south of Lisbon. It enjoys the extraordinary luxury of having the sea on both sides and this Robert Trent Jones Senior layout is simply superb.
The comparatively new seaside course of West Cliffs on Portugal’s Silver Coast has a wonderfully natural feel and is somewhat exceptional in that it was designed by a woman, albeit a scion of the famous Dye family. In sensitively preserving most of the existing terrain, Cynthia Dye has done a remarkable job and produced a fabulous course.
Also on the Silver Coast is incredibly beautiful Praia D’El Rey. Here there are significant wind-blown dunes and gorgeous views out over the Atlantic. Like Oitavos Dunes near Cascais, it comes remarkably close to the real thing you’ll find, for example, in Scotland. But it’s so much warmer!
Only just over the border in Spain, there is the recently-upgraded Empordà Links in the golf-rich Costa Brava region, the always impressive Parador de El Saler – which has been built on the shores of the Mediterranean 18km from Valencia– and Parador de Malaga, the oldest course in Andalusia and venue for the 2010 Spanish Open.