Plans: everyone I speak to at Aroeira Golf has a plan.
Plans to tinker with the two tree-lined 18 hole courses; plans to tinker with the attached hotel; plans to attract more women golfers and plans to take advantage of being just 30 minutes from the centre of Lisbon.
Those final three plans are inextricably linked in the eyes of Margarida Vasconcelos, general manager of the Aroeira Lisbon Hotel – my base for the night on a fleeting visit to the Setubal Peninsula, just south of the Portuguese capital. “I want more groups of women to come here,” she tells me.
“Women want to come away with their friends to play golf while on a short break, but perhaps not every day. They also want great spa facilities, fine dining and to go shopping. I know because that’s me. And we are in the perfect location to provide that.”
The resort is separated from Lisbon by the spectacular 2km long Ponte 25 De Abril suspension bridge which spans the River Tagus. If it reminds you of San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, it’s supposed to and was designed by the same people.
Aroeira Golf has already undergone a significant period of investment that has helped its stock rise within the European golfing community. The hotel has been a notable part of that, serving Aroeira’s Pines Classic and Challenge courses, turning it into a genuinely viable golf destination.
Aroeira Lisbon Hotel only opened in 2019, Margardia tells me with a wry smile – everyone knows what followed. But the Covid pandemic was survived and there is a renewed push to attract golfers back to the area. At the heart of this drive is Nuno Sepulveda – the Portuguese who oversaw Costa Navarino’s climb to be one of Europe’s premier golf resorts.
Prising Nuno from the Greek destination he spoke so passionately to me about earlier in the year is surely a significant signing for Arrow Global, but the company he has joined has quite a pull given its growing Portuguese portfolio.
In the summer, Arrow acquired three Vilamoura hotels and five flagship Vilamoura golf courses – Old Course, Pinhal, Laguna, Millennium and Victoria – in Portugal’s more renowned golfing home, the Algarve.
So, how does Aroeira stack up? The Aroeira Lisbon Hotel is chic, modern and serves mouth-watering Mediterranean food. Tuna ceviche was the standout. Fresh, crisp, and tangy. Sensational. The rooms are as clean and airy as you would expect, and while the outdoor unheated pool looked inviting in the autumnal sunshine, the chill November air made it a step too far.
The Atlantic Ocean is a short stroll, where you will find sandstone cliffs framing a wide, family-friendly sandy beach, with free sunbeds for hotel guests.
Sadly, there are no coastal views from the golf courses, which wind their way through dense and protected pine forests, but the abundance of trees come into their own in the heat of summer, providing welcoming shade on the sunniest of days.
The Pines Classic, which twice hosted the Portuguese Open in the mid-90s and staged several Ladies European Tour events, was originally dubbed the ‘Wentworth of Lisbon’.
The course has just passed its 50th birthday, and like many 50-year-olds is maturing well but showing signs of age, although the single deck timber clubhouse has recently undergone a facelift and serves delightful local empadas and croquetes alongside heartier fayre.
A round of golf won’t break the bank and it is generally a gorgeous golfing experience. Scrambling 30 feet up the hill behind the 1st tee to hit your opener from the elevated back tee is worth the effort, while the tight dogleg 2nd s a portent of things to come, with tree-lined fairways dominating. British course designer Frank Pennink, who plotted the afore-mentioned Vilamoura Old Course and Pinhal, was behind Aroeira I, as it was known when it opened in 1973.
Pennink, who also worked on Open Championship venues Royal St George’s, Royal Liverpool, and Royal Lytham & St Annes, is renowned for creating simplistic greens and his limited use of fairway bunkers, of which both apply at Pines.
Keeping the ball straight is the challenge. The trees are as penal as pot bunkers, but the pace of play remains palatable given the undergrowth is under control and wayward balls are usually easy to spot.
The picturesque short 14th, played over water to a narrow green framed by front and back bunkers, was easily the standout hole on a gently undulating course that features fast-running fairways and true greens.
Its younger sibling, the Challenge (formerly Aroeira II) was first opened for play in 2000 and designed by Donald Steel, who cut his architectural teeth under Pennink. And for me, youth wins out here.
Another short hole rules – the 8th. The early morning chill has given way to the rising sun with its warming rays penetrating the canopy and casting a beautiful light on this most delicate of one shotters. Slightly downhill to a well-contoured green. Catch the right side of the slope and you have a birdie opportunity. Catch the wrong side and three-putt bogeys are beckoning.
It’s the start of a fine run of holes. The 9th rewards the bold tee shot that flirts with villas to the right and takes on a pond, although there is ample bail-out to the left, leaving a longer shot in. The 10th and 11th again demand precision of the tee.
The closing three holes are perhaps the strongest though. The 16th, while not long, plays to a raised green that makes club selection tricky, while the 17th falls away invitingly from the tee. The fairway is generous but hemmed in by pines, while the green is well bunkered.
And the par-5 finale demands thought. Water pinches into the fairway at driving distance, while another lake protects the left side of the green for those brave enough to hook a second shot round the corner. The sensible way is to play it as a three-shotter but then how many of us play sensible down the last?
We retire to dine at Palacio Chiado in the heart of one of Europe’s finest – and most ancient – capital cities, renowned for its architecture, tile making, Fado music and burgeoning artistic scene.
Palacio Chiado is a truly remarkable restaurant, with huge frescos adorning the walls of what once was the 18th Century Quintela Palace. It was the birthplace of Count Farrobo, who must have been quite the rogue given he fathered the Portuguese expression ‘farrobodo’, which means ‘to party wildly’.
Suddenly, Aroeira Golf’s message rings loud and clear: come for golf, experience Lisbon. And while my partying may now be more in line with the middle-aged Pines, those of you more aligned to its sibling may just be up for that Challenge.
*For more information or to book a trip to Aroeira Golf, visit Aroeiragolf.com
*Pete Scrivener was a guest of Aroeira Golf
Aroeira Portugal: frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Where is Aroeira Golf?
Aroeira Golf is situated around 20km south of Portuguese capital city Lisbon and comprises two golf courses – the Pines Classic and Challenge – served by Aroeira Lisbon Hotel.
How do I get to Aroeira Golf?
From the UK and US there are direct flights from most major airports to Lisbon. From the airport it is a 30-minute transfer to Aroeira Lisbon Hotel.
Is Aroeira Portugal’s best golf resort?
No. But they are both in the top 30 and climbing, according to the most recent rankings.
What else is there to do at Aroeira Portugal?
There is a huge family-friendly sandy beach one mile from Aroeira Lisbon Hotel. Lisbon is only 30 minutes away by car.
How much does it cost to play and stay at Aroeira Portugal?
Prices vary from season to season. Visit https://aroeiragolf.com/en/ to find out the latest.