Under the direction of partner Drew Rogers, designer of the celebrated Oitavos Golfe Quinta da Marinha in nearby Cascais, Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates (AHSF) will author major improvements to the Estoril layout: restoring all 18 putting surfaces, rebuilding every bunker on the course and installing state-of-the-art irrigation systems. AHSF will also reduce the 27-hole Estoril layout to 18, thereby allowing construction of a modern practice facility and several residential properties.
“This is one of the finest golf courses in all of Portugal and Spain but today the playing conditions fail to meet that high standard,” said Drew Rogers, a partner with AHSF, which has designed 180 courses worldwide and renovated 120 others, including contributing renovation work on three U.S. Open venues. “The design and routing strategies at Estoril are wonderful but the bunkers, tees and greens haven‘t really been touched in 60 years. It’s a tired golf course where the features and infrastructure need to be restored and upgraded, not changed.”
Estoril Golf Club is owned by Estoril Plage, which also owns the Hotel Palacio, a 5-star luxury hotel in the resort village of Estoril. Guests of the hotel enjoy access to the private club.
The championship 18 at Estoril was designed in 1938 by Philip Mackenzie Ross, the Scottish architect responsible for Turnberry. Frank Pennink designed a third nine here in 1965. In addition to hosting the European PGA Tour’s Portuguese Open on 20 separate occasions, Estoril has for 62 years been home to the International Amateur Championship.
The refurbishment of Estoril is in good hands, as Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates is one of golf’s most trusted course renovators. The firm has assisted in the preparation of three layouts for U.S. Open Championships: Inverness in Toledo, Ohio; Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and Oakmont near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At Estoril, AHSF will be equally mindful of preserving the layout’s inherent charms.
“We‘re going to be very sensitive of the original design here, which is both intriguing and attractive,” Rogers said. “The bunkering and green contours are very good. The holes are routed in very interesting manner – through a dense forest of eucalyptus, pine and mimosa trees, over some lovely terrain.
“This course doesn‘t need major design changes, but it does need major physical improvements. The new drainage and irrigation systems will radically improve the turf conditions – that’s what players will notice first, along with the green surfaces, which will be rebuilt to USGA specifications. We‘re going to rebuild the bunkers with new faces, new sand and modern drainage capabilities. We‘re going to move the cart paths out of view and redo all the tees boxes.
“The course today isn‘t long enough [5,313 meters/5,811 yards], and we have the opportunity to make several holes longer. But in terms of the design, we‘re not going to mess with it much. The greens are nicely sized and the contouring is intriguing. There are some great bunkers out there and wonderful features that can‘t be improved upon – there’s a punchbowl green at what is now the par-3 8th that has to be on the list of the most unique greens I‘ve ever seen. What we‘re planning to do is bring all the course features, along with the playing conditions, up to the same high standard.”
The AHSF master plan for Estoril involves the elimination of 9 holes – most of them from the Pennink nine – to make way for the new practice facility and residential lots. It was a difficult decision for Estoril Plage but the best portions of Estoril have been preserved, Rogers said, while several awkward holes on the property’s hillsides will make better home sites.
Estoril Plage made another difficult decision in advance of groundbreaking – to close the club completely when construction begins this fall. “Closing a club down for renovation is always a difficult decision, but it’s usually the right one,” says Rogers. “It’s more economical to get the work done all at once and reopen in a year’s time, as opposed to phasing a job over the course of several years. When you phase a job, it’s difficult to maintain a consistency of construction. This critical element is enabled when construction operations are conducted in a single phase.
“During our construction, the owners are also confident that they can provide alternate golfing venues for members and hotel guests at nearby courses, including Oitavos.” Rogers said the popularity of AHSF’s design at Oitavos Golfe – the course opened in 2002, was immediately hailed as Europe’s top new layout, then hosted the Portuguese Open in 2005 – played a major role in Hills/Forrest being chosen to renovate Estoril GC.
“The success and market position of Oitavos have certainly been a motor of sorts for other opportunities in Portugal,” Rogers said. “We‘re fortunate that Oitavos was our first project here because it’s made a big splash and that’s proved a good calling card for our firm. We‘re confident that our work at Estoril will only reinforce our reputation here.”
Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest & Associates www.arthurhills.com