Irish golfers have started to extend their course commitment right throughout the winter months thanks to the development of base layer clothing technology, combined with the excellent condition of most Irish courses.
But traipsing along the wet winter fairways or searching for lost balls with near-frozen fingers is not everyone's cup of tea, and winter golf for most is spent sitting in the armchair watching the professional tour playing in southern hemisphere sunshine, with the odd trip to the local driving range the only excuse to break the clubs out of the garden shed.
A year-round sunshine solution lies just two hours away on the outskirts of one of Europe's finest capital cities.
The Estoril Coast is basically a suburb of Lisbon and very accessible from the airport – I arrived at my hotel in Cascais less than 30 minutes after hailing a cab from Lisbon International.
The coastline is blessed with big sandy beaches, excellent hotels and restaurants, a vibrant nightlife in Cascais and Estoril, great shopping, and it also boasts Europe's largest casino.
The nearby UNESCO world heritage site of Sintra is full of culture and history with some amazing architecture, including the spectacular 19th-century Pena Palace and the ruins of a ninth-century Moorish castle.
But as a golfing destination, the Estoril Coast ticks all the boxes. With seven superb golf courses to choose from and guaranteed good weather all year, it is already proving an excellent alternative from the established Algarve golf destination on the south coast of Portugal.
So whether you are looking to play every day on your sunshine break or just hoping to fit in one or two rounds in the middle of your holiday or Lisbon city break, there are plenty of options and you will be delighted with the standard of the courses on offer and their proximity to the main coastal resorts.
Penha Longa Atlantic
My opening round was enjoyed at the inland Penha Longa golf course, which is situated at the foot of the Sintra hills in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
This being a Robert Trent Jones Jr design, it lives up to its reputation as one of the best courses on continental Europe.
The course is a gem from start to finish as you embark on a very challenging, yet soothing journey through one of Portugal's most inspiring landscapes.
The opening and closing holes take you through a wooded valley with lots of tree-lined fairways, while other holes bend around corners and meander through the scenic and scented hillsides.
The Atlantic course, boasting amazing ocean views, is part of a five-star hotel and Spa resort and hosted the Portuguese Open in 1994 and 1995.
Golf do Estoril
Estoril Golf Course is located in the town, close to the coast, and exudes a real old world charm as soon as you arrive at the clubhouse, which dates back to 1929.
This classic course, designed by Mackenzie Ross, is quite short in distance by modern standards, but every shot is a challenge as you plot your way around it.
There are some excellent holes throughout, with many testing par threes and the eucalyptus, pine and mimosa trees give it a uniquely colourful touch, with great aromas accompanying your round.
A special mention must be given to the greens at Estoril; they are simply among the best you will find throughout the world.
There are not many courses where you have to cross a motorway midway through your round.
The Estoril course had to be redesigned due to the construction of the motorway and now a bridge takes you over the busy thoroughfare (you would hardly know it was there otherwise) after the eighth hole, and back again to play the spectacular 16th, before the short stretch to the clubhouse, which boasts a great balcony overlooking the closing holes.
Pestana Beloura Golf
Pestana Beloura Golf resort is another track located on the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, which offer a breathtaking backdrop to the golf course. The course provides an enjoyable challenge to golfers of all levels and has excellent practice facilities with a magnificent clubhouse.
Water comes into play on many of the holes as they are laid out between the various lakes and streams, while the signature holes are the 7th, where a lake eats into the fairway and the 17th, where you need to be accurate off the tee to find the fairway that threads its way between the lake on the left and out of bounds on the right.
Quinta da Marinha
Located right on the Estoril coast, and just out the road from Cascais, is the Quinta da Marinha Golf resort. Another Robert Trent Jones Jr design, the course is very much a resort course with wide fairways and plenty of water in play.
Again, there are many memorable holes and can prove quite tricky when the strong Atlantic breeze sweeps through the course, which offers great ocean views on one side with the pretty Sintra hills further inland.
Temperatures from October to March remain warm, dry and sunny throughout the day, averaging around the 20-degree mark, making it ideal golfing weather. Days are naturally a little shorter at this time of year, while the evenings in December and January can get a bit chilly, around 8-10 degrees.
The Golf Passport entitles golfers to play on a selection of golf courses on the Estoril Golf Coast. The golfer chooses three or five courses from the selection available and may play each course once. Golf passports are sold by most golf tour operators, the golf courses and many Estoril hotels, and they are also responsible for the booking of tee times. Prices average about €50-60 per round with the passport.
Some courses also provide excellent offers (eg €99 for two green fees, club hire and a buggy) so it is worth checking out individual course websites ahead of travelling.
Where to Stay
The towns of Cascais and Estoril run along the coast and are full of excellent hotels, while quality nightlife exists in both resorts with excellent bar and restaurants throughout. Lisbon is another option, as it is just 20 minutes by car from the Estoril coast.
Aer Lingus flies daily to Lisbon from Dublin.
Before You Go – the Indoor Solution
Leaving the house on a cold, dark, wet evening with golf clubs in tow, half-an-hour later, I was standing on the first tee of the Old Course at St Andrews, driver in hand, and, more importantly, warm and dry with a beverage of choice on the table behind me.
Golf simulators are not necessarily a new innovation as an indoor alternative but the latest technologies are opening new avenues as to how the game is been played.
Metro Golf is located close to the city centre beside the Shelbourne Park greyhound stadium in Dublin 4 and is a great place to play some indoor golf ahead of your winter golf trip.
The simulators at Metro Golf offer unmatched levels of realism and accuracy due to a dual infrared ball tracking system and boast a range of the world's best golf courses, from Pebble Beach to the 2014 Ryder Cup course at Gleneagles. Every shot is played from the simulator - from driving off the tee to striking irons, through to holing putts on the green.
There are different surfaces that simulate light rough, heavy rough and sand areas. You are able to select the tee and pin positions, the green speed and even the weather conditions to make the game even more challenging.
The other added bonus about playing indoor golf is that you can order hot food platters and there is also a fully stocked bar available while you play at Metro Golf. www.metrogolf.ie
For more information about golfing the Estoril Coast, visit: www.estorilgolfcoast.com.
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