AN HOUR’S DRIVE AND A 20-MINUTE FERRY RIDE FROM LISBON, TROIA DOESN’T SCORE HIGHLY IN THE ACCESSIBILITY STAKES. HOWEVER, ITS SPECTACULAR SETTING AND ECLECTIC MIX OF HOLES MAKE THE AWKWARD JOURNEY NOTHING MORE THAN A MILD INCONVENIENCE, WRITES NICK WRIGHT.
Back in 1979, when Robert Trent Jones Sr. put the finishing touches to the 6,914-yard course he had sculpted out of rolling dunes on a slender outcrop of land an hour south of Lisbon, he would have done so to very little fuss or fanfare.
There would have been no fancy press trips to celebrate the launch, no lengthy sit down interviews on location with journalists and no extravagant photo shoots standing on the edges of greens gazing wistfully out over the ocean. The renowned designer would simply have shaken hands with the owners, played nine holes with a few specially-invited guests and made his way to the airport.
Other than frequently stating that the 404-yard par-4 3rd was one of the 20 best holes he crafted during his career, Trent Jones offered very few details over the years regarding his design philosophy or inspiration for Troia.
So in the absence of any personal commentary we can only speculate on what the famed designer’s first impressions of the raw materials he was given to work with might have been. It’s a safe bet to assume, however, that when the Trent Jones first scanned the luscious terrain that connects the Sado Estuary, the Atlantic Ocean and the Arrabida mountains he would have started to visualise routings, holes and green complexes almost immediately.
Despite its sublime setting, Troia has somehow managed to fly just under the radar for the best part of four decades. There’s no getting away from the fact that its peninsular location, while a huge component of its appeal, is a double-edged sword.
Those who are willing to drive down from Lisbon and make the 30-minute ferry ride across the estuary from Setubal almost always return saying that the experience of taking on one of Europe’s finest and most challenging courses was more than worth the slightly convoluted journey. However, too many golfers view it as too much of an inconvenience and instead opt to play at a selection of the many quality golf courses closer to the city.
Because of this Troia has always been viewed, rather unfairly, as the course you play if the opportunity arises instead of being the focal point of a golf trip to Lisbon.
Which is a shame because it’s arguably the best of the courses in the region, if not the entire country. In our most recent Golf World Top 100 Courses, Continental Europe ranking, Troia rose two places to 17th. And it was only some minor concerns over presentation that prevented it from challenging for a Top-10 position.
However, the course recently joined the prestigious European Tour Properties network, which will give the operations team access to an array of consultancy services including specialist agronomy advice, so it is likely that those small shortfalls in conditioning will be quickly addressed. As such, we fully expect to see Troia continue its steady ascent in the rankings.
Widely regarded as Portugal’s toughest golf course, Troia comes with a fearsome reputation. In 1983, three years after its official opening, the course hosted the Portuguese Open. Sam Torrance won the tournament that year and was the only player to finish the four days under par.
More disconcerting was the fact that the cut was 12-over. Having said that, we found Troia to be more of an artful jabber than a heavyweight slugger. We played two rounds at the resort in November last year and were instantly entranced by the varied mix of holes, the delightful juxtaposition between the pine trees and the dunes and how the fairways seamlessly blended into the natural sandy wasteland.
Trent Jones’ engaging design zigzags back and forth across the north side of the peninsular constantly subjecting you to different wind directions and changes in topography and vistas. It’s an intelligent and entertaining layout over a fairly compact piece of land that places a heavy emphasis
on course management and sharp approach play. The fairways are narrow, the greens are small and contoured, the bunkering is heavy and plentiful, and the pines and wasteland are magnetic.
The good news is that it all plays out right in front of you. There are no blind shots and no tricked-up holes. Troia is a fair fight and nowhere is this more evident than at the very first hole – a 464-yard/520-yard par 5.
Standing on the tee, you’re immediately presented with a decision. Just how much of the water do you attempt to carry?
It’s a question that’s made more difficult by the apparent absence of a fairway. The lake and expansive waste bunkers left and right dominate the vista. You have to trust that short green grass is waiting for you somewhere.
A well-struck drive leaves you with another puzzle to solve. For longer hitters, the green is reachable in two. However, it’s microscopic and surrounded by half-a-dozen gaping, steep-lipped bunkers.
So do you blast a fairway wood or hybrid and take your chances with an up-and-down from the sand, or do you lay up and attack the hole from the fairway with your third shot?
This game of cat-and-mouse continues throughout the round. Trent Jones keeps the pace varied with hole shape, alternating levels of difficulty and landscape. In addition to perching many greens against a clean backdrop of deep blue skies, many holes are delightfully and naturally framed by the sandy wasteland and a sprinkling of pine trees.
Those same pines are also used to create attractive amphitheatres around the greens. But the woodland never gets too dense. It’s always airy and spacious. Think Woburn’s Marquess’ Course meets Torrey Pines meets Donald Ross’ Pinehurst No.2.
Despite developing a reputation for designing excessively difficult courses in his latter years, Trent Jones Sr. always viewed himself as more of a strategic architect than a penal or punishing one. His design mantra was “hard par, easy bogey” and that is an accurate and appropriate description of Troia’s overall character.
There is certainly no shortage of holes to attack, but the punishment for errors of judgement or miscues are severe, most notably around the greens which are often multi-tiered and heavily contoured as well as protected by steep run-offs.
The 404-yard par-4 3rd tends to attract most of the headlines courtesy of its waterside location but any number of holes realistically could be considered the club’s signature design. For example, the par-4 7th, a delightful left-to-right dogleg that plays into a tiny, heavily bunkered green or the par-5 14th, which demands three solid shots as you play back up towards the estuary.
And just as it starts, so Troia finishes with another strong par 5 that plays uphill and through bunkers towards the clubhouse and concludes with a glorious panoramic view out over the course. Again, it’s a three shotter for all but the longest hitters and requires a precise wedge shot to hit and hold a narrow green.
In conclusion, it’s difficult to find a weakness in Troia’s offering. Troia’s greatest strength is that it simply doesn’t have a weak hole. The standard is incredibly high and the design so imaginative that the holes linger long in the memory.
Our advice is to play twice. Use the first round to acquaint yourself with the challenge in front of you and the second round to play more aggressively.
How we ranked Troia
A fantastically varied and exciting layout by RTJ Sr. with every hole providing a sea view. A visual and strategic masterpiece.
Plays over gently undulating natural duneland between the Sado Estuary and Arrábida Mountains.
Overall good, but the summer can be harsh on appearance. A little too much sand in the bunkers
when we played.
Has a fearsome reputation but we found it very playable. Tiny greens place a heavy emphasis on good approach play.
A collection of iconic par 5s, standout par 3s and challenging dog-legs are the heartbeat of the course and live long in the memory.
Arguably, Troia’s strongest point is that there is simply not a weak hole on the course. Every one is a cracker.
Only a few question marks over presentation prevented Troia from challenging for a Top-10 spot in our last ranking.