Oitavos Dunes, Portugal (88th on World's Top 100 ranking)

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Oitavos Dunes, located in the Sintra-Cascais National Park, close to the Guincho beach and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, 30 kilometres north of Lisbon, has capped a dizzying 8-year rise to the highest ranks of world golf with a pair of honors, both bestowed by GOLF Magazine (U.S.) and published in its September and October 2009 issues.

Opened in 2001, and designed by Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest and Associates, Oitavos Dunes debuted this January at no. 88 on GOLF’s coveted World Top 100 ranking. Oitavos Dunes also earned a place among the magazine’s 50 Greatest Courses of the Last 50 Years.

One of just three continental European courses to make GOLF’S World Top 100 (Valderrama and Morfontaine are the others), Oitavos Dunes was the first course in Europe designed by Hills/Forrest, the Toledo, Ohio-based firm responsible for more than 200 original designs on three continents. The firm has since added designs across Scandinavia and Russia, with new projects in planning and/or under construction in Morocco, Italy and Portugal.

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Oitavos Dunes opened for play in 2001, and was immediately hailed by tournament organizers, design cognoscenti and environmentalists alike. It was rated by Golf World International magazine the “Best New Course in Europe” in 2003. In eight short years, the course has played host to 11 professional events from all five European tours, including four Portuguese Opens, a regular stop on European PGA Tour.

Soon after opening, Audubon International also recognized Oitavos Dunes as its first Signature Sanctuary Golf Course in Europe, and only the second such course in the world. The first Audubon Signature Sanctuary course, Collier’s Reserve in south-west Florida, was also designed by Hills/Forrest.

Oitavos Dunes indeed preserves a unique habitat of umbrella pines, sand dunes and coastal scrub, where the dramatic Portuguese coast meets the Atlantic Ocean. There are no water features at Oitavos Dunes precisely because the property rests along a gently sloped plateau, high enough that every hole has a long view of the Atlantic and the Sintra Mountains to the north. What’s more, any water features would have been man-made, and owner Miguel Champalimaud’s unwavering intent for Oitavos Dunes was to keep the property wholly natural.

The architects allowed the dunes to dictate what became a thrilling, non-traditional sequence of holes, each outfitted with the canny green contours, comely-but-penal green and fairway bunkering, and the classic design strategies for which Hills/Forrest is renowned.