Blazing a trail in Portugal

IT’S BACK — and if this year is anything to go by, it’s back with a bang.

The Irish Examiner’s strong alliance with Sean Skehan’s Killester Travel was rekindled earlier this month, as over 100 discerning golfers and their friends headed off for the stunning Blue Coast of Portugal, and the delightful village of Sesimbra.

Skehan’s knowledge of the golf business is legendary, and while Sesimbra is relatively unknown on the main tourism highways, it has always been a firm favourite of Killester Travel.

Little wonder. Sesimbra is both a quaint fishing town and a popular tourist resort, with a particularly appealing stretch of beach.

The fact that the Examiner group was staying in the sumptuous Sesmibra Spa Hotel, which overlooks the beach, only added to the sense of something special.

Natives of Lisbon flock to the village some 35km away at weekends to feast and relax in the many beach-front fish restaurants after taking a relaxing evening stroll along the promenade.

For nine days at the beginning of September, the Irish Examiner party got to experience the sedate pace of life in the less commercialised areas of the Iberian Peninsula.

Among the travelling party was former Fine Gael Senator and current councillor, Dino Cregan from Cork, who combined his golfing talents with his natural showman’s talent to score on the course — and in the talent contests at night.

“He has a very good voice and he never stopped singing the whole time we were over there. Even during the day he was singing,” said Carol Clancy of Killester Travel.

Cregan wasn’t the only one warbling his way across the fairways of the Blue Coast. The All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Cork didn’t materialise, but the travelling party was nicely split between the actual and real capital of Ireland to create a keen sense of competition.

The touring party arrived on August 27, teeing off for the first of four golf outings at the remarkable Troia course the following day. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Snr, Troia it’s one of the most fascinating golf challenges in Portugal. The magazine Golf World elected it in 2003 as the 25th best European Golf Course.

The setting is unique — it takes a pleasant short ferry ride from Setubal to the Peninsula of Troia, a region of great natural beauty near the Atlantic Ocean, before you meet the challenges of the defensive bunkers and hummocks, sandy dunes and pine trees.

Wednesday was a free day and the next round — besides the ones at the bar — was at Quinta do Peru on Thursday, where there was a four-person scramble with prizes for first and second. Owned and funded by one of Portugal’s wealthiest companies, Quinta has been constructed to the highest specification. The fairways and greens have already matured to a state that has enabled the club to host a ladies’ professional tournament.

Two days later, the 80 golfers in the group took to Aroiera for a four-ball better ball competition. The final outing was back at the popular Quinta do Peru, where there was a champagne scramble. The gala dinner was held that night back at their resort in Sesimbra.

“We had a diverse mix of people but we made sure everyone got to meet because we held a draw for the golf groups at each course so that you were always playing someone different,” said Ms Clancy.

“Somebody played the piano, someone else had a guitar and everyone sang every night. The Cork crowd had four song books which they went through. Most of them had lost their voices by the end of the trip,” said Ms Clancy.

“The gala dinner was a great success on the last Monday where he presented the prizes and had lots of entertainment. George Hunter sang and he has his own band as well. Syl Fox told a few gags, he did the Brendan Grace routine! And then to finish it all off we had Dickie Rock,” she explained.

“The general consensus from trip veterans likes Cyril O’Brien was that it had been the best they were ever on.”

Which promoted Sean Skehan to drive ahead with planning for the 2008 equivalent — this time to the famed golf resort of Vilamoura on Portugal’s Algarve.

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