Some countries have it all – delicious food and wine, stunning and varied scenery, culture and great golf. Italy is one such country, as April Tod discovers…
Considering Italy boasts several top players currently competing on the European pro Tour, and has won the much sought-after bid to host the 2022 Ryder Cup, it is not at all surprising to discover golf is an increasingly popular tourist destination in Italy. With over 400 golf courses to choose from, keen golfers from all over the world are eager to combine a holiday of both golf and traditional culture.
Over the past couple of decades, millions of Euros have been quietly invested into updating golf facilities all over the country as a means of encouraging golfers to visit. Italy is a fascinating land, which in addition to its deep-seated cultural history offers some amazing golf courses. However, until quite recently this has been a somewhat closely guarded secret.
Admittedly, past visits to this wonderful country have not included golf but this time I was there to discover just how much this sport had grown over the past couple of decades. Accompanied with golf clubs, we flew to Venice’s Marco Polo airport and were immediately whisked off to the medieval town of Udine, a two and half hour journey from the airport.
VISITING UDINE. Arrangements the next day were to play in the Italian Open Pro-Am Senior’s event at Udine Golf Club but sadly the morning dawned with horrible grey skies and pouring rain. Undeterred, we made our way to the club; vainly hoping the heavy rains would subside. In the end, organisers were forced to abandon play, which was a great shame as I was looking forward to having the opportunity to play in former pro-tour golfer Barry Lane’s group (someone I had met previously at another ‘senior’ event). Instead we were all entertained to a long, lingering and very amusing three-course lunch, washed down with several bottles of delicious local wine.
There was no peace for the wicked as the moment we returned to our four-star Astoria Hotel in Udine, we were met by a local guide and taken on an hour’s walking tour around the city, visiting some of its many famous historical churches and monuments.
RUSTIC SCENERY. The Friuli Venetia Giulia region surprisingly boasts several well-designed golf courses and, thankfully, the next day was blessed with glorious sunshine. We headed for the Castello di Spessa Golf Club, a par-71 course that is mostly surrounded by beautiful rustic scenery. Here, the local wine production dates back to the thirteen century and includes the Collio vineyard, adjacent to the castle and clubhouse.
Years ago the castle was converted into a small hotel with 14 rooms and an attic flat. Apparently it has hosted several notable guests including Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte and Venice’s famous seducer, Giacomo Casanova.
Designed by Giacomo Cabrini, Castello’s 18-hole course intricately combines local topography with wide and long fairways, giving the impression of playing three contrasting courses. And added to this charming setting is the pretty backdrop of the Collio vineyards and olive groves. In every sense of the word, this is a delightful course to play. It suited my game perfectly, despite some very challenging moments that needed plenty of thought as to where to accurately hit balls. Particularly taxing is the green on the fourth hole, which is surrounded by two ponds and a large deep bunker.
GOURMET CUISINE. A late lunch followed in the ornately decorated Tavernetto del Castello restaurant, conveniently within walking distance of the clubhouse. Here we ate local delicacies, including a variety of San Daniela ham and salami blended with lard and spices. For our main course I choose Musetta, a typical coarsely minced sausage, with turnips marinated in unfermented grape juice. This was followed with a plate of delicious local Fagagna cheeses and was all washed down with some fine Collio wine.
Afterwards, we fitted in a quick visit to Collio’s wine caves underneath the castle… even though this meant walking down 120 steps and back up again. Just as well the wine tasting took place afterwards. That evening we dined in another popular restaurant in Udine, the Ai Frate, and sampled a variety of local pastas and cheeses.
GRADO GOLF. The following day we drove towards Trieste for our next game at the Grado Golf Club, listed as one of best 100 clubs in Europe. This mostly flat par-72 course overlooks the pretty Grado lagoon but don’t be deceived, the numerous water hazards are part of the course’s complex design. There are ample greens tucked behind large stretches of water, with one or two strategically placed bunkers where balls needed to be hit accurately. Views from the fifth and sixth holes are stunning but it’s the 12th that is especially tricky, with right dogleg that leads to green surrounded by water.
Lunch at the Tarabusino restaurant, a couple of miles down the road, was another gourmet affair. Local dignitaries and club professionals joined us for a typical Italian meal, and this time I choose smoked trout cooked in a delicious light white wine sauce for my main course and followed it with fresh fruit salad.
Before our final round, we checked into the Gran Hotel Duchi d’Asota in the centre of Trieste, where the famous Irish author James Joyce lived for several years. We then played golf at the nearby par-72 Lignano Golf Club. This was an interesting course to play as it features several long fairways bordered by tall swaying pine trees and large greens mostly surrounded by water. This was yet another challenging, enjoyable round, and proof, if any more were needed, that Italy really is a golf destination worth visiting.
Good to know
How to get there:
Flight connections from London, Stansted, Dublin, Bristol, East Midlands and Leeds are available to Trieste (FVG airport) and Treviso (one hour by car from the golf courses of Friuli Venezia Giulai).
A wider variety of flights to Venice are bookable from several UK airports, which is an hour’s drive from Friuli Venezia Guilia’s golf courses.
Where to stay:
Astoria Hotel, Udine, www.hotelfriuli.udine.it
Grand Duchi Hotel, Trieste www.duchi.eu
Where to play:
Castello de Spessa Golf & Country Club www.golfcastellodipressa.it
Grado Golf Club www.golfgrado.com
Lignano Golf Club www.golflignano.it
Undine golf Club: www.golfudine.com
For further information, visit www.promoturismofvg.it
For more details on Italy Golf and More, please email email@example.com or download a brochure at