Italy, a country we all know and love. Over the three next editions of Great Golf Magazine, we will introduce you, the golfing public, to the wonderful delights, both on and off the course, that await you in this magical country. Two of our illustrious and knowledgeable journalists, Steve Killick and Peter Ellegard, head to Northern Italy to see what is on offer.
Text by Steve Killick and Peter Ellegard
For far too many British tourists, the experience of northeast Italy ends at Venice. There may be a hearty band of skiers heading further afield during the winter months but few travellers and even fewer golfers head east along the silver-grey waters of the lagoon. If only they knew how much they were missing.
Some 70 miles away on the road to Trieste lies the historic old city of Grado and its even more ancient neighbour, Aquileia, both of which predate seventh-century Venice. As well as producing the finest white wines in Italy and some hearty rustic cooking to enjoy, not to mention the exceptional fish dishes, there is also some terrific golf to be played.
And none more so than at Golf Club Grado, a favourite of Ryder Cup player Costantino Rocca who can regularly be seen playing and joking with members over a glass of Friulian wine.
Owner, Ivan Marzola, and his director of golf, Marko Prekic, have transformed the course since taking the lease back from a hotel chain.
FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
ALPINE BACKDROP. Now the fairways are lush and the greens true with some treacherous breaks and subtle roll-offs. With the lagoon setting against an Alpine backdrop, a fine day makes for a wonderful, if challenging round where placement is much more important than power.
The highlight of the Par 72, 6,051m course are the four par fives, all different, all scenic and all tough. The toughest hole on the course awaits us on only the second hole, a 520m beast where the fairway swings right, crosses a lake at 200m and gradually tapers towards the distant green. What was the first hole, a terrifying island par three, modelled on the equally daunting 17th at Sawgrass in Florida, is now the last, giving high handicappers a chance to get into their stride before facing its horrors.
Grado is easy walking, with a most welcoming clubhouse, as are the other two most picturesque courses that should be enjoyed whilst in the region. First is the delightful Castello di Spessa some 30 minutes away. Had Walt Disney designed a golf course, it would most certainly have been this one with its beautiful castle and bountiful vineyards as a backdrop.
Enjoy a wine tasting here every bit as much as the golf, as well as an excellent meal in the welcoming clubhouse. This is not a long course, but perfect for a relaxing and enjoyable round.
LIGNANO. The designer of Grado, Marco Croze, also built Lignano, the third course to play at some 50 minutes away. Big hitters should score well here provided the ball is kept in play, otherwise overhanging trees can make shots into the greens all but impossible. At 6,345m off the back tees, Lignano is a tough test, lacking the beauty of Grado, but with a similarly well-stocked clubhouse. This one is not to be missed.
VENETO AND EMILIA-ROMAGNA. Long a visitor magnet, the Veneto region is Italy’s most popular tourist destination, thanks to historic cities such as Venice, Verona, Treviso and Padua, the spa town of Abano Terme, numerous surviving classical villas designed by Andrea Palladio and a landscape that incorporates 110km of Adriatic coastline, Lake Garda and the lofty Dolomites.
It is also foodie heaven, with risotto, white asparagus, polenta, bigoli pasta, tiramisu and Gran Padano cheese typical of the region’s cuisine, washed down by local Prosecco, Amarone or Soave wines.
Its golf courses are spread across the region and even include one within Venice itself – the 80-year-old Circolo Golf Venezia, or Venice Golf Club, which lies partly within a Napoleonic fort at the southern tip of the Lido island and which can be reached by vaporetto water bus from right by the Doge’s Palace in the city’s heart.
Play there and you follow in the spike marks of the good, the great and the bad; Hitler, Mussolini and the Duke of Windsor all walked its fairways, while three Italian Opens and other tournaments have drawn golf greats Henry Cotton, Arnold Palmer, Tony Jacklin, Seve Ballesteros and Lee Trevino, besides home favourites Costantino Rocca, Edoardo and Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero.
GLORIOUS VILLAS. Around Venice and Treviso, courses include Golf Jesolo, close to the sea, the Arnold Palmer-designed Golf Ca’ della Nave where huge bunkers and extensive artificial lakes make for a challenging round, and two courses laid out around glorious 18th-century villas: Golf Club Ca’ Amata, with its clubhouse flanked by a 300-year-old villa, and Golf Club Villa Condulmer, which features a Par 71 course alongside a grandiose villa, now converted into a five-star hotel where famous guests have included US President Ronald Reagan.
Padua and nearby Abano Terme have golf amidst hilly backdrops. The 27-hole Golf della Montecchia boasts a classically designed clubhouse noted for its Michelin-starred restaurant, Alaimo, and the adjacent Conte Emo Capodilista castle. Golf Club Frassanelle is laid out in the grounds of a 500-acre, 19th-century country park, its clubhouse offering grandstand views. The picturesque, landscaped fairways and greens of 27-hole Golf Club Padova border the 17th-century Villa Barbarigo.
Verona Golf Club, an eco-friendly club near the city famous for Shakespearean lovers Romeo and Juliet, has an established, parkland course that launched the professional career of Italy’s most successful golfer, Constantino Rocca, when he won his first tournament there in 1989.
In the north lie Asolo Golf Club, with 27 holes bordering forested hills, and the spectacular Asiago Golf Club, a mountain course set on a 1,000m plateau in the shadow of the Dolomites and designed by Peter Harradine. Golfers can stay on site at the luxury Meltar Boutique Hotel, which features its Mountain Spa.
EMILIA ROMAGNE. Straddling the ancient Via Aemilia Roman road that is now the A1 and A414 highways, linking the coastal resort of Rimini with the north-western town of Piacenza, Emilia Romagna is a region of gastronomy, fast cars, medieval towns and cities, wine, beaches…and golf.
Nearly 20 courses offer the chance to play on a variety of layouts when not enjoying the region’s other pleasures. There are three courses by the Adriatic, among them the American-style Adriatic Golf Club Cervia, the front nine holes of which are links-style, and Rimini Golf Club, overlooking the principality of San Marino.
Imola is famous for its Formula One race track and the historic town was home to Leonardo da Vinci. Further inland, regional capital Bologna is known for its famous spaghetti dish and boasts one of the world’s oldest universities. It also has golf close by in the shape of the long Le Fonti Golf Club course at Castel San Pietro Terme, featuring an island green, and Bologna Golf Club, designed by Henry Cotton and John Harris in 1959 and later updated by Peter Alliss.
ARGENTA AND MODENA. North-east of Bologna, between Ferrara and Ravenna, Argenta Golf Club features a rolling terrain of low dunes with groves of trees, water hazards and elevated tees on a site surrounded by the Po Delta regional park.
Modena Golf & Country Club was designed by Bernhard Langer and provides golfers with a technical challenge encompassing bunkers and water hazards galore on its championship course as well as a nine-hole executive course. Modena’s off-course attractions take in historic edifices such as its UNESCO-listed cathedral, the newly crowned best restaurant in the world, Osteria Francescana, and the Enzo Ferrari Museum – he was born in the city and founded the Ferrari marque there.
Modena is known as the world’s supercar capital, with the likes of Lamborghini and Maserati produced in the area and nearby Maranello the home of Ferrari and its F1 team.
Parma needs no introduction for its delicious ham. Courses in the area include the hilly San Valentino, Matilde di Canossa and La Rocca golf clubs.
Between Parma and Piacenza, Salsomaggiore Golf & Country Club lies 360m above sea level, while Croara Country Club is halfway between the River Trebbia and Apennines foothills and hosted the first Ladies Italian Open, in 1987.