Missing planes is much worse than missing putts, as our luckless correspondent Clive Agran finds out when flying the Italy to visit La Bagnaia Golf & Spa Resort...
Never before has a badly sliced tee-shot off the first felt so good as it did recently at La Bagnaia Golf and Spa Resort in Siena, Italy. The thrill I felt probably had a lot less to do with the quality of the shot than the fact that I was finally out in the fresh Italian air rather than languishing in a soulless airport terminal. Yes, the stunning Tuscan scenery did much to lift my weary mood.
My challenging journey meant that I arrived a day late, but missing the fairway was far less disappointing than missing the previous day’s practice with European Tour Pro, Chris Wood. As it was, I had 11 minutes from stepping out of the smart Mercedes (that collected me 80 minutes earlier from Florence airport) before teeing off. Clearly, two desultory swings were insufficient preparation for such a prestige event. Part of the reason I wanted to be there so much is that, having played with Chris Wood almost ten years ago when he was still an amateur, I planned to tell him how delighted I was in his success and ask whether partnering me way back when had in any way inspired him! Or, failing that, whether he could even remember me.
HAPPY MEMORIES. Since it was such a glorious episode in my otherwise remarkably undistinguished golf career, you won’t mind, I hope, if I briefly recount the story. The Portugal Nations Cup is an important amateur tournament that attracts three-man teams from the top 16 golfing nations. Regarded, by some, as even more prestigious than this event is the press-am that precedes it…in which each national side partners a (truly outstanding) journalist from their country to form a four-man team. In 2007, I was that very journalist and played alongside Chris Wood, Ben Evans and Ben Parker.
Shortage of space precludes my taking you through the round shot by shot, but with one score to count on each hole, our 15 under par secured victory. Apart from feeling aggrieved that my net birdie on a particularly treacherous par five didn’t count because Evans eagled it, what I remember most vividly was how beautifully Chris Wood played and thinking he had a bright future in the game. The other interesting fact worthy of note is that, of our team of four, I was the only one who didn’t subsequently turn pro.
PLAYING WITH A PRO. Bogeying every one of the outward nine at Royal Golf La Bagnaia would appear to vindicate that courageous, if painful, decision. The beautiful course certainly wasn’t to blame as I hugely enjoyed its sweeping fairways, gently rolling terrain and flawless greens. And I particularly appreciated the very clear definition with vivid green fairways standing out in stark contrast to the tall, swaying, straw-coloured grasses on either side. Rather reminiscent of a dessert course but without cactus.
Designed by renowned architect Robert Trent Jones, this Par 71 covers an area of 1300 hectare, and blends seamlessly into the gently rolling hills of Siena. Chris Wood joined our friendly four-ball on the 11th. Yes, he remembered me but evidently attached less significance to being on the triumphant press-am team at the Portugal Nations Cup than I have these past ten years. For him, it clearly lagged some distance behind capturing the Silver Medal at the 2008 Open at Birkdale and winning the Qatar Masters, the Lyoness Open and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He also seemed to attach more importance to representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Seve Trophy, England in the World Cup and Europe in the Ryder Cup than he did to being in my team that overcame 15 other nations that memorable day back in 2007. Possibly when you have amassed career earnings in excess of €8m, an embossed plate lacks lustre.
A freak thunderstorm cut short our round before we had reached the hole selected for the long-driving competition and so, yet another potential prize slipped through my sweaty fingers.
A CHARMING HOTEL. A shuttle service took us a few hundred yards to the charming hotel that more resembles a mediaeval village than what one might normally conjure up in the mind’s eye when thinking Hilton. Somewhat surprisingly, it is a Hilton but its ‘Curio’ tag suggests considerably more idiosyncrasy than you might normally associate with the brand. Indeed, La Bagnaia, set here in the rolling countryside of Tuscany, was once a medieval village, and manages flawlessly to preserve its history and character. The townscape and towers of nearby Siena are within view, and it’s only a short journey to the historic hill towns of San Gimignano and Montalcino. Nearby is also the walled town of Monteriggioni. To put it in perspective, history and culture abound!
ACCOMMODATION. All the rooms within the resort are decorated in the warm Tuscan tones of red and yellow, and all have those all-important views over the Tuscan hills. The accommodation spans numerous buildings located in two different villages, Borgo Bagnaia & Borgo Filetta, one in the main resort area, and the other located near the Spa.
BUDDHA SPA BY CLARINS. The name La Bagnaia relates to the custom of "bathing" in the thermal waters to be found here; and the resorts Buddha Spa Centre is a treat not to be missed if at all possible. The Spa is characterized by its use of a variety of treatments that are reputably capable of improving your psychological well-being. Guests can reconnect and re-energize with a wealth of facilities including an outdoor thermal pool which is supplied by water from a local spring. Sadly, I had no time to savour the delights of the spa which were sorely needed.
DINNER. After a drink in the delightful Canonica’s Garden, we sat down to a simply superb gourmet dinner on the terrace of La Voliera restaurant. There was a Q&A with Chris Wood over coffee and I asked when he had felt the most nervous on the golf course. He listed playing is his first Open at Royal Birkdale, his debut appearance at Augusta National and the first tee at the Ryder Cup. Hmmm, no mention of partnering me at the press-am before the Portugal Nations Cup.
Possibly feeling guilty at the appalling omission, he sat next to me and said: “I hear you had problems getting here.” He may have regretted asking me that after I regaled him with a long account of my travel woes. But was it all worth it just to meet Chris Wood again, play 13 holes of golf and stay in the lovely Bagnaia Golf and Spa Resort? You bet.
Good to know