There are so many reasons to visit Italy and, if you ever need another, then it is that it is full of splendid golf courses. Recently we had the pleasure to visit the region of Venice and sample some of the courses and the culture of the area.
Culture is a strange word, and to some it may seem very high-brow, but if you enjoy the finer points of architecture, art, food, wine and service, then you would be hard pushed to find a destination better suited.
Historically, Venice was a key trading destination and was initially founded over 1500 years ago, when Attila the Hun invaded and many sought refuge on the islands of the lagoon around which today’s Venice is built. It was a major trading port and led the world for many years until the discovery of North and South America. Trade shifted away as the Mediterranean was not such a convenient place for world trade to focus on. Venice lost relevance as a world trading power and became more of a centre for the arts and music, particularly opera.
After a variety of wars and revolutions had it move from independence to being part of the Austrian empire and it was not until 1866 that Venice joined the new nation of Italy. Venice was left largely unscathed physically during the Second World War, but many of its Jewish population were deported and a great number were massacred by the brutality of the Nazis.
As a flooded city, Venice is often greatly affected by changes in sea level and the current state of global warming is of real concern. In 1966 it suffered a very severe flood and much of its historical beauty was damaged. It recovered well and today is home to just 270,000 residents, but regularly hosts millions of tourists keen to sample this most exquisite of cities.
Verona Golf Club, with a par of 72 and measuring 6054metres - nearly 6700 yards from the back tees - is good test. It is a sleek parkland course with undulating fairways and beautiful views of the countryside. The clubhouse nestles comfortably under the shade of some stunning ancient trees, gently dousing the elegant patio with a light dappled shade, keeping the fiercer rays of sun away from golfers and diners.
The club was founded in 1960 on the initiative of two keen golfers: Alberto Farina and Harold Gent. The following year a small number of members commissioned the design of the first nine holes by John Harris, with ten years later the course being increased to 18 holes. There have been further improvements and refinements to the layout and the clubhouse over the years, and today it is a beautifully mature course and a delight to visit.
Silvio Grappasonni won a Challenge Tour Event here in 1988, and the following year saw Costantino Rocca win his first tournament, with a birdie at the last. No wonder he is so very fond of the club. The course record of 65, is held by Jesper Parnevik.
Verona is very proud of its environmental credentials and has won the prestigious Green Flag – reserved only for those courses being maintained to the best eco friendly standards.
Italian golf has been on the up for several years - in fact ever since Costantino Rocca blazed a trail for Italian golfers, playing in three Ryder Cups and beating Tiger Woods at Valderama for Seve's great Spanish victory in 1997. He is perhaps best known for the most dramatic Championship-tying putt in the history of major golf. In the St Andrews Open of 1995, he duffed his chip into the valley of sin, while trying to tie John Daly. The tears of joy and disbelief shed by the watching world as he then holed out his enormous putt, gave us one of golf's abiding memories. He lost the play off, but he won our hearts. Today Costantino is sixty and still heavily involved in golf. He helps to promote Italian Golf at every opportunity and still plays the occasional game on the Seniors Tour. In person, Costantino sums up the Italian golfing experience: he is fun, charming and engaging and most interested in you having a great time. Costantino gave a fabulous clinic at Verona, in his charming and expert way. He is a real credit to Italian golf and has paved the way for today’s crop of Italian Tour players, who are bound to feature strongly when the Ryder Cup comes to Italy a few years hence.
Golf della Montecchia, was founded in 1988 and designed by the British architect Tom Macaulay. It has hosted the Challenge Tour in 2001, 2002 and 2013 and the Alps Tour in 2010 and 2012. The Golf Club at Montecchia is a 27 hole complex with a fine golf academy and golf range. The practice facilities have all of the latest technology of ball tracking and statistical analysis, including Trackman. Unusually, the range seems busy all day long, with improvers, lessons and golfers practising before and after their rounds and a general interest in earned improvement. The loops of nine give a full-length championship 18 and a slightly shorter 9. As golf is built for everyone to enjoy, there are at least five different sets of tees available. It is beautifully trimmed, with high class green complexes and carefully worked out water features, which help to define this relative flat layout that winds through mature trees and brightly blooming bushes of all shades. More recently the course has been converted to Bermuda grass, allowing for optimal conditions all around the year. The longer course has a par of 72 and measures 6318 metres (over 7000 yards from the championship tees); its layout is fairly flat, but very cleverly laid out to provide a strong challenge for all standards of player. A first class drainage system allows play even when weather conditions might close other facilities.
The clubhouse is on a grand scale, with hotel accommodation and privately owned apartments also included. The upstairs restaurant has a Michelin Star and the same team provide a fantastic open buffet lunch for all golfers, using delicious local produce. The clubhouse was originally the old tobacco drying room and the warehouses of the Count Emo Capodilista’s old neighbouring farm La Montecchia, which is now renowned for its excellent wine production.
The ground floor stands beside two large putting greens, the driving range and a wonderful swimming pool. It houses the clubhouse reception and offices, as well as the changing rooms for members and guests, the Bar & Grill and the pro shop.
Golf Club Villa Condulmer
The golf course is made up of two very different nines. The first was designed by John Harris, and winds through the age-old flora of Villa Condulmer’s 18th century park. The second nine holes, designed by Marco Croze, are longer than the first and quite different in nature. The first nine holes are only available to those walking or using trolleys, as it is thought that golf buggies would detract from the historical park and timeless landscape. The greens are fast and well defended by strategically placed bunkers, with water being a threat on about half of the holes. Both sides of the course are well laid out on fairly flat ground and provide beautiful golf, but are not over long. The combined layout is a par 71 with 5900m (just on 6500 yards).
There is also a compact golf range and once again an utterly fabulous clubhouse and restaurant for after your game. The club has an almost English feel to it, with some quaint traditions and a discreet service style, which is all too rare today.
The putting green, like the greens on the course, is lightning fast and much of the defense of the course is made up from players ‘wrong-siding’ themselves on these Augusta-fast greens.
Buggies are easily available at all courses, but it is a good idea to book if you need one to play. There are dozens more golf clubs to visit in the region and all will provide a special experience of golf and relaxation. Golf is just a less hurried event in Italy and if that only leaves time for nine holes, then one will enjoy nine magnificent holes.
The temperature and overall climate are perfect for golf from March until well into October, and often beyond. With the advent of Spring, the countryside bursts with colour and vibrancy. Italian courses are seemingly tended by gardeners, as well as greenkeepers, and some of the planting around the clubhouses and patios would shame a stately home. This is the key ingredient to golf in Italy - the experience must be special and so it is no surprise that other countries may have even longer courses, but not few will approach the loveliness of golf in Italy.
Accommodation in the region is fabulous and varies in price and specification, but not in quality – all Italian hotels are good. Most importantly, the service everywhere is second to none and it is hard to find fault with any aspect of the hospitality offered.
Golf in the region around Venice is the ideal break for a couple or small group of mixed golfers, looking for something a bit more stimulating to the senses. It is one of the most romantic areas on the planet, so it is best to take your partner if possible. If he or she is a non-golfer, or not wanting to play as much as you, then the outstanding spas are a compelling distraction. Some of the mud treatments are wonderfully relaxing and come with the appealing boast of anti-ageing properties and more. These claims may or may not be true, but the ultimate relaxation is assured.
Prosecco is fast advancing on Champagne as the world's favourite bubbly, which is not surprising as it is half the price, and twice as nice. The finest prosecco is produced in the area around and just to the north of Venice. Tours of vineyards are a great way to get a deeper understanding of the production process of all sorts of wine. The tastings really top-off the experience, providing that someone else is driving!
As the home of culture, Italy can already claim to be one of the most popular destinations For tourists of all types. Surprisingly, golf tourism has yet to really catch hold and this is a great bonus as the courses are relatively cheap to play and completely uncrowded. It makes for the most relaxing of breaks and a lovely change from the demanding time sheet driven courses, which populate much of the Algarve and Spain.
Romance is alive all over Italy and no golfing couple should miss out on the chance to indulge their dreams in this glorious country.
The region has other specialities too, with great scenery and a host of historically charged towns and cities within easy reach. There is nothing not to love about golf in Italy – it is simply delightful.