Golf in Italia
by Terry Moore
Admittedly, when one thinks of Italy, golf doesn't come immediately to mind. Instead, it's Rome and antiquity, it's Florence and the Renaissance, it's great food and wine. But after spending ten days there last spring and visiting several golf courses, I was pleasantly surprised to find good golf working its way into travel packages. For sure, if you're looking for some sightseeing and shopping diversions to golf, it'll be hard to match Italy. Here's a small sampling of golf and sightseeing in Florence and Rome:
Florence: outside of Florence some 10 miles away, there's Ugolino Golf Club, the oldest course in Tuscany, built in 1934. It's located in the heart of the famed Chianti wine country. The setting is captivating with rolling hills and valleys and gentle mountains on the horizon. The Direttore (or General Manager) at Ugolino is the friendly Fausto Siddu who's been responsible for increasing the guest play last year to over 5,000 rounds. "Although we're a private club with 800 members, we welcome guests and travelers here," said Siddu. "We've developed some attractive 5-day packages with area 4-star hotels where travelers can golf for three days but also enjoy the sights and shops of Florence for the other two days."
Ugolino is a relatively short course at just under 6000 yards and par 72 but its small greens and undulating fairways make for a sporty test. The fairways are in good shape and the greens rolled true. And the setting is idyllic and regardless of one's score or handicap well worth the visit. The front side is particularly hilly with the greens nestled on little knolls while the back side is more flat and set alongside many vineyards. The clubhouse at Ugolino belongs to the National Trust and is very picturesque. There's a fine restaurant serving excellent food and drink and the views from the terrace are enchanting.
Visitors to Ugulino have access to rental clubs, trolleys, golf cars and caddies. There's a practice range as well where Frank Rosi has served as teaching professional since 1954. Rosi is a long-time friend of CBS golf analyst Ken Venturi whose forebears hail from this pretty part of Tuscany.
Seeing and Doing in Florence: Our chosen hotel in Florence -- the Hotel Cavour -- was just about perfect, conveniently located in the old city center and within walking distance of all the prime museums, churches and shops. The three most popular attractions in Florence (or Firenze as the natives say) are the Uffizi Museum and Gallery; the Duomo Cathedral; and the Accademia, home to the towering David sculpture. The Uffizi claims the highest attendance (nearly 2 million) of any Italian gallery so the lines into the museum, especially in the spring, can be Disneyesque. (Here's a tip: buy your tickets in advance, preferably before arriving in Florence.) But it's well worth the hassle and wait. The Uffizi truly has the richest store of Renaissance art in the world. The Duomo is the city's magnificent and overpowering cathedral, soaring above the "stony maze" of Florence. It boasts the fourth largest interior of any church in the world. At the Accademia, Michelangelo's genius is overwhelming with his David. One is awestruck by this giant masterpiece of marble. Regardless of the long lines to enter the museum, persevere and be patient. (The shortest lines are in the evening and late afternoon or in our case during a torrential downpour.)
Florence is teeming with glorious churches, museums, and shops. For sure, your guide books will steer you to the most popular. Be sure to include time for the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, Bargello Sculpture Museum. And leave time for simpler pleasures such as a leisurely drink at the Piazza della Signoria or a bus ride to beautiful Fiesole that overlooks Florence.
Rome: There several good options for golf near the Eternal City. Just south of city, along the Via Appia and near the Ciampino Airport, there is the Circolo Del Golf. Locally, it's more commonly referred to as the "Acquasanta" or Holy Water club. It has the distinction of being Italy's first golf club, founded in 1903. A par 71 at around 6300 yards, Acquasanta is set amid some beautiful surroundings, including ancient Roman ruins and gentle streams. It's a nice walker's course inasmuch as the terrain is generally flat. Amenities include restaurant, bar, and driving range.
The ubiquitous Robert Trent Jones has spread his genius to Italy with his 1987 design of the Country Club of Castelgandolfo. Of it, the old Master exclaimed: "it is certainly one of the most fascinating places I've ever seen." Located 12 miles from Rome, this is a most scenic layout set amid olive trees, oaks and cluster pines. A par 72 at around 6300 yards, Castelgandolfo has three lakes that come into play on several holes. Amenities include practice range, golf cars and swimming pool. Seeing and Doing in Rome: This is truly one of great cities of the world, offering a fascinating mix of antiquity and history, culture, religion and art. For a overview of the city, a bus tour is recommended before one sets out for individual itineraries. Tourcrafters does a fine job in this respect and offers a variety of full and 1/2 day tours, all professionally hosted. Not to be missed are all the usual favorites: The Vatican Museum (tip: queue up early prior to opening and then once inside head immediately to the Sistine Chapel), St. Peter's (go to the top of dome via an elevator and then 320 taxing steps) and Michelangelo's La Pieta, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. But spend time just sauntering around Rome and soaking in the life and vitality of the city. And yes, visit the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps even though they're teeming with tourists and youth. And have a little vino or cappuccino at the Piazza Navona. It's a lovely setting for people-watching and to admire Bernini's famed Fountain of the Four Rivers. Not far from this Piazza, you'll find the wonderfully modest Hostaria Romanesque restaurant serving inexpensive but exquisite pasta. And for a completely different view of life and death in Rome, visit the Protestant Cemetery, where Keats and Shelley are buried. It's tranquil and quite beautiful.
For a hotel, we were pleased with the Hotel Villa Borghese, located naturally across from the Villa Borghese, Rome's version of Central Park (which shouldn't be overlooked either.) The Hotel staff was most congenial and service-minded and the rooms were roomy and clean.
With or without golf clubs, Italy offers a memorable travel experience. But there is something extra special and intoxicating about playing golf in such a fabulous country where people so relish the pleasures of life. And don't be surprised to find Italy rivaling Spain and Portugal in the years ahead, beckoning golfers to some new courses now in the development stage in sunny southern Italy. But in the meantime, if you are planning a visit to Florence and/or Rome, be sure to set aside some time appreciating antiquity -- the Scottish variety -- out on the links.
For more information about travel to Italy, contact the Italian Tourist Office in Chicago at 312-644-0990. For more information about Tourcrafters, one of the largest tour operators specializing in Italy, call 800-621-2259.
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