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Italians call their home country il bel paese for good reason. “The Beautiful Country” more than lives up to such a lofty moniker with miles of gorgeous coastlines, soaring mountains, and lush terrain stretching from the tip of the boot in the south to the peaks of the Alps in the north.
Italy is synonymous with incredible food, glorious wine, ancient ruins, and fabulous fashion, yet even serious golfers may not associate their favorite game with one of the most popular travel locales on earth. That will surely change soon, when the presitigious Ryder Cup tees off in Rome in 2023 for what promises to be a celebration of the sport across the world. Moreover, the international tournament is a chance to introduce the world to Italy as a premier golfing destination—or reintroduce, more accurately.
The story of golf in Italy dates all the way back to the founding of the historic Florence Golf Club in 1889; four years before the first course opened in America. Now known as Circolo Golf Ugolino, it is one of more than 300 world-class courses that golfers can play in Italy—enough courses to play a fresh 18 holes every day for a year, with weekends reserved to enjoy a tiny taste of everything else Italia has to offer.
With such a rich golfing tradition, there is no need to wait until 2023 to book your tee time. If you want to experience world-class golf in spectacular surroundings, simply pack your spikes alongside your handmade Italian driving shoes and set a course for each of these vibrant, unique regions that together make Italy a truly bel paese.
Golfing in Italy is unlike golfing anywhere else on earth. As the country prepares to host the Ryder Cup in 2023, here’s what you need to know to tee off in Italia.
All roads lead to Rome, so there is no better place to begin the ultimate Italian golf excursion than in the Lazio region, home to one of the greatest cities in the world and endless opportunities to immerse oneself in the history, culture, and cuisine of Italy.
Unique among even other ancient world capitals, every place and piazza in Rome celebrates the past and the present, perfectly balancing thousands of years of tradition with ultra-modern elements. Rome suits all tastes, but with so much to experience, even a weekend trip can feel like a whirlwind visit without proper planning. Thankfully, no matter where you roam from the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain, the Eternal City is guaranteed to enchant you.
While technically located in a different country, situated entirely within Rome’s city limits, The Vatican is actually the smallest soverign nation on earth—an area barely the size of a postage stamp that has its own postal service. While an ambitious golfer could conceiveably clear St. Peter’s Square with a decent driver shot and a five-iron, the Vatican City is not to be missed. Despite its small stature, there may be no greater concentration of Renaissance art anywhere else, with 7km of galleries stretching from Michelango’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel and doglegging around St. Peter’s Basilica to the sumptueous Raphael Rooms at Stanze di Raffaello.
Outside the Vatican walls, the central hub of modern Rome is still the Colosseum, a staggering structure that is impressive from the outside but astonishing on the inside. Once you’ve seen the sights and sampled plenty of pasta, take the ancient roads a few kilometers outside the city toward the Lazio coastline. There, it’s time to embrace the old adage and do as the Romans do: Golf at one of the most iconic, eye-popping courses in Italy—and future host of the 2023 Ryder Cup—The Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
Though just a short drive from the city center, Marco Simone treats golfers to unrivalled views of the stunning natural landscape. One of the most aesthetically pleasing courses in the region, beautiful lakes and the Marco Simone Castle will accompany you on an unforgettable round. While the pros will compete on the redesigned Championship Course, the Club also has an additional nine-hole executive course for even more playability. But don’t be put off by the upcoming global tournament— Marco Simone appeals to both seasoned golfers and those teeing off for the first time in their lives, and is incredibly manageable for higher handicap golfers.
Golfers may think of water as a hazard, but the sparkling deep blue of Lake Como is anything but. The Lombardy region is home to magnificent water features, making it an idyllic destination to play 18 on the shores of ancient glacial lakes and in the shadows of the skyscraping Italian Alps.
Lago di Como is famous as a playground for the rich and famous, but Lago di Garda—Lake Garda—is a true paradise for golfers. There are nearly a dozen different courses spread throughout the region, but don’t leave without first finding the fairway at Arzaga Golf, an historic two-course, 27-hole club nestled in the hills near Lake Garda. The course itself is reminiscent of the original Scottish Links design, incorporating the rugged terrain and unique features of this region into an immersive experience that pits player against nature. After conquering the course, golfers can head to the Clubhouse to sample regional cuisine and local wine at the Arzaga Bistrot restauraunt to top off an unforgettable day.
Beyond the abundant natural beauty, each course carved into the alpine terrain is surrounded by myriad towns and villages that still preserve their authentic cultures and traditions. Lombardy is home to a number of centuries-old castles built into the mountainsides and even along the water—notably Sirmione, one of the best preserved castles in the country and an extremely rare example of an ancient water fortification that has stood the test of time and erosion.
Lombardy offers almost any kind of outdoor activity, from biking and hiking to sailing on the exquisite lakes or even skiing on the nearby Swiss border. Just like the après ski scene in the Alps, there is a growing après golf scene, burgeoned by Lombardy’s verdant vineyards producing some of the best varietals in Italy, like the highly-rated sparkling wine from Franciacorta or the award-winning varietals from Sforzato Di Valtellina. Sitting at a picture-perfect lakeside location with a small aperitif is one of the most authentic Italian experiences you can find in Italy.
With borders touching both France and Switzerland, the Piedmont region is buttressed on three sides by some of the highest mountain peaks and largest glaciers in Italy, making it a place unlike any other. The diverse terrain transitions from snow-capped Alps to expansive vineyards to the beachfronts of Lago Maggiore and Lago di Orta. These natural vistas perfectly compliment the region’s elegant architecture and make a perfect backdrop for an expanding epicenter of cuisine—Piedmont is the birthplace of the “Slow Food” movement and is hailed for world-famous Barolo wine, white truffles, and Castelmagno cheese.
The capital of Piedmont is Turin, a vibrant city that has been a leading light of culture and invention for nearly two millenia and now boasts some of the most picturesque golfing in Italy. Set in the stunning countryside along the slopes of the picturesque Serra Moraine, Golf Club Biella “Le Betulle” (The Birches) first opened in 1958 and has hosted multiple major Italian golf tournaments ever since.
The par-73 course was designed by the English architect John Morrison, a colleague and contemporary of the man many consider the greatest golf course architect of all time, Harry S. Colt. Colt's influence is apparent in Morrison’s brilliant design, a carefully constructed footprint that both incorporates and showcases the breathtaking alpine setting at every turn.
The modern course keeps true to the original design, with ravines, creeks and ponds pressed into service as hazards and native hardwood trees fencing in the fairway. These features in combination with carefully positioned bunkers bring out the best in players, though part of Le Betulle’s challenge is purely aesthetic—the views from the tee boxes are enough to distract even the most disciplined duffer on his downswing.
Veneto is home to Venice, of course, but we suggest golfing far away from the endless canals and waterways. Head west to another iconic city, Verona, perhaps most famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It is one of the most significant historic cities in Italy, with an abundance of art, history and culture from Roman remains to Celtic, Medieval, and Renaissance masterpieces of incalculable value.
The Verona Arena is the city’s best-known historical monument; an open-air Roman amphitheatre built in the first century that is remarkably still in use today. Walk through one of the best-preserved ancient structures in the world and you will step on the same stones that once hosted everything from gladiator games to medieval jousts and, more recently, Puccini operas and pop concerts.
The entire Veneto region is full of superb golf courses, and the Verona Golf Club is especially prestigious due to its illustrious history. With its evocative and unique landscape among ancient vineyards, it is no wonder than Verona Golf Club is often considered the most beautiful golf course in Northern Italy. After playing 18, relax on the clubhouse terrace and prepare for a delectable array of local dishes in the highly acclaimed restaurant. If dinner turns into dessert, spend a night at Le Casette Golf Apartments and simply exit your room right onto the course for your tee time the next morning.
FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
For proof that there is always more to experience in Italy, look no further than Friuli Venezia Giulia. Roam this region in the northeast and you will always uncover one more hidden village to explore, one more vintage to taste, one more mountain footpath to follow, and endless new stories to hear. Surrounded by Alpine and Dolomite peaks, Adriatic waves, and the Collio Hills, Friuli Venezia Giulia is a place which gives you that ‘first time’ feeling every time you visit.
Walk through the elegant town squares and streets and you will be overcome by some of the most astounding cuisine in Italy or anywhere else. FVG’s cellars, restaurants, gastronomy, wine shops, and craft workshops reflect the regional values of quality, authenticity, cordiality and distinctive identity. Friuli Venezia Giulia and its Collio area are considered among the most unique and special white wine regions in the world, with variatals influenced by the surrounding Austrian, Slavic, and Germanic winemaking traditions combined into exquisite examples of Italian wine.
Just like the wine, golf in Friuli Venezia Giulia is outstanding. There are seven different 18-hole golf courses scattered evenly across the region, providing golfers a variety of distinct golfing experiences.
Castello di Spessa Golf & Country Resort has a rich history—the private residence once hosted Giacomo Casanova—but today is a world-renowned resort that provides an intimate getaway and perfect base for golfers looking to explore this fantastic golfing region. The course is designed in a traditional parkland style, but is surrounded by such diverse and variable landscapes that players will feel as if they’ve just completed a round on three different courses. Honoring the estate and region, each hole bears the name of a wine from the estate vineyard, demonstrating just how much gastronomy and golf are interwoven in this spectacular place.
If you want to be a tourist without feeling like one, the Emilia-Romagna region is a perfect place to feel authentically Italian. Known as “Food Valley” due to producing the world’s most prized Italian gourmet exports—like Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and Aceto Balsamico—the region is also known as “Motor Valley” for producing another kind of incredible Italian export: cars. The birthplace of Enzo Ferrari is also home to iconic brands such as Lamborghini, Maserati, Pagani and Ducati, as well as the factories and museums dedicated to these ferocious vehicles.
The capital of Emile-Romagna is Bologna, a fascinating place that is still relatively unexplored by visitors despite its rich food culture and energetic atmosphere. Stroll the center of town and climb the Asinelli Tower to get stunning aerial views of the city and the surrounding hill, and you may just spot Bologna Golf Club, a classic Italian course that is steeped in history while still welcoming and friendly to golfers of all levels. Built in 1959 and designed by Cotton & Harris, the golf club is situated on the rolling countryside with sweeping panoramic views across the surrounding hills and plains of Bologna. The course has been updated in recent years and has played host to the Italian Amateur Championships as well as professional competitions.
Off the course, the elegant clubhouse blends in with the surrounding countryside and is the ideal place to sample the refined local cuisine of the club restaurant, which has been named a top ten club restaurant on more than one occasion. The club’s facilities cater to non-golfers too with a large summer swimming pool and sun deck.
Once you’ve played your way through the mainland, its time to set sail for a place where luxurious hotels, incredible food and wine, and award-winning golf blend together: the spectacular island of Sicily. Tiny fishing villages give way to five-star golf resorts for the ultimate golf-and-glamour experience.
Home of the European Tour’s Rocco Forte Sicilian Open and set next to the sparkling azure waters of the Mediterranean, Sicily’s Verdura Resort–part of Rocco Forte Hotels–is one of Italy’s premier golf resorts and a must-visit for golfers desiring fantastic play and the finer things in life. Located on the southern coast of Sicily between Agrigento and the fishing city of Sciacca, every room and suite at the Verdura Resort features a breathtaking sea view, while the brand-new Rocco Forte Private Villas each have its own private swimming pool and magnificent panoramic views of the Sicilian coast and the Mediterranean.
Verdura’s true calling card are its outstanding golf courses: two links-style championship layouts complemented by a nine-hole, par-three executive course and a soon-to-reopen East Course, all designed by world-renowned California golf architect Kyle Phillips. As part of a modern upgrade, aspiring amateurs and seasoned golfers can take advantage of cutting-edge technology at the clubhouse usually only available to professional players.
For a change of pace, the resort also boasts six tennis courts; padel courts; a two-tiered infinity pool; a fully-equipped gym and running trails that snake through olive and lemon groves. The resort’s award-winning spa complex includes 11 treatment rooms, gym, yoga studio, indoor lap pool, four outdoor Thalassotherapy pools, a double-height steam room, male and female saunas, and a spa bar for healthy fare. That is, if you still have room after dining at one of the many five-star restaurants on site.
As your Italian golf tour approaches the clubhouse, there is no better place to end than the crown jewel of the Mediterranean Sea. Due west of the boot and just south of the French island of Corsica are the clear turquoise waters, impeccable beaches, and rich history of Sardinia.
Sardinia is one of the oldest occupied bodies of land in Europe: Since 6,000 BC, the island has faced a near constant flow of conquering Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and Catalans, all of whom have ruled parts of the second largest island in the Mediterranean.
Eons later, the surf, sand, and ancient ruins remain, while modern Sardinia has become an absolutely amazing golf retreat. With perfect year-round conditions, the island is an unbeatable getaway for golfers sick of winter rules and desperate for an unforgettable Italian golf holiday.
The west coast of the island features long stretches of sandy beaches with small towns dotted here and there amid the thick pine forests. Stunning accomodations like the Is Arenas Resort, with nearly six kilometers of beachfront, conjure up a rainbow of vibrant colors and intense sensations. Located in the Oristano area, once the site of extensive sand dunes, the land has since been reforested and turned in a vast green oasis that supports a pine forest and a golf course that is simply a little slice of golf paradise.
The Is Arenas Golf & Country Club is distinguished by an almost perfect combination of sandy dunes, forests, seascapes, and an excellent climate. A hidden diamond floating in the sapphire water, Is Arenas is amongst the most spectacular golf courses in Europe. The classic parkland course carves through a magical pine forest that evokes the feel of playing in England, so many travelling golfers will feel right at home here. Of course, once you emerge from the woods you will bask in the glorious sunshine and know for certain you are walking a special path.
From the icy peaks of the Alps to the ancient ruins of Rome to the exotic islands of the Mediterranean, Italy invites golfers to plan their Grand Golfing Tour to experience the full splendor of il bel paese.