A FEAST FOR THE SENSES - Golf in Italy’s Veneto region
By Peter Ellegard and Dermot Synnott
When you take a golf holiday in Italy, the golf is almost incidental. It’s the culinary experiences, the wines and the conviviality that help to make it so memorable.
That is probably more true of the Veneto region than anywhere else. After all, it is Italy’s biggest wine-producing area and is home to the likes of sparkling favourite Prosecco, Soave white wine, Bardolino rosé and reds such as Valpollicella and Amarone.
Then there’s the cuisine. Like everywhere in Italy, this north-eastern part of the country is renowned for its food. Meals are to linger over, from lunch in a magnificent clubhouse after a round of golf to savouring gourmet creations in a fine-dining city restaurant.
Add beautiful scenery, glorious cities full of stunning architecture and a liberal sprinkling of grand Palladian villas – classical Romanesque mansions by 16th century architect Andrea Palladio that spawned a style copied across Europe and America – and it’s easy to see how Veneto has come up such a winning recipe. Indeed, this beguiling region, stretching from the Adriatic to Lake Garda and up to the craggy peaks of the Dolomite mountains, is Italy’s most popular with tourists.
It’s an area that stirs your very soul: whether soaking up the ambience of Venice with a coffee in iconic St Mark’s Square and taking a gondola trip to explore its maze of canals; enjoying the thermal spring waters of Abano Terme, close to the architectural marvel that is the city of Padua; sitting in the vibrant heart of Treviso sipping Prosecco from vineyards right on its doorstep and tucking into regional specialities such as white asparagus and risotto on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant; or emulating Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy by standing on Juliet’s balcony in historic Verona.
The golf isn’t too shabby, either. Named Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year for 2013 in the golf tourism industry’s prestigious annual IAGTO Awards, the Veneto region has almost 20 golf courses. All of them welcome visiting golfers. What sets Veneto’s courses apart from those elsewhere in Italy is their diversity. Courses are laid out in settings that range from alongside beaches to high in the mountains. There is even one in Venice that can only be reached by boat!
We were lucky enough to be invited to the region as media guests of the tourist board. Well serviced by airports, European golf journalists arrived into Venice Marco Polo Airport and Treviso Antonio Canova Airport.
Our first visit was to Golf Club Padova. The 27-hole Padova Golf Club’s neatly-kept fairways and greens border a 17th century villa, Villa Barbarigo. Established in 1962, the course was designed by English architect John Harris and lies at the foot of the Euganean Hills. The course is a true botanic garden, with 8,000 trees nestled in the Thermal Spa Area where pampering spa treatments are available. The Club’s services include an extremely comfortable clubhouse, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a gym, and an excellent traditional restaurant.
After an early rise, the next morning’s game was at Golf Club Colli Berici, a short 45-minute transfer from our hotel. This golf club is surrounded by the Berici Hills and lies a short distance from historic Vicenza, the birthplace of Palladio, the architect who inspired the design of America’s White House. The 18-hole course offers splendid views of the Lessini Mountains and the Little Dolomites while the clubhouse has picture windows opening onto the terraces and offers a fine restaurant associated with the Confraternita del Baccalà – a fraternity whose main aim is to preserve the original ways of preparing the traditional baccalà fish dish, one of the most celebrated Venetian dishes – overlooking a new and elegant infinite pool.
As for the club house restaurant, a top-level restaurant is managed by the talented and widely-regarded head chef Giandomenico Zocca. From locally-sourced seafood, including a soft shell crab delicacy, to mouth-watering pastas and fine wines, this restaurant deserves its place at the top for elegant lunches and dinners.
After lunch, our group transferred to Golf Club Verona, one of the most beautiful golf courses in north Italy, close to Lake Garda. It is also close to the city famous for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tragedy, Verona Golf Club is an environmentally-friendly parkland course graced by mature trees and surrounded by the vineyards of the Custoza hills. It was one of the courses that helped launch the professional career of Italy’s greatest golfer, Costantino Rocca, when he won the Challenge Tour’s Open Index tournament there in 1989. The front nine, which opened for play in 1963, tests golfers with narrow fairways hemmed in by trees and greens protected by mounded bunkers. The back nine holes, added a decade later, are more open but more undulating.
The clubhouse is stunning, offering a country retreat feel with facilities to include a pro shop, locker rooms, swimming pool and restaurant. After your game, relax in the Italian sunshine with a chilled beer on the outside patio area; an ideal relaxing setting for your golf holiday.
Day three brought our group to Golf della Montecchia. Part of the PlayGolf54 Group and comprising 27 holes in three nine-hole loops, Golf della Montecchia is gloriously situated amidst the Euganean Hills close to Abano Terme. Its most striking features are its elegant, classical-design clubhouse, noted for its Michelin-starred Alaimo restaurant and fronted by a terrace where golfers can reflect on their round over wine in the afternoon sun, and the adjacent, imposing castle of Conte Emo Capodilista that forms the backdrop to the closing holes of its Red and White courses. The courses are flat but water hazards in the form of lakes and sinuous streams make for a technically-demanding challenge on a number of holes. The training facilities are state of the art, including a gym, large indoor putting green and golf simulators.
Golf della Montecchia was honoured with the award for community value in the 2018 IAGTO Sustainability Awards, for its wide-ranging environmental and community work and partnerships with a variety of educational institutions.
Next on itinerary was a visit to Golf Club Cà della Nave. This golf course is the only design in the Veneto region by the Arnold Palmer Design Company, founded by the late, great golf champion turned course architect. It is also of just three bearing the Palmer name in the whole of Italy. Boasting water hazards on 12 of its 18 holes, it lies in an 18th century park alongside a 450-year-old patrician villa that now serves as the clubhouse.
Completely renovated in 2016, the restaurant “Le Serre” is the lively heart of the Cà della Nave golf clubhouse. It is a modern and exclusive setting with stylish furniture and soft evening lights, which offers indoor and outdoor dining options for lunch and dinner. It’s also a trendy location for a poolside party, as there are three swimming pools so you can make a day of it.
OTHER GOLF COURSES IN THE REGION
Among other course are two more by noted golf architects. Tom Fazio designed the Paradiso del Garda Golf Club course in the rolling hills above Lake Garda and Peter Harradine laid out the spectacular mountain course at Asiago Golf Club, set on a high plateau and with an adjacent boutique hotel and spa.
Other courses built next to grand villas include those at Ca’ Amata Golf Club, where the clubhouse is flanked by a 300-year-old villa, and Villa Condulmer Golf Club, laid out around a palatial villa that is now a five-star hotel.Besides Ca’ della Nave Golf Club, several other courses are in the grounds of former parks. Among them is Frassanelle Golf Club, where the fairways wind through a 500-acre, 19th century country park.
The historic Venice Golf Club is located at the southern tip of the Lido, a barrier island separating the Venice Lagoon from the Adriatic, and is laid out around a Napoleonic fort with fairways lined by pines, mulberry trees, willows and poplars. It can be reached by vaporetto water bus from a stop next the Doge’s Palace in the heart of Venice, with a short onward taxi journey, or by car ferry for those with rental cars. Its venerable fairways have been graced by golfers from the great, including Henry Cotton, Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros, to the bad – Hitler and Mussolini.
For beach lovers, Pra’ delle Torri Caorle’s par-3 5th hole skirts the sea and the 6th tee juts out onto the sandy beach. It and nearby Jessolo Golf Club are close to beach resort Lido di Jessolo, on the Venetian Riviera.
HOTELS Our base for this trip was the thermal resort city of Abano Terme, which has several courses on its doorstep. Take in the sights and enjoy the laid back atmosphere and bustling coffee shops and restaurants.
Among hotels in the city are the Hotel Bristol Buja, a five-star traditional thermal hotel with three outdoor thermal pools and a luxury wellness centre as well as a tennis court, mini golf course and bowling-green, and the Abano Ritz. It has two interconnecting indoor and outdoor spa pools with an aqua-fitness corner and hydromassage area, and a thermae spa offering treatments including mud-bath therapies.
Hotel Bristol Buja
Our base for this visit was Hotel Bristol Buja, an elegant house-style boutique hotel with luxurious furnishings and professional staff. The buffet lunch is very impressive, offering regional Veneto flavours and Mediterranean cuisine – offering a rich selection of hot and cold plates.
At the Bristol Buja you can enjoy health and wellness in a complete way: in its Thermae, in the Beauty Farm Maison BB or by the poolside table. After your dinner, the pool bar or hotel bar is the perfect place to relax with a fine Italian wine.
The Abano Ritz
A number of Veneto’s golf courses have on-site hotels, so golfers can stay at one course and play others nearby as well as taking in the sights and experiences of the cities. Among those with on-site hotels is Villa Condulmer Golf Club, its grand palladian villa now a five-star hotel.
Alternatively, staying in a city-centre hotel allows the option of travelling out to play courses in the surrounding countryside.
RESTAURANTS Underlining Veneto’s position as a culinary hotspot in Italy, chef Massimiliano Alajmo is the youngest chef ever to have been awarded three Michelin stars – for his family’s La Calandre restaurant, in the village of Sarmeola di Rubano 6km from Padua – and is one of eight Italian chefs to have earned the triple honour. The restaurant is just a few kilometres from Golf della Montecchia, where the Alajmo family manage the main La Montecchia restaurant, also awarded a Michelin star, and the ABC Montecchia bistro.
Colli Berici Golf Club also has a fine-dining restaurant.
Golf della Montecchia http://www.golfmontecchia.it
Padova Golf Club http://www.golfclubpadova.it
Ca’ della Nave Golf Club http://www.cadellanave.com
Golf Club Verona http://www.golfclubverona.com
Colli Berici Golf Club http://www.golfclubcolliberici.it