Driving in Italy is a hazardous business. Even the comparatively short journey from Verona Airport to the pretty lakeside town of Salo contained more anxious moments than one would normally endure throughout the three days of the Ryder Cup.
And golf clubs aren’t immune from whatever it is that sitting behind a steering wheel does to transform normally gentle and polite Italians into determined assassins. A brief contretemps in the car park at the Garda Golf and Country Club was followed by a minor incident outside the caddy master’s quarters as a young man anxious to fill the current vacancy for an Italian F1 driver screeched by in a buggy, too quickly and too close. And so a drive of the other sort, up a hill, through an olive grove and onto a wickedly sloping fairway on the opening hole was far less fraught.
Thankfully, the combined influences of a tranquil setting and delightful parkland layout soon soothed away any residual stress. Only a climb up a gentle hill or the occasional threatening water hazard raised the pulse significantly.
Italian Open Venue
Designed by the famous English firm of Cotton, Pennick, Steel and Partners, Garda has three equally appealing nines. For a modest supplement, the energetic visitor is welcome to take the triple challenge of the red, white and yellow. A good idea might be to grab lunch on the lovely clubhouse terrace before embarking on the final nine.
Garda has twice hosted the Italian Open and it’s not hard to imagine this beautifully turned out course presenting a thorough examination to the seasoned campaigners on the European Tour. Off the forward tees, which reduces the combined yardage of the red and white nines from significantly over 7000 yards to a more manageable 6,600, the course is certainly not too tough for the handicap golfer.
There are loads of other things to appreciate in the beautiful area around lovely Lake Garda, which stretches for more than 30 miles between imposing snow-capped mountains in the north of Italy. Countless castles and cathedrals, various vineyards, Roman ruins and fascinating museums could instill guilt feelings into the heart of the hacker who refuses to be distracted from the relentless pursuit of pars. The more sensitive and sensible golfer should try and include what might loosely be described as cultural activities into the itinerary.
A walk around the beautiful city of Brescia with its ruined third century Roman theatre, spectacular Capitoline Temple, Forum and Basilica is almost mandatory. And if you like mosaics and are interested in the middle ages, then a visit to the magical Monastery of Santa Giulia is a must.
Intellectually less demanding but equally enjoyable are visits to any one of the dozens of vineyards in the area that produce the famous Franciacorta wine. Boat trips on Lake Garda and walks around such lovely lakeside towns such as Salo, Gardone Riviera and Sirmione and also great fun. And being Italy there are, of course, countless superb restaurants serving everything from pizza and pasta to very tasty freshwater fish more or less straight out of the lake.
Work Up a Thirst But Stay Out of the Water
Getting back to the main purpose of the visit, the next stop was Franciacorta Golf Club where a peculiar opening hole, which requires a mid-iron to the “knee” of a 90-degree bend, followed by a short iron, is a weird introduction to what is a delightful course.
Although not terribly long, the numerous trees and plentiful water features put a premium on accuracy and make this Pete Dye creation a real pleasure. Quite a few of the greens are wrapped around one or other of the lakes making for somewhat nervous approaches over water.
Hilly rather than mountainous, walkers will develop a powerful thirst by the finish, which, after a bottle of water, is perhaps best slaked by the excellent local wine.
A Second World War Survivor
Bogliaco is the third oldest golf course in Italy. Opened in 1912 to accommodate the increasing number of English and German tourists, it has suffered at the hands of history. Right on the tranquil shores of Lake Garda, the fairways were converted into runways during the Second World War and, prior to that, had been planted with wheat on the orders of the government.
Those who play it will be grateful it reverted to golf in 1953. More recently, the imposing period clubhouse has benefited from total refurbishment and, with its future secure, expansion from the original nine to a full 18-hole was inevitable and was completed a decade ago.
Hook Clears Terrace
Arzaga is a top-of-the-range resort with the almost mandatory spa and other first-class facilities you would expect to find in such a high-end establishment. Before venturing out onto the course, have a whack on the excellent driving range for it has been thoughtfully sited to encourage the humble hacker by providing elevated bays that virtually guarantee every shot will get airborne. The chap in the neighbouring bay managed, courtesy of a prodigious hook, to hit the terrace where innocent guests were sipping coffee. It soon emptied when he was seen fetching another bucket of balls.
Out on the course proper, there are 27 holes to tackle; nine of which have been designed by Gary Player, and the rest by Jack Nicklaus II. All make the most of the gently undulating topography, magnificent setting and superb scenery. Although both courses are quite difficult, neither is truly frightening, and an enjoyable round is almost guaranteed.
Why We Like It
Lake Garda is an exceptionally beautiful area that offers the sportsman and sportswoman enough energetic options to burn off any excess calories. You can sail, windsurf, fish, kitesurf, waterski or even dive in the lake. Or, if you don’t fancy getting wet, take a boat trip.
While You’re There
If you get tired carrying your clubs, why not leave them behind and enjoy an unencumbered walk around the lake. There are several waymarked trails, particularly on the north and west side of the lake. And if you’re a bit more ambitious, there are trekking trails that take you up into the mountains. The spectacular views from the top make it all worthwhile. Okay, if you fancy the views more than the walk, there is a soft option. The Malcesine cableway soars to 5000 feet in just ten minutes and takes you to the top of Monte Baldo. What makes the journey even more thrilling is the rotating cable car which gently spins in the higher section affording 360° panoramas.