GOLF IN ITALY is a patrician affair. Membership of golf clubs does not come cheaply and local grandees are just as likely to head off to their club with a business colleague or valued client to have lunch as they are to pull out their clubs and play 18 holes.
Founded in 1925, Villa d’Este Golf Club is situated above Lake Montorfano, just over 40 miles north of Milan on the road to Como in the heart of the Italian lakes. Some 3,500 feet above sea level with18 holes forming two loops through a forest of pine, ash and chestnut trees this is an old fashioned club correctly regarded as one of the finest in Italy. Other than in the full heat of August the air is invariably clean and fresh with a delicious scent of pine.
The luxurious two tiered Swiss chalet-styled clubhouse perched behind the raised green of 18 retains a golden book to be signed by those deemed worthy of entry. These include King Edward VIII, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Bing Crosby and Clark Gable who have all played these twisting, tree-lined fairways.
The original architect of Villa d’ Este was a colourful character named Peter Gannon, a Roman Catholic priest born in Buenos Aires of Irish parents. A talented enough, left-handed golfer to have finished runner-up in the South of Ireland championship at Lahinch in 1908, he was subsequently asked to remodel the Old Course at Karlovy Vary, Carlsbad in the Czech Republic. He went on to design courses in Milan, Florence and Baden-Baden in Germany as well as in Switzerland where the members of Engandine in St Moritz called him ‘Peter the Great.’
His creation at Villa d’Este is, sadly, longer regarded as worthy of a championship venue because of its length of only 6,300 yards from the back, white tees but is still an excellent test of golf with small, sloping greens that are often raised with some treacherous run offs. Being in the right position is absolutely key as players on the wrong side of the fairway will often not have a clear view of the green or be blocked by overhanging branches.
What strikes most first time visitors, apart from the glorious setting, is the lush condition of the course with springy turf and well manicured greens. It can get wet underfoot early in the season but a visit in May or June will find it at its very best.
Weekday green fees for overseas’ visitors are €100 but try not visit on a Tuesday when the excellent restaurant, serving some terrific Piedmontese cuisine and with an equally impressive selection of Italian wines, is closed. Sitting out on the terrace in the sunshine, enjoying the views after a round, with a glass of chilled white wine on hand is an added delight that makes playing this fine old club such a memorable experience..