TOURISTS PROWLING St Mark’s Square with a golf bag slung over their shoulder rather than a camera are a rare sight in Venice. But golfers who know appreciate that, just 30 minutes away by water taxi, is a splendid holiday course to enjoy, free from the hustle and bustle and sharp suited men keen to get you on a day trip to their cousin’s glass factory on Murano.
Henry Ford, of cars available in every shade as long as it was black fame, is held responsible for the creation of the course in 1928. He arrived at the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido, that long strip of land that separates Venice from the Adriatic, with his set of clubs and was less than gruntled at finding nowhere to play.
Ford complained to his friend, Count Giuseppi Volpi di Misurata, who immediately did what all good millionaire presidents of a luxury hotel chain do in an effort to satisfy valued customers, and set about building one.
The site the Count selected was on the most southernmost tip of the Lido where the 17th century Alberoni Fort stands. At first the club only comprised nine holes although such was its popularity that it was extended to 18 in 1951 and made a par 72.
Where once gun emplacements stood, players now tee off on the first hole from the fort ramparts as we track two loops of nine that sensibly both come back to the clubhouse, itself once military quarters that have been stylishly redeveloped.
This is a pleasing and easy walking although, because of the low-lying nature of the course, there are sadly no views of the sea. The only water we encounter over the 6,600 yards is around the turn between the eighth and 13th holes. And, unless the prevailing north-west wind is blowing hard, we should not have to worry about losing balls. The fairways may be lined with maritime pine trees but there is plenty of space amongst them if our game goes slightly awry.
The highlight of the round comes at the par three ninth, the quirkiest hole on the course by a stretch. This 187-yard, blind tee shot needs to fly part of the ancient moat as well as a castle rampart, now largely grassed over, into a saucer shaped green, which is further protected by a left hand bunker.
Players are alerted to activity up on the green by a flashing light. When the group ahead leave they hit a greenside button to turn the light off.
With fourball the most popular form of the game here, especially with members, it is wise to allow two hours to play each nine and having successfully navigated the ninth it may well be a time to enjoy a superb lunch of local seafood washed down with any one of the selection of fine crisp dry wines of the Veneto before embarking on the back nine.
If the sun shines this is a delightful oasis made even better if we are staying in Venice rather than on the Lido as then we still have the boat trip back to our hotel to look forward to.
The journey takes us past the islands of La Grazia and San Clemente, the latter once a psychiatric institute but now home to the luxurious five star Palace Hotel and resort, past the great Palladian church of San Giorgio on the Giudecca, before returning us to the hordes in Venice’s only Piazza. Now just try and find a better journey to a golf course than that!