3 Great Places to Play in Central Italy

Antognolla: crafted by the famed designer Robert Trent Jones.

Antognolla: crafted by the famed designer Robert Trent Jones.

To the British traveller, this might well be viewed as one of the lower-profile areas of Italy, but these three regions have their own very distinctive appeals. Liguria has predictable attractions given its geography is dominated by a coastline that encompasses an incredibly high concentration of Blue Flag beaches. It boasts the myriad allures that go with such an unspoilt seaside location. The region of Marche boasts unspoilt rolling topography and tremendous value for money, so has much to commend it. And the lush green region of Umbria can offer a golf break of high quality and low hassle.

The fine 9-holer at Liguria – Castellano.

The fine 9-holer at Liguria – Castellano.

1. Liguria
Its geography makes it easy to appreciate why playing golf here is such a pleasant experience. Sitting along the Mediterranean, bordered by Cote d’Azur in France to the west and by Tuscany to the east, this narrow strip of land enjoys a varied landscape – from the glistening sea to the Alps and Apennines mountains. 

It is famed for its high number of Blue Flag beaches and crystalline waters, but it also boasts the bright lights of Genoa, a charming medieval city. The mild climate is another bonus while the regular flights from London to Genoa are bolstered by the option to fly to Nice and drive over the border. The four 18-hole courses in Sanremo – Circolo Golf Ulivi, Garlenda, Sant Anna and Circolo Golf & Tennis Rapallo – provide most of the golf interest, and the Liguria Golf Association’s new Golf Pass (liguriagolf.com) offers visitors superb green fee rates.

The region has a long history in the game, with Rapallo founded in 1931 to cater for the jet set who give Portofino its well-heeled reputation. Mixing beauty with technical merit, it is nestled in pine-covered hills with the ruins of the Monastery of Valle Christi adjacent to the 7th.

The following year, Ulivi was laid out. It is delightfully sited in the hills behind Sanremo. Its valley location offers shelter and tranquillity yet visitors also enjoy magnificent sea views.  Garlenda was created 33 years later by British designers of stout reputation – John Morrison and John Harris. It is as well routed as one expects of associates of the great Harry Colt. Set in the Lerrone Valley, one of the most beautiful and picturesque valleys of the Ligurian hinterland, it is surrounded by ancient olive groves and pine forests. A morning round here followed by an afternoon in Alassio or Albenga is a day to savour.

The key modern attraction is Sant Anna, given it was designed by the famed Robert von Hagge between the hills above Arenzano near Cogoleto. It is a predictably exacting experience. There are also super nine-holers at the likes of Castellaro, La Filanda (Albisola), Arenzano Golf & Tennis, and Marigola (Lerici).

Antognolla 1 - Umbria.jpg

2. Umbria
The only region without a coastline or a border with another country, this really is the centre of Italy. Its interest stems from wandering the villages around scenic Lake Trasimeno or Marmore’s falls, exploring the regional capital Perugia, or making a pilgrimage to the World Heritage Site of Assisi, where the revered preacher St Francis was born. Often described as the ‘green heart of Italy’, Umbria is bordered by Tuscany to the west, Marche to the east and Lazio to the south.

The most celebrated of its four courses is the Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed championship course Antognolla. It is 20 minutes north of Perugia and overlooked by the eponymous medieval castle. Laid out in a beautiful, quiet valley, it sits among woodland and natural flora; it might be relatively young, but it is well designed and a worthy venue

Golf Club Perugia is on the outskirts of the city and offers enough challenge by virtue of the trees and the volume of bunkering. Well manicured and good value, it would be an ideal course to play on a city break here. Also close to Perugia, but this time to the west, Lamborghini is laid out on a hillside near to Lake Trasimeno, close to an impressive tourist destination that retains its rustic values. Note well that all three of the courses could be enjoyed in the same trip without much driving between them.

Conero sits among cherry, strawberry and oak trees.

Conero sits among cherry, strawberry and oak trees.

3. Marche
Known for its picturesque hilly terrain – notably the Apennine range as well as those that descend towards the Adriatic Sea, which runs down its eastern edge – this land of river valleys and rolling landscapes has a surprising number of courses. It is bordered by Emilia-Romagna to the north, Tuscany and Umbria to the west and Abruzzo and Lazio to the south. 

Most of them are set in the east of the region, led by Conero, opened in 1992 and laid out within Sirolo’s Conero Park of  strawberry and cherry trees, oaks and brooms. The front nine of the 6,600-yard ‘championship’ course is dominated by a lake before rolling land characterises the back side. Another good option is I Lauri, a nine-hole course in the heart of Val d’Aso in the province of Ascoli Piceno. Set
in the hills 185m above sea level, it was developed from an executive course into a well-maintained undulating nine-holer in 2007 by Jeremy Pern. Another nice nine-hole experience awaits at Vallugola, in the heart of the San Bartolo Park with views of the Bay of Vallugola. Begun in 1992, it also progressed into a nine-holer in 2007 when it was extended into the landscape by Tom Dewar and Roberto Pompei.

If you want a golf break off the beaten track – and offering staggeringly good value for money – you will struggle to beat Marche on both counts. 

For more on golf holidays in Italy visit: italygolfandmore.com

Nick Wright