This was my 2nd trip to Italy for Golf, this time were slightly further south, flying into Bologna and then taking a short drive to Poggio Dei Medici at Scarperia just north of Firenze for 2 rounds, followed by a 45 min drive round the city for a further 2 rounds at Ugolino.
A couple of things go without saying in Italy, firstly we travelled in early July and save for a bit of cloud cover on day 3 it was incredibly hot at between 30 & 35 degrees (around 90 faranheit), probably too hot for 4 golfers from the East of Scotland to walk -- so we took buggies, good decision !
Secondly the food and drink are exceptional and generally reasonably priced – although in this area there was a lack of seafood for my tastes it was more than made up for by the quality of the pasta !
Thirdly – if you are going to self drive in Italy make sure you have a confident and resilient driver, the roads can be tight & the local driving erratic and uncompromising !
So onto the golf, these 2 courses & facilities are very different, Poggio Dei Medici is a resort based course that has hosted a number of Italian Opens over the years. Set amongst the rolling hills of the region it is a good layout with lots of doglegs, some short but tricky par 5’s and a couple of short Par 4 s over water.
We all liked the layout, but overall felt the course was generally in poor condition. The grass on fairways was patchy with lots of weeds, it looked like they hadn’t cut the fairways tight in quite some time, I have seen better quality rough on worse courses. The bunkers were also in very poor condition with hardpacked sand and lots of weeds growing through the sand, making them almost impossible to hit shots out of
The resort also appeared to be very quiet and we saw only a handful of people on the golf course. The halfway house was closed and there was no refresements available on the course.
We paid 360 euros for a 4 ball with buggies – not good value overall
Poggio Dei Medici rating 4/10
Ugolino was a different story however, a members course about 30 mins from our 2nd hotel (Villa Fiesole near Florence). We were playing on a Saturday & Sunday and the club was happy to accommodate us on these days. In fact they had competitions running on both and the head of golf had kindly entered into both days. The first day we played with 2 members (Giorgio & Carlos) who were excellent company and Giorgio even joined us in Florence the evening for some food.
Ugolino has also hosted the Italian Open and Carlos retold the story of watching Seve hole a 9 iron to take the event to a play off – fantastic and there is a plaque recalling Seve's win on the back of the 9th green. On both days we stopped at the excellent half way house for drinks & sandwiches which were most welcome in the heat.
The course was in good condition with the banked fairways a real feature, meaning that accurate driving was a necessity. The small, tight greens (that were also in very good condition) also mean that an accurate short game is required.
After a good round we retired to the clubhouse with many members welcoming u, as well as the Head of Golf (an ex LPGA pro) and thanking us for visiting. (one of group even managed a credible 3rd place with 34 points – showing that the course is difficult)
Playing a real members course, is always a pleasure and our visit to Ugolino and the hospitality was the highlight of our trip.
Overall Ugolino rating 8/10
In Summary – this second visit to play golf in Italy reinforced a couple of points for me.
Firstly that the world golf rankings aren’t always the best guide to quality, the resort courses often have bigger marketing budgets and will gain higher ratings than members courses.
Secondly, look off the beaten track for good members courses, and even if you book through a tour operator, think about contacting the club directly before you go to introduce yourself– they will welcome you and enhance your visit significantly.
Overall, Italy is worth a visit as a golfing destination, but don’t expect the world class marquee facilities of the UK, Spain or Portugal. The courses are generally tier 2 or tier 3 and sometimes lack the high quality of the Top 50 – but that is more than made up for by the food, drink and hospitality provided at Ugolino !