Updated: Jun 12, 2018
Successful Golf trips & destinations typically revolve around some fairly straight forward key factors, food, drink, the location, the golf courses themselves and most importantly the people.
These are all the things that make the conversation flow on the bus or in the taxi to the hotel at the end of the round and over the dinner table in the evening. On that basis alone our trip to Italy was a great success, north-west Italy is a region that definitely isn’t steeped in golfing tradition like Scotland, Ireland, Spain or Portugal and the quality of the golf courses is inevitably not as high as those areas but it does have much to offer and provided us with much to talk about.
The region is world-class in terms of food and wine, whether you choose to break the journeys with a wine tasting, as we did at San Daniele, or stop for a long Italian lunch in the clubhouse after your round you will be treated like golfing royalty visiting the region from a place they aspire to be.
The courses we played would all be regarded as aspiring rather than the finished article, particularly at the Villaverde resort host of the Italian Seniors Open at Golf Udine, where local entrepreneur Gabriele Lualdi has spent €25m developing the championship course at Udine and even made substantial changes from the way the course looked in 2016, designed by John Herris, with assistance from Marco Croze and Fulvio Bani, it’s still needs tweaks to the design and significant additional agronomist work to make it work. That said we all throughly enjoyed our round in the pro-am with South African James Kingston, 2 time winner on the European tour and 11 time winner on the Sunshine Tour. The consummate professional he spent time coaching all of our mixed ability group and took the heavy rain in his stride relying on his local caddie (and local bobsleigh champion) Gianluca to keep his equipment as dry as possible for the real tournament the next day.
So if you chose to visit this Italian region for golf, you will be rewarded with stunning scenery, great food and drink, great hospitality from people with a real passion for the area they live in and plenty talk about over dinner as you move through to the desserts and inevitable espresso coffee at the end the meal.
Arrival and Day 1
We flew from Stansted to Treviso and took a 40min taxi arriving fairly late at our hotel at Castel d’Aviano and played the course on the hotel complex the next morning followed by lunch at the hotel. Our taxi onto Udine around 45 mins, staying at the Ambassador Palace (if you want to be closer to Villaverde resort, rooms are available on the golf complex).
Villaverde golf complex followed by late lunch at the golf course . Second night at the Ambassador hotel and dinner in Udine
90 minute drive through the Dolimites to Golf Tarvisio. 18 holes followed by lunch at the golf club. . Drive to Trieste (45 mins) with wine tasting thrown in at San Daniele. Overnight in Trieste with dinner at Malcanton
Golf at Trieste golf club, lunch at the course
Guided tour of Trieste (1 hour)
Flight back from Trieste to Stansted
(I also stayed overnight in Stansted and travelled back to Edinburgh the following day, staying at the Hampton Hilton within walking distance if the terminal building)
Courses ranked in order of my preferences
1. Golf Club Tarvisio
A spectacular drive in to the venue and a warm welcome by the staff both raised expectations that this would be a good day and generally we weren't disappointed although midway through the back 9 the words of our host Dario would ring true "good old 9 but not so good new 9 holes". There are 9 flat holes and 9 "new holes" built up the mountain - anyone familiar with the old Edinburgh courses of Torphin Hill known by the locals as “heart attack hill” and Lothianburn will know what I mean , the first 7 holes are excellent with the stand out par 3, 3rd being the best we played over the 4days. An elevated tee demands an accurate 165 yard shot over a deep gully to a good size green. I was happy to see my 6 iron land comfortably in the green, leaving a slippery 15 foot downhill out from left to right. I was happy to walk off with a 2 putt par and we were is all looking forward to the rest of the round.
The good holes continued until the 8 when we hit the new holes - some fiddly holes up and down a steep hill reminded me of the tight West course at La Manga. To be fair the back to pack par3s at 15 and 16 were both decent and the views up the mountain are nothing short of spectacular. We were then back to the flat holes to finish on 17 (a testing 230 yard carry over water) and the decent 18th back to the clubhouse. This is a good holiday destination course although personally I would settle for playing 1-7 and 17,18 as a loop of 9 and avoid the climbing !
Special mention for the good the courses condition, fairways tees and greens were all in immaculate condition making this an overall pleasant experience.
2. Golf Club Udine – Villaverde Golf
Billed as a championship course and host to the Italian Seniors Open this venue should deliver more and with some further changes could become a good anchor venue for any trip to region. Although changes have been made to the original design there are still some fundamental flaws such as the highly elevated green on 6th, which according to our pro was previously a par 3 at around 180 yards and is now a short par 4 which requires an 8 or 9 iron approach but the green still overly elevated.
The first is a pleasing enough par 5 to ease you into the round and the par 3s are all good targets. Low points for me were the 16th, as the rain took hold the long par 5 is straight uphill with not even a fairway bunker to break the walk.
There are some great views of the surrounding mountains that make this an interesting walk but the course drainage needs significant improvement. When we played the greens were slow and following some the heavy rain shower my shoes began to cut them up badly.
The Villaverde course has aspirations to be a major attraction but judging by the view of the professionals and single figure handicappers in our group it will require a bit more work to become a “go to” destination for serious golfers.
3. Golf Trieste
I loved this course for it’s traditional atmosphere and history, the only course in Trieste built by the allied forces after the Second World War - you could imagine the GI’s and the British soldiers playing a few holes high above Trieste with views down to the bay. The course still has that rustic feel, with cart paths build from rough stones but that doesn't detract from the course, indeed it probably adds to the charm. Don’t expect a championship quality venue but expect a decently Italian golfing experience and a great day out, completed by an excellent lunch in the clubhouse and a glass of local red wine.
There are a couple of stand out holes (8,17) and the par 3’s are all a decent challenge. Weaker holes are the short par 4s (6 & 11) where some local knowledge is definitely required to negotiate them effectively.
4 . Castel D’Aviano
A course built around 2 9s, the playing order will be changed soon following completion of new clubhouse. The layout has the newer 9 holes being built in a flat field with no variation in elevation. The older 9 holes is certainly more interesting but a number of holes (notably 2 and 17) need some redesign work to lengthen the tee shots and also improve the approach to the green. To be fair chatting to the professional they seemed to appreciate that this was the case. The greens were generally in excellent condition with a couple of notable exceptions. The fairways were in a pretty poor state and other than the first green none of the greens had been swept of morning dew before we played.
We visited the excellent Alla Tavernetta (www.allatavernetta.com) in Udine tucked away in a back street and serving local dishes
The fish restaurant Malcanton was our choice, close to the main square. Predominantly fish dishes, which didn’t suit all our party they did their best to accommodate the various requirements including rustling up some vegetarian options and an impromptu Spaghetti Bolognese
Golf Club Food
We also ate in all the golf clubs where the food was of an extremely high standard with particular mention to Golf Tarvisio where the Chef has 3 Michelin Stars as well as being a 5 handicap golfer and an accomplished Skiier. Talent indeed !
What to pack
We had mixed weather in September with some heavy showers, so if you don’t want to carry and umbrella, pack some light waterproofs. Also, I took my heavier footjoy DNA shoes rather then my Ecco. Summer shoes. This was a good decision, particularly around Villaverde where the soft fairways would have been difficult to hold grip on in spikeless shoes.
3 tips for getting more out of your trip
Hire a local guide to show you around Trieste, you will see much more from the stunning churches to what’s left of the Jewish ghetto.
Make the short trip across the border to Slovenia
Book a wine tasting at one of the local vineyards
The fairways & greens on all courses where reasonable soft so this can be a bit like target golf, good wedge shots will deliver good results. Make sure and follow the course guide at Trieste rather than just ripping driver on rage short par 4s.
If like me you worry about how many balls to pack in your back, I lost 4 over 4 rounds, mainly in bushes with wayward tee shots although the 230 yard drive overage lake at Golf Tarvisio did get the better of me so these are not ball losing courses for mid-low handicappers, but pack a few spares anyway !
I favour a laser distance measuring device but others in the group have various distance measuring watches and devices. All seemed to work fine although the course changes at Golf Udine had not been loaded on the Garmin’s, it’s not clear whether the course has been remapped so I would update your device before travel and hope for the best.
I also use the golfshot.com app which also seems to have the courses loaded so if you want to keep track of your score this should work ok.
All 4 courses had good ranges and practice facilities close to the first tee including driving, chipping and putting areas
Walk or Buggy
I walked all 4 courses although I was pleased to jump on my fellow golfers buggy on more than a couple of occasions to avoid occasional steep climbs and long green to tee walks at Golf Udine and Golf Tarvisio.
Theses are all courses you can play and and score on, for mid range handicappers playing just below your club handicap or in a good round beating it should be possible on all courses, although like me you might settle for a couple of good nines and a few birdies to take you into the next day with some hope !
About the Author
Stuart Rowell (@linksgolfphotos) occasionally writes and reviews for Inside Golf magazine and is an amateur golfer & photographer playing off a handicap of 4 and is a member of North Berwick Golf Club, the Bass Rock Golf Club, Luffness Golf Club and the Scottish Seniors Golf Society. He is also a regular speaker and coach on sales performance using among other techniques “The Mind Factor” developed by European Tour Coach Karl Morris.
© Stuart Rowell Golf