Italy, although not the best known among the world's golf destinations, has a great deal going for it from the golfer's gaining popularity rapidly, particularly amongst the young, and nowadays there are numerous first-class courses in beautiful locations around the country. With top-notch facilities combined with a typically Italian sense of style, the golf clubs are often worth a visit just for the clubhouse, while the courses themselves - many of which are designed by big-name architects - prove challenging even for the most hardened players.
With its high concentration of golf clubs in a variety of settings from the rolling hillsides of the interior to the alluring Adriatic coast, Emilia Romagna makes an ideal destination, and not just for the golf. As a region it’s vastly under-explored by visitors – a definite plus for those who do come here.
Historic towns such as Parma, Modena and Bologna are just waiting to be discovered, the long sandy beaches make it a fantastic summer holiday destination and speed freaks will know that a large number of top car and motorcycle companies, such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati, are based here. Added to that, Emilia Romagna’s genuine and tasty cuisine is deservedly held in high esteem and the local people are famed for their friendly, hospitable nature.
When it comes to golf courses, one that holds great appeal if you feel like getting away from it all is the San Valentino Golf Club hidden in the hills between Reggio Emilia and Modena.
Peace and tranquillity rule at this 18-hole golf course characterised by steep slopes and narrow fairways where you’re highly likely to come across deer or pheasants, woodpeckers or jays. As a club it’s one of the region’s least pretentious and there’s a friendly relaxed atmosphere. Accommodation at the on-site hotel is pretty basic but each room is equipped with a kettle - something of a rarity in Italy – and when you’re not playing, you can fish for trout at the San Valentino lake, go for a dip in the open-air pool or stroll through the lakeside woodlands.
Further east, Golf Club La Torre is another that’s set in a wonderfully scenic location of rolling hills at least on a par with the better-known landscapes of Tuscany. In fact, whilst teeing off from the 15th hole – the highest point of the golf course - you may find yourself gazing at the view rather than concentrating on your stroke.
The area’s really worth exploring – don’t miss Brisighella, a stunning medieval village a few miles from the golf course, famous for the quality of its olive oil and dominated by a statuesque castle.
Castles that merit a visit are in no short supply in Emilia Romagna. One to see is at Dozza, not far from the admirable Golf Club Le Fonti, home of the Italian Golf Federation’s ladies’ training centre.
The castle houses the regional wine collection where you can try and buy all of Emilia Romagna’s best labels at honest prices. Before weighing your-self down with bottles, though, take a stroll around the charming hilltop village – it’s made all the more intriguing by the artists’ murals that decorate the buildings along the narrow streets.
Heading further into the hills is Golf Club Molino del Pero once again in a stunning panoramic position and close to the border with Tuscany. The first nine holes take you up and down the hillside whilst the second nine are on more gently undulating terrain.
Take time out to relax in the clubhouse bar – housed in a former barn, its original beamed ceiling and vast open fire make it appealingly rustic and cosy.
The club’s restaurant, also open to the public, is even more atmospheric. It’s set in the grinding room of a disused watermill that has been left much as it was – tables are arranged amongst the millstones. The food is excellent and includes traditional fresh pasta dishes such as tortellini and tagliatelle, often cooked to innovative recipes, and prices are more than reasonable.
If a swim in the warm Adriatic sea after a day on the golf course appeals to you, or you’re looking for a family holiday where everyone is free to do their own thing, then check out Cervia. The 27-hole Adriatic Golf Club is one of the region’s finest. The three groups of nine holes, each starting and ending at the clubhouse, are guaranteed to keep golfers happy, whilst the rest of the family are within easy walking distance of the sandy beach and all sorts of attractions such as a wildlife park, butterfly house, riding stables and watersports facilities.
Although Rimini is undoubtedly the best known resort on this stretch of coastline, at the Rimini-Verucchio Golf Club you can remain blissfully unaware of the busy beach and frenetic nightlife just a few miles away.
The club is inland, near the attractive village of Verucchio and it offers an interesting course full of water hazards. From here it’s a quick and easy trip to the beach but it’s equally close to lots of striking hilltop villages such as San Leo, Torriana and Montebello, as well as the Republic of San Marino. You can see the characteristic three-peaked skyline of the tiny independent republic clearly from the golf course.
Another stylish new golf hotel, opened at Easter 2009, is Matilde di Canossa in the western part of the region near Reggio Emilia, at the heart of the so-called Food Valley. The actual course dates back a few decades to the 1980s and its 18 holes are set on either side of the Quaresimo stream.
It’s organised in such a way that local golfers can come to play a mini-round of just a few holes during their lunch-break. Lunch at the clubhouse bar is highly recommended – enjoy it by the open fire or outside on the wisteria-canopied terrace depending on the season. Under separate management, the resort was built to a prize-winning design and the various buildings housing the hotel, spa, private apartments and so on really do resemble an authentic Renaissance village, but it is, incredibly, all new.
Heading back along the region’s main artery, the Via Emilia, as far as the regional capital Bologna – an attractive and bustling place, home to an ancient university and sublime food – you’ll come to Golf Club Bologna.
Celebrating it’s 50th anniversary in 2009, the course was originally designed by Cotton and Harris and in 2000 Peter Alliss had a hand in modifying the layout. The course isn’t excessively long but with narrow fairways, fast greens and complicated slopes, it is certainly challenging.
Modena Golf & Country Club is another prestigious venue, often used for top level competitions. It’s located just outside Maranello, home of the Ferrari, where there’s an impressive ever- evolving exhibition at the Gallerie Ferrari.
Nearby you can also find out more about the intriguing procedures that go into making balsamic vinegar with a visit to one of the many family attics where it’s traditionally brewed.
And if that whets your appetite, then dig deeper into Food Valley and head towards Parma, home of Parmesan cheese and fragrant Parma ham. Many producers open their doors to visitors and the small museums dedicated to the local specialities are fascinating.
While in the area, fit in a round of golf or two to work off some of that irresistible food, at the scenic Salsomaggiore Golf Club and Golf Club La Rocca near Parma.
When it comes to golf in Emilia Romagna – just as when faced with a menu at one of the region’s many fabulous restaurants - there’s no doubt about it, you really are spoilt for choice.
How to get to Emilia Romagna
BY CAR: Renting a car isn’t essential but it is by far the easiest way to get around. Book your car through one of the major rental companies before leaving home and pick it up at the airport.