That’s Amore

With the creation of Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily, Italy is starting to come into its own as a golf destination.

Golf never really made the cut in Italy until recently. Known as the land of excellent cuisine, rich history, beautiful and diverse cities and passionate people, Italy didn’t quite have a golf experience to match. Sure, there was the effervescent Italian golfer Costantino Rocca, who left his mark on golf history with his improbable putt from the Old Course’s Valley of Sin that forced a playoff with John Daly at the 1995 British Open. But in one of the most traveled tourist destinations in the world, pickings were slim for avid golfers. A great day on an Italian course was all about the food and wine, and not necessarily the golf.

Times have changed. Just as the Molinari brothers, Edorado and Francesco, have elevated Italian golf in the pro ranks to neverbefore-seen levels with their Ryder Cup and European Tour heroics, now there is also a full-service resort whose quality and amenities place it in the game’s upper echelon. Verdura Golf & Spa Resort on the Sicilian coast, an 80-minute drive from Palermo, has changed the game’s image in Italy. The food and wine are exquisite, and so is the golf.

Architect Kyle Phillips, of Kingsbarns Golf Links fame (near St. Andrews), designed two 18-hole courses at Verdura that take maximum advantage of the land and views boasted by this five-star luxury resort, part of the Rocco Forte Collection of luxury hotel properties. Now even the Molinari brothers can be proud of a top quality golf experience in their homeland. These two championship layouts are joined by a fun par-three course, which serves as the perfect venue for a relaxed, late-day nine holes. And the magnificence of the links are rivaled by the excellence of the resort’s cuisine and treatments at the spa—be sure to try the Sicilian aroma massage and enjoy the heated indoor infinity lap pool, three outdoor saltwater pools of varying temperatures, and a fullyequipped gym.

Both the East and West courses at Verdura meander in a valley amongst 570 acres of rolling hills dotted with orange, lemon and olive groves, undulating their way down to the breathtaking Mediterranean shoreline. The various shades of blue from the sea form an ideal backdrop to many approach shots, and Phillips expertly used as much of the coastal land for golf as he could, balancing it between the two courses rather than making one seaside and one inland layout. The result is an interesting mixture of holes that require a combination of brawn and brains in order to successfully navigate.

The other commonly present factor at Verdura is the wind, which adds another layer of strategy and challenge to any round. In fact, the way Phillips configured the mounds and bunkers on many holes, Verdura gives off a links feel in many places—except for the fact that the sun is usually shining and basking you in warmth.

Each course at Verdura tops out at more than 7,000 yards but has multiple teeing options and ample airways. Resort officials have also identified a composite championship course, featuring all the ocean holes and playing at 7,458 yards, that they hope could one day be the site for a professional tournament or made-for-TV special. While the turf and surrounding vegetation has some maturing to do, there are a handful of classic holes that will stick in your memory long after leaving the property.

The West course has more ocean frontage; the East is hillier and has a double-loop routing that adds variety. A three-hole stretch on the East’s front nine sets the tone for the round: The par-five fourth hole curves gently toward the sea and provides your first real glimpse of the azure Mediterranean, the challenging par four fifth hole returns back slightly uphill along a fairway dotted on both sides by colorful wild flowers, toward a well-bunkered green with a false front. You then arrive at the charming par three sixth hole, which can either play a picturesque 120 yards with no wind from the blue tees or a scenic but feisty beast requiring two or three extra clubs on a windy day. To the left is nothing but the open waters of the sea.

The East finishes in a two-hole flourish. The par-four 17th has a bowl-shaped fairway that heads uphill to a green back-dropped by cliffs and ancient ruins. You then turn and head to the clubhouse on the dazzling par-four 18th hole, teeing off from a cliff top as you peer down on the rugged coastline on your right.

The West course dangles the carrot of seaside golf at the par-four eighth and ninth holes, the latter a drivable hole for long hitters that also boasts perfectly placed bunkers for those looking to lay up. The layout then turns inland before returning to the sea for the four hole encore, culminating in the medium-length,
par-four 18th that is a near mirror-image of the finishing hole on the East.

Verdura’s Director of Golf, Niall Cameron, who is also working as the main designer for Rocco Forte’s golf course on a new Marrakesh property which is set to open in 2012, says Verdura’s main strength lies in its setting within the Sicilian countryside. “From the architectural side, it looks like Africa meeting Europe,” he says. “Every building is low rise and every room has a view of the ocean. Kyle Phillips had a great part in the layout of the whole resort. This is resort golf but we have a championship quality with it, and golfers will love it.”

Non-golfers, in fact, are apt to love the resort just as much. Wild flowers, with shades of purple, pink, blue and yellow, fill in the landscape like a Renoir painting. Calmness permeates the expansive property. No cars are allowed on the resort grounds, other than taxis picking up and dropping off guests. Each visitor is given a golf cart to get around, and there are plenty of bicycles if you prefer the exercise. The only sounds come from the roar of the ocean, chirping birds or the strong winds.

Verdura offers 205 rooms and suites, all with views of the Mediterranean, designed by architect Flavio Albanese. The exterior features terracotta, ochre exteriors and minimalist lines. Albanese incorporated ecological features including solar energy and reclaimed water use, which is important in arid, desert-like Sicily. Rocco Forte’s sister, Olga Polizzi, the Director of Design on all Forte’s hotel properties, created a most contemporary feel—luxurious but practical.

When the golf equals the culinary experience in Italy, the end result is something to savor. Chef Fulvio Pierangelini, awarded two Michelin stars, is Verdura’s culinary consultant. Guests can chose from several restaurants, including one perched on top of the hill by the pro shop and boutiques, overlooking the Mediterranean and the fishing village of Sciacca, and the more formal restaurant in the main hotel. Both feature local seafood, organic produce and Sicilian specialties.

Oenophiles often leave with a new appreciation for Sicilian wine. And Massimo Fonte, the Head Bartender, shared his recipe for what has become the most popular cocktail at Verdura, the Verdino: fresh basil leaves, fresh grapes, fresh lemon, gin, green apple and sugar. Mix it all together and you have a refreshing concoction to enjoy after your round.

After golf, spa and more food and wine, leave some time to explore. The town of Sciacca, a working fishing port and artisan center, is only a 20-minute drive from the resort. Load up on ceramic gifts for friends and family and brush up on your Italian so you can communicate with the locals. Founded in the 7th century, much of its medieval architecture remains intact. Beautiful churches embracing a variety of architectural styles, from Romanesque to Baroque, are scattered throughout the village.

The Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) located in nearby Agrigento, contains ruins of seven temples which date back to 510-430 B.C., and is one of the most important archeological sites in the world. It is located about forty minutes from Verdura. There are a variety of tours available to resort guests including ones where visitors can learn about olive oil production, Sicilian wine and Sicily’s rich history and tradition.

Verdura Golf & Spa Resort has put golf on the map in Italy. And combined with the overall Italian experience, it’s a slice of heaven.

Ann Ligouri
February 2011
The Met Golfer

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