Golf courses review: Sanremo in Italy

Sarah Forrest
By Sarah Forrest July 6, 2019 17:21 Updated

Although not a traditional golfing destination, Italy has more than 300 golf courses, many of which come with a high reputation. Here, Sarah Forrest visits two on the Mediterranean coast of Liguria, in the north-west of the country.

Just as the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix flashes by, so did my short golf break in Sanremo, Italy. An easy flight into Nice, France and a short 25km drive east is a gentle reminder as to how close the European countries are, as the French Riviera blends into the Italian Riviera with a blink of the eye.

My destination was Royal Hotel Sanremo, on the hillside overlooking the Liguria coastline towards the Mediterranean Sea.

The next morning I met with the golf director of Circolo Golf degli Ulivi – Sanremo, who arrived promptly to whisk me off to his golf club, for 18 holes of golf. The short drive to the golf course gave me the chance to finally take a look around as the road twisted and turned, climbing and dropping the short three mile drive.

Glancing around didn’t give me any idea where the golf course might be, in fact it just appeared out of nowhere with a large colonial-style clubhouse, cobbled driveway and eventually panoramic views of the golf course from a terrace.

I was delighted to be playing with two members of the club. Starting on the first, an open honest fairway from an elevated tee beckons you into the fold of this relatively short golf course, with its chequered history adding to the charm of the established parkland course.

In 1928, with a view to capitalising on the average daily temperature of 20 degrees Celsius and receiving little rainfall, a plan was hatched to capture more tourists yet offer alternative activities. Step up British architects Peter Gannon and Major Blandford, who set about designing the course. As with some English designs, the ninth doesn’t return to the clubhouse on the turn but instead it is far away from the clubhouse as possible with a short enticing par three – and the A10 highway being ever present as an imposing backdrop. Despite the road cutting the course up at this point, the determination of the members was such that the course not only survived, it flourished into what it is today, a par 69, 18-hole course with distinctive gnarled olive trees flanking the fairways and ultimately the elusive sea views.

At the time of visiting, the greens had just been hollow tined and top-dressed, and whilst a shame from the playing perspective, knowing this essential maintenance is happening also fills me with confidence that the course is being looked after, is being improved and the members and visitors are being presented with a great golf course after a little heartache for a couple of weeks. The bunkers were fair, not overly deep but perfectly positioned to catch any errant shots.

Unusually, the golf course does not use any chemicals, it is in fact quite natural for the simple reason that golf isn’t the only thing produced on this fertile land – olive oil is a welcome by-product of the golf course and is proudly served, displayed and available from the club itself, not a heavy oil but quite delightful with fresh bread. With just under 2,000 olive trees the Goccia Cooperative, a not-for-profit organisation, works in various social sectors offering employment to disadvantaged people who assist in the production of the olive oil.

As you take in the natural beauty of this golf course and the far stretching vistas, one cannot help but notice the odd man-made pylon snaking its way up the hillside. Digging a little deeper I find out that it is not a pylon at all but part of a disused cable car which traversed the valley dissecting the golf course – what amazing views that would have been. The metal frames have not been removed, they have just gently morphed into the background of cobbled buildings, lush greens and blue skies as if they had been there forever.

One gets the impression that this course has been squeezed into a gap of spare land, but in actual fact man’s desire to build a modern world has encroached on this peaceful corner of Sanremo, but the golf course won’t be bullied into submission and retains its old world character, love and laughter.

A quick drink after golf with my playing partners, and into the restaurant for some fine Italian food of home-made pasta served with the best olive oil! With chef present to please my every whim, I was sad to leave this comfortable atmosphere.

Back at the hotel, a quick look around the 127 bedroom five-star facility didn’t disappoint; a range of bedrooms to suites to cover all guest requirements, all different yet still embracing the period feel of the time; La Belle Époque dates from 1871 until 1914, and ranges in style from Neo-Byzantine right up to the Art Deco and Art Nouveau period, strong lines in places, pure opulence in others, an eclectic mix blending seamlessly. The outside area has a large, beautifully-designed terrace and natural salt water pool with the water heated to a constant 23 degrees Celsius, stone steps leading you gradually into the clear waters below with sea views beyond. There is also private beach access, between June and September, and there’s a wellness centre with a dry floatation treatment that I highly recommend.

Day two yielded a warmer day and a slightly longer drive to the second golf course, Golf Club Garlenda. The Liguria region of Italy is known for the flowers, in abundance, mimosa and others to tantalise the eyes and nose alike.  Garlenda means garland as the land sweeps around in a natural crescent of flowers. Playing just nine holes with the golf director and his amazing crack-pot sense of humour was fantastic, we did laugh as he took the mickey out of my golf, and of course me, his! The remaining holes I played with Arianna, a non-golfer from the hotel who was my escort, guide and fellow partner for golf by the end of the nine holes, where her willingness to give golf a go was refreshing.

Garlenda clubhouse is more akin to that of a traditional members’ club, easy relaxed and unpretentious hacienda-style made from stone. The golf course opens with a dog-leg right, and is most likely one of those courses one must play more than once to score well. Opened in 1965 and designed by John Morrison and John Harris of England, it is certainly worth a trip into the hinterlands of this pretty part of Liguria. A relatively flat course, which crosses roads for your tee shot and wide open fairways. In a basin of established trees, there has obviously been investment in the course in the past into new younger saplings which are going to catch up in no time.

This is definitely a members’ course with the members being very proud of their club as they settle into lunch after golf. Large greens in great condition were receptive to the golf ball with bunkers generally being quite flat and fairways managed to a good depth. The 18th sticks in my mind as an elevated tee shot over the road to the entrance of the course, a decent drive is required slightly left to allow for a second shot to the green without the corner coming into play on the right. A nerve-wracking moment as you drive over the entrance road hoping a car doesn’t appear, meaning you’re carefully going through your holiday golf insurance line by line as you strike the ball.

In all, a decent par 72 golf course that looks easy to start, then will chew you up and spit you out if you lose interest! An easy to navigate golf course which is probably not in the same league as Circolo but is a great compliment when visiting for an alternative experience.

The clubhouse, more akin to grandma’s Italian kitchen with carefully and proudly placed desserts on display and members bantering in the clubhouse. Little rickety chairs are pulled up to miss-matched tables and a limited menu was absolutely perfect for the lunch menu. Fresh pasta as mama might make it, in portions that were not so ridiculously sized were absolutely perfect, incredibly tasty and hit the spot after a round of golf.

A quick drive through Sanremo, looking down the shopping street, Corso Matteotti, and past the imposing Sanremo casino, means I need to come back and see more one day.

Back to the hotel, showered, packed and on the road back to Nice wondering if I’d made a mistake by not staying one more night in this lovely place which I was now having to tear myself away from, as I said goodbye to my lovely hosts.

Email Sarah via sarah@golfgurugroup.com.

View her Instagram account at sarah.forrest360golf and read her blog at golfgurugroup.blogspot.com

 

Sarah Forrest
By Sarah Forrest July 6, 2019 17:21 Updated
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