Eighteen holes, par 72, a total length of 6383 meters, inaugurated in 1975 and laid out by the Cotton, Pennink & Partners architectural studio to a design by Piero Mancinelli. Four Italian Opens have been held on this course. The first, staged in 1976, was won by Baldovino Dassù, who describes the fairway for us hole by hole.
HOLE 1 PAR 5
A fairly simple first hole for the player who is content with par, but the narrow and well-defended entrance to the green will repel any second shot that is not ‘on target’ and make it difficult to reach ‘two putts for the birdie’. Nothing to be gained if you aim the drive towards the green, clearly visible from the tee: much better a drive between the tree and the bunker, followed by a second over the four oaks, which are easy to get past.
HOLE 2 PAR 4
A classic par 4 with a bunker on the left of the fairway at 240 m that presents the average player with the least troublesome line for the drive. However, it is followed by a second rising and very difficult shot. The player who is ready to take a risk should place his drive on the right, leaving a shorter iron for the green. It is a very long green with a very narrow entrance between the bunkers… Better to take one higher club than you think necessary at first sight: it’s a very deceptive shot.
HOLE 3 PAR 3
A true par 3 that requires a straight and true drive towards a raised and ample green with no particular slope. A bunker on the left defends the green and another behind it protects the next tee. One little thing… choose the right club: driving too far would be fatal!
HOLE 4 PAR 4
This fairly pronounced ‘dogleg’ is as long or short as your courage makes it. Playing safely towards the bunker on the left means making a drive of around 230 m, leaving you a long, half-blind second. The ideal drive would be a long and high ‘fade’, aiming over the sapling at the vertex of the dogleg. That way you would reduce your second shot to an iron and approach the green from the side, i.e. from the part where it is least defended.
HOLE 5 PAR 4
This is number one on the list of strokes and probably the most punishing hole of the course. Bushes run the entire length of the fairway to the left and right; the ‘out of bounds’ threatens the left side; a lake is lying is in wait to swallow quick hooks; a deep bunker on the left collects over ambitious drives; a solitary tree in the middle of the fairway stands guard over the ‘canyon’ that forms the approach to the green, with a hidden stream running along its bottom. And the green? It is on a spur of rock surrounded by ‘no-man’s land’. But the green is of various dimensions, on two levels, and the only way to reach it is ‘by air’, cutting the corner with the drive if conditions permit.
HOLE 6 PAR 4
Finally the possibility of a real birdie at this short and inviting par 4. The fairway narrows to 30 m to the left of the bunker, but this is undoubtedly the line and leaves little more than a wedge or a 9 iron for the second shot at the cramped platform of the green, which slopes downwards from the rear to the part in front. The watchword is ‘aim as close as possible to the flag’. Don’t try to be clever and leave yourself with a rising putt. You might end up with a sand-iron in your hand for your third shot from the sand that borders almost the whole front edge of the green.
HOLE 7 PAR 3
From this high tee, constructed out of stone, the enormous green stretches invitingly beneath you, throwing into relief all the difficulties that may be waiting for you on the right and on the left. It can be said to have the look of a straightforward par 3, but there is a trap lying in ambush; the apparently open approach is inclined to the right and the tee-shot that falls short will glance off it and may be swallowed by the bunker or, even worse, the brook.
HOLE 8 PAR 4
Sloping gently down for the whole of its length towards a green clearly visible from the tee, the line is obviously straight. The ground around the endpoint of the drive slopes to the left, and so the drive should preferably be aimed towards the right half of the fairway in order to overcome this detail, and above all to gain distance. Playing it this way, you will get past the lake on the left without noticing its existence. A short iron for this unusual split-level green, sloping from front to back, requires a pitch at the flag. A small concealed bunker lies in wait for anyone taking the easy way on the right.
HOLE 9 PAR 4
Leave the driver in the bag for this rising tee-shot, a real destroyer of scores! Incredibly a lake is waiting for you 230 m from the tee and a half-concealed bunker blocks the road on the right. If you just aim at the base of the hillock on the left any club will leave you short (but not too short) of the lake. After that you will find yourself at grips with one of the toughest and most spectacular second shots on the course: through 70 m of water and onto a magnificently sculpted split-level green that is heavily defended on all sides by cavernous bunkers. Another thing: it’s further away than you think.
HOLE 10 PAR 3
An exciting par 3 to begin the back nine, once again making use of the lake: with water near tee and green and no alternative route, it presents a horrible problem for anyone with a tendency to sclaff. Once past the lake the main features are the two horseshoe-shaped ‘Is Molas bunkers’ that bite into the green, on the right as well as the left. Despite this the green is huge, slopes gently from back to front and ought to be a fairly easy target to hit and to stay on.
HOLE 11 PAR 4
A dogleg that bends through almost 90° to the right, with the flag barely visible beyond the hill covered with bushes on the right. It could be an easy birdie, or again it might signify a load of trouble; a walled channel accompanies the player from tee to green, along the left side. The greatest problem lies with the tee-shot, which should perhaps be described as tricky rather than difficult. Straight down the fairway, the obvious line is towards the solitary tree… and you find yourself with no more fairway; aiming further to the right, at the clump of trees, you may end up among the trees with no way of firing at the green. Whenever possible the experienced and courageous player tries to cut across the rises as much as he dares, so as to leave himself a short pitch to the green.
HOLE 12 PAR 5
Ten holes after you last played a par 5 and the first encounter with the On Tintioni River; certainly a hole for a consummate tactician. For the cautious a shot from the tee to the centre and before the river and a second short one to the right, leaving a short pitch to this banana-shaped green designed for a par 5. For the bolder, a tee-shot a little further to the right, with the possibility of a second measured to the millimetre fired at the narrow entrance of the green. For the daring, a drive across the river at the closest point and the hope of playing an iron for the second shot to the green.
HOLE 13 PAR 4
The ‘road hole’, where the tee-shot is of fundamental importance: at 220 m the fairway narrows to just over 25 m between the ‘Sahara bunker’ and the second lake. A cruel bottleneck and one with the ‘out of bounds’ on the road… Better to leave the cover on the driver. By way of compensation the green is large, level and open and presents no problems.
HOLE 14 PAR 3
For some perhaps the most memorable of the short holes. With a bunker in front and almost entirely surrounded by water, the green has a shape similar to that of the African continent. An tee-shot that passes over Cape Town would be ideal and provide access to the widest part of the green, but any shot directed to the west of Nigeria requires the precision of a watchmaker with the iron in your hand. This is true for any flag position.
HOLE 15 PAR 5
The ‘wall’ hole: another delicate par 5, the longest of the course, where the out of bounds is waiting for you on the tee, beyond the Sardinian dry-stone wall. There is a tight spot between the wall and the hillock at the knee of the dogleg and an even narrower one for the second shot, which has to avoid the trap of the bunker on the fairway. Once this has been done a normal pitch can lead to a possible birdie. The shortest route is the one over the hill, with the green possibly within reach, but the Tintioni is a threat to any inaccurate second shot.
HOLE 16 PAR 5
The ‘Beardies’ of Is Molas are the feature of this tee-shot for the last of the par 5s. Come as close to them as you feel capable of or go past them, and the green is within reach, but the entrance is very steep to a green on two levels with an unforgiving bunker on the left side. A more subtle hazard, a tiny mound modelling the front part of the green on the right renders the approach problematic, depending on the position of the flag.
HOLE 17 PAR 4
The hole should be played exactly as it looks from the tee, taking care to avoid the water hazard that is only visible once it has been reached. The best line is the one between the two bunkers, with a bias toward the one on the right, trying to reach the hill. At this point, once the drive has been placed, all that is left is an easy wedge for the green.
HOLE 18 PAR 4
An excellent final hole, par 4, that divides the men from the boys and is equally difficult even if you ignore the ‘out of bounds’ and the bunkers on the fairway. Drive straight at the bunker and you’ll have the best line to the green… but the second shot is blind. Firing the first stroke on the right-hand side is much less dangerous; you will see the flag, but you’ll have to play inside the short side rather than the one along the major axis of the green. Arriving and stopping the ball on this narrow, raised and slanting green is your final test; the putt presents no problems.