A Review of Golf in Sicily by Mark McGowan of IrishGolfer.ie

Review of Golf in Sicily by Mark McGowan of IrishGolfer.ie

If you haven’t considered golf in the Mediterranean then it’s time to…

You may not have considered Sicily as a destination for your golf trip but on a recent trip to the island Mark McGowan from Irish Golfer Magazine discovered some fabulous golf courses, wonderful resorts and outstanding cuisine.

Why golf in Sicily?

When it comes to Mediterranean golfing destinations, Sicily may not be the first to spring to mind, but basking year-round in the sun, the island is an ideal destination as the nights get longer and the temperature drops on domestic shores.

A long history of invasion and conquest, beginning with the Phoenicians in the first millennia B.C., through the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Moors, the Normans, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, and even the British, make modern Sicily a cultural cocktail.  Italian is the official language, of course, but Sicilians regularly switch to a local dialect barely recognisable to that of the mainland.

Geographically, Sicily’s most southern point is more equatorial than most of the North African coast, virtually guaranteeing sunshine all year long, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius in the summer months. Sandy beaches can be found around the entire island, and the warm Mediterranean Sea makes for ideal bathing.

Sicilian golf consists of five resorts, which boast seven courses between them. Golf is a relatively new activity on the island, with the oldest course, Il Picciolo), not even 30 years in existence. The newest resort, Verdura, has two courses and is situated on the South-West side of the Island. Donnafugata, on the South-East coast also has two courses, while Monasteri, Le Saie and Il Picciolo each have one course and are all situated on the East coast.

Golf in Sicily at Verdura Golf & Spa Resort

Verdura Golf and Spa Resort is the undoubted jewel in the crown. Most easily accessed from Palermo airport, a short detour which might be of interest to fans of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola is the village of Corleone, whose name was adopted by the legendary (if fictional) mob boss in the Mafioso classics. Although affiliated by name only, in a rare example of life imitating art, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Corleonesi became the most powerful sector of the Sicilian mafia in spite of relatively modest resources.

Set on an expanse of coastal land, the Verdura luxury resort is modernist to the core, and boasts one of the Italy’s leading spas. Two courses, the East and the West, offer a demanding challenge of championship proportions along the picturesque coastline. Host of the Sicilian Open in 2012 and 2017 (the event wasn’t held in the four intervening years) on the European Tour, Álvaro Quirós and Thorbjørn Olesen will both have very fond memories of their visit to Verdura.

Beautifully manicured and conditioned, both courses are playable by golfers of all standards with a variety of long and challenging holes to suit the longer hitters, and short holes where accuracy rather than power, is key. The short par-3 6th and the par-4 18th on the East course are the signature holes, with the latter requiring a nerve racking drive along rugged cliffs with a watery grave below for errant shots.

In terms of cuisine, the resort offers a variety of options and locations to ensure guests are never bored at meal times. The main hotel restaurant is formal, and rather upscale, but this is offset by a traditional Sicilian Trattoria close by, and an Italian Pizzeria by the golf club. Additionally, there is a seafood restaurant by the shore behind the sixth green which is open April to October.

Golf in Sicily at Donnafaguta Golf & Spa Resort

Located close to Verdura is the historic city of Agrigento. Founded by the Greeks in the sixth century, B.C., Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples. A ridge, rather than an actual valley, upon which stand the Temple of Juno and the Temple of Concordia and an hour’s drive East of Agrigento lies Donnafugata Golf and Spa Resort. In the shadow of the historic castle of the same name, Donnafugata offers two different challenges in its Links and Parkland courses. The Links Course – although not a typical links by Irish standards – is an undulating journey through an inlet valley just off the Mediterranean Sea. Largely devoid of trees, the Links Course offers breath-taking panoramic sea views and a challenge to suit golfers of all levels. The Parkland Course is designed by Gary Player, and hosted the Sicilian Open in 2011 when won by Raphaël Jacquelin.

The Parkland course is vastly different from the Links course, as you may expect, and occupies the opposite end of the resort where the fertile soils surrounding several of the resort’s springs facilitates the growth of carob and olive trees, and many holes feature traditional stone walls – a surviving token from the estate’s agricultural past. Dense scrub punishes errant drives on most holes, and water comes into play on five of the eighteen.

A hot and exceptionally dry summer – most of the island hasn’t seen rain in six months – has left the course in need of a drop of rain, however, being overly critical would be unfair, and the resort itself is incredibly impressive, and affords a certain sense of intimacy in spite of its expansive layout. Three restaurants – the highlight of which is the open-air bar and grill area – serve up a host of Sicilian specialities, composed entirely of locally sourced ingredients, and cooked to perfection.

The city of Ragusa in Sicily

Not far from Donnafugata, and a little further inland, is the hillside city of Ragusa. A city of two halves, Ragusa’s lower half – Ragusa Ibla – was destroyed by the large earthquake of 1693. Subsequently, Ragusa Upper was constructed on the other side of a canyon and the two sides were only connected in 1926. Ragusa Ibla is home to a number of Baroque-style cathedrals, reconstructed after the earthquake, showcasing the grandeur of the Catholic Church in all its splendour.

A 90-minute drive east of Ragusa is Allegroitalia Siracusa Golf Monasteri, on the outskirts of Siracusa, one of the oldest Greek settlements on the island. Monasteri is, as the name suggests, a former Benedictine Monastery that has been converted into a Golf and Spa Resort. Combining the modern elegance of a spa resort with the rustic charm of a traditional Roman farm, Monasteri is set within an 86-acre orange, lemon and prickly pear plantation, all of which are features of the 18-hole golf course on site.

A 6,520 metre, par-71, Monasteri golf course is a fascinating blend of expansive, wide-open holes and devilishly narrow driving channels. Suffering a similar plight to Donnafugata in terms of an extended arid spell, Monasteri was a little under the weather when I visited. Most unusual was the wealth of prickly pear cactus trees – a most unusual sight – that lined the fairways on several holes, most notably the low indexed, par-4 sixth, where the cacti stand like sentries on both sides of the fairway, making an errant drive both a fearsome and painful thought.

The course itself features a number of very good holes, and is set to undergo some small renovations. The restaurant is spacious, with a large outdoor fireplace ideal for late night gathering in late autumn and early spring. The rooms are contemporary, and very impressive, and the spa, whilst considerably smaller than the two previous resorts, is ideal for relaxation and tranquillity.

Forty minutes north of Siracusa is Le Saie Golf Club. Opened in 2014, Le Saie is Sicily’s youngest golf course. Featuring water hazards throughout, and beautifully kept fairways and greens, Le Saie also boasts a three-tier driving range. Annexed to the course is the Le Saie resort, which is still under construction. Due for completion in mid-2018, the resort is enormous – capable of accommodating 1000 guests.

Argentario Sicily Italy

Il Picciolo – Golf at Sicily’s oldest golf course

Last, but by no means least, is Il Picciolo – Sicily’s oldest golf course – part of the Etna Golf and Spa Resort. The name is of course derived from the active volcano – Europe’s highest – in whose shadow the course lies, and whose rich, fertile volcanic plains make Il Picciolo an entirely different golfing experience from the island’s six other courses. Tree lined, and beautifully manicured, it is most definitely a course you must think your way around. Spectacular views of a smouldering Mount Etna, along with visible lava stone on the 16th and 17th holes make for a unique acquaintance.

Interestingly, the local town, Castiglione di Sicilia, is twinned with Killarney and Il Picciolo twinned with the incredibly picturesque Dooks golf club in Glenbeigh.

Unlike Dooks, however, the park surrounding Il Picciolo is a haven of lush Mediterranean vegetation, including vineyards, orchards and, of course, the olive trees that are synonymous with the entire island. The four-star hotel is elegant and benefits from cooler temperatures mid-summer due to it being almost 500 metres above sea-level.

Apart from Etna itself, which is of course a major attraction, the nearby coastal towns of Taormina and Giardini Nexus are major tourist attractions due to their ancient Greek heritage and some of the artefacts and archaeological findings that have been uncovered. Perhaps most interesting is the Ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina, built in the third century B.C., and is still used for concerts and operas to this day.

Although it may fall short of the sheer quantity of golf courses of the Algarve or the Costa del Sol, and the sheer quality of golf courses of the British Isles and Ireland, Sicily provides something entirely different. A relaxing family getaway, or a romantic excursion with some golf to tip the scales. Soak up the sun, immerse yourself in the culture, the conviviality and the cuisine. Enjoy the wine, and a little pampering. And above all else, don’t call them Italian…

If you wish to discover Sicily’s fabulous golf courses, wonderful resorts and outstanding cuisine for yourself, Chaka Travel can tailor-make your golfing trip to Sicily. See our suggested Sicilian golf holidays here.

Matt Mumford at the end of Winter season Tour Championships 2018

Chaka Travel Sponsor Matt Mumford at the end of Winter season Tour Championships. Check out his report from the event.

Make it a double!!

So after my runner-up spot at Crews Hill on The Thomson Tour, I was invited to take part at the end of Winter season Tour Championships

This was to be a 36 hole one day shootout held at the Bedford Golf Club on the 24th April

Round 1 of the Tours Championship 2018

A nice early tee off of 7:40 am and I was underway

I could not have go off to a better start when I made a birdie on first two holes and quickly moved to -2 under par for the day

A string of pars, followed by one bogey and another birdie and I was through the front nine still -2

Back nine was made up of 8 pars and just the one birdie and round one was complete in -3 under par and I signed for 68

In for lunch to get ready for the PM round and I learned I was lying in spot just two shots behind former European Tour player Simon Lilly

Round 2 of the Tours Championship 2018

Off like a rocket again with birdies on the first two holes, I continued in great form to go on and birdie the 6th, 8th and the 10th hole to move to -5 for my round and -8 for the tournament

In my head I thought I have to be leading at -8 just keep it steady and see what happens could this be my first victory!!

The predicted wind and rain arrived with just 5 holes left to play and made the finishing holes play so much longer and harder.

I kept it together the best I could but unfortunately I dropped three shots coming in to finish the round with a -2 under par 69

Great back to back rounds under par of 68 + 69 and my total was -5 for Tour Championships tournament

Now in the clubhouse and fingers crossed to see how Simon finished

Well all I can say is wow!

When I heard the news that Simon had gone out in the afternoon and shot a new course record of 64!!

His total for the day was -11 under par and that just showed his European Tour pedigree, which is where I hope to be one day

So for the second in two weeks I had finished runner up.

I now move on to the main season and await for the start of The EuroPro and Jamega Tours to begin

As always, I hope you enjoy your golf and thank you for your support

Matt

Matt Mumford plays on the Thomson Tour | Sponsored by Chaka Travel

Close but no Cigar – Matt Mumford on the Thomson Tour

Sponsored by Chaka Travel

With EuroPro qualifying out of way, there is a break of around 3 weeks before the EuroPro /Jamega Tours get underway. I had one event left to play on The Thomson Tour a rearranged tournament that was cancelled from earlier in the year due to snow.

So on the 16th April, I headed off to Crews Hill Golf Club in Enfield, North London. Playing the course blind no practice round I got underway with a bogey 5 on the 1st before another followed on the 5th hole

I soon got these back in great style after I hit the par 5 6th hole in 2 shots and rolled in the EAGLE to get me back to level par. A couple of bogeys on the remaining holes and I reached the turn in 2 over par.

Onto the back nine and a stream of steady pars and one more bogey and I was now at +3 for my day – I didn’t get down though and went onto make 2 birdies in my next 3 holes and got back to +1 for the day.

A very shot 18th left me with a good birdie chance so I went for the green with my tee shot, unfortunately, I just pushed it right and ended up behind a tree.

I chipped out, chipped onto the green and two putts for a bogey my round was complete and I finished with 72 (+2)

I was pretty happy with my round, but soon was kicking myself over my missed chances when I found out my 72 was good enough for 2nd place and a 71 would have given me a tie for the lead!

One shot away for the first win, but it’s getting closer!

 

Chaka Travel sponsor Matt Mumford at PGA EuroPro Tour Q School Final Stage

Check out Chaka Travel sponsee Matt’s report from the PGA EuroPro Tour Q School Final Stage.

Once you are at the final stage, it’s now all about improving your playing card for the year. 240 players get through to finals with only 80 to make a cut for the final days play.

The most important target for the week here is if you do not make the cut, do not give up, you must still shoot as low as you can. As the higher up in the field you finish, the more tour starts you will receive for the year.

Day 1 of PGA EuroPro Tour Q School Final Stage

I was off on day one playing the tougher red course.  I was feeling good and had been playing so well and I couldn’t wait to get started.

And I was off to a flyer with birdies at the 2nd and 6th to go to -2 under par – but unfortunately the birdies dried up as the putter got cold and I could not get anything done on the greens.

At the end of day 1, I signed for a 75 +3, not a disaster and still in the hunt to make the cut on day 2.

Day 2 of PGA EuroPro Tour Q School Final Stage

and playing the slightly easier blue course and finally, some sunshine came out so I was ready to go.

Playing the back nine first again frustration as the putter was cold and I could not get anything to drop – through nine I was another +3 and now +6 for the comp.

So my target now changed to if I was to miss the cut still get as low as I can – no bogeys but par after par, good I wasn’t dropping shots but I was also not gaining any ground without birdies.

Then into the par 3 6th a great approach left me with another birdie chance which finally dropped and I moved back in the right direction.

Onto the par 4 7th and unlucky to find the bunker and not get up and down put me back to square one.

So need a big finish and with the par 5 up next only one thing for it I’m going for it and trying to make eagle.

After my tee shot, I still had 265 yards to the pin, so I went with hitting my 3 wood and it never left the pin.  I would even go to say it was one of my best shots I have ever hit from 265 yards out.  I put my approach to about 7ft and then holed the putt EAGLE!!

Now I was back to only +4 still missing the cut but right back up in top half of field where I need to be. I went long on my 18th and didn’t get up and down so finished with a very frustrating bogey and was +5 for the tournament

My finish is my highest so far on the EuroPro Tour and in previous years I managed to play the majority of the tour, so fingers crossed 2018 will be the same.

Matt-Mumford-PGA-EuroPro-Tour-Final-Stage-Scorecard

 

Good luck to you all for your golfing for 2018

All the best

Matt

Matt Mumford at EuroPro Tour Q School First Stage | Sponsored by Chaka Travel

Check out Chaka Travel sponsee Matt’s report from the first stage of the EuroPro Tour Q School.

Such an important event, your whole season is depending on how you play over the next couple of weeks. Failure to get out of the first stage and your dreams of playing on the EuroPro Tour for the year are already over.

Day 1 of EuroPro Tour Q School First Stage

and what a day awaited the 84 players trying to qualify.  High winds and torrential rain meant it was not going to be an easy day at all

My tee time was 10:25 am and even though it was pouring down with rain, I went through all of my normal warm-up routines and I got ready to play.

I Stood on the tee with my playing partners about to tee off (Claxon goes off) play is suspended!! Before I even got to hit a shot we were running for cover back in the clubhouse.

There we sat, for 4 hours, until we got the nod that play would be resumed.

A par on my first hole, before a birdie on the second and then yes, the Claxon goes off again!!

Another suspension in play.

This time it didn’t look good as the weather was relentless; with fading daylight now also a factor, the EuroPro Tour committee took the decision to make the first stage an 18 hole comp only; and invited us to go home and return the next day for an 08.30 am start.

Day 2 of EuroPro Tour Q School First Stage

I was in an OK position and feeling pretty confident – although I still had 16 holes to play I was at least already under par from the day before, so was happy

Yesterday I started my round on the 10th hole, so I was playing the back nine first and starting on the 12th, which is a par 5.  When I made the green in 2 and two-putted out for another birdie I quickly found myself 2 under par.

5 pars followed before I played a great approach into the tough 18th to set up another birdie chance which I took to reach the turn in -3 under par (through 9 holes)

A couple of mistakes on the front nines par 3’s took me back to -1 for the day before I took advantage of the remaining two par 5’s by making birdie on both to finish the round on -3 and in a tie for 3rd place and comfortably through to the final stage at Frilford Heath.

So job done for part one.

Here’s my scorecard for the day

matt-mumford-europro-tour-q-school-scorecard