The Best of Golf in Sicily
With Italy taking centre stage for the 2023 Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club near Rome, we gave the boot to Travel Editor Andy Waple to check out the golf in its southernmost region, the island of Sicily.
Golf in Sicily
Despite its size, Sicily has relatively few golf courses yet its rugged beauty, fantastic cuisine, wines and centuries of historical interest makes a holiday here a truly memorable experience.
In total there are just 90 holes to play, and that takes into account a nine hole course at Verdura and a beginners’ layout at Villa Airoldi near the capital, Palermo. More details can be found at https://playgolfsicily.com/.
Due to the distance between the courses, players are advised to concentrate on just one resort at any given time and perhaps enjoy the host of other experiences the island has to offer.
Verdura is certainly the stand-out destination in Sicily for travelling golfers who want to enjoy a challenging game in the most luxurious of surroundings, including a top class hotel and spa.
Situated on the South East of the island, it occupies an idyllic coastal plain overlooking the invitingly blue Mediterranean.
Its 36 holes required a major rebuild in 2018 following a disastrous flood but both courses known as the East and West offer great golf.
The result is two distinct courses of high quality from tee to green, though neither are easy. The East in particular features some long holes requiring power as well as accuracy, as the rough can be very penal throughout. There are also plenty of hidden water hazards, some created by the floodwaters of 2018 and incorporated into the redesign. So to use the old golfing adage “bring plenty of ammo."
Golfers of all abilities will find much joy here however; the views are phenomenal, whether facing the mountains in the distance, or playing along the glorious beachside holes that are equally spread among both courses.
It is difficult to choose a favourite from the two layouts, although the East is considered the most challenging.
This resort offers the very essence of Sicily. At its heart is a former monastery which acts as the hotel reception, bar and restaurants. It has been complemented by 102 bedrooms in modern, low-level annexes surrounding a spacious swimming pool. If you want to be immersed in a true Italian family holiday experience then this is the place for you.
The 18 hole par 71 course has a members’ club feel, and contrasts sharply with Verdura’s manicured appearance. Its clubhouse is rather sparse and a bit scruffy but the staff are lovely and obliging. Buggies are a rarity but its course is easily walked which helps you better appreciate its tranquility and rugged natural appearance,
Set among the region’s varied fauna and flora you may find yourself searching for your ball among row-upon-row of huge prickly pear plants if you stray off the fairway. Wild flowers, walnut trees and herbs abound so you will truly feel that you are one with nature.
It has some very enjoyable holes; notably the par three 9th which plays over a pond with the backdrop of the old monastery itself.
The following holes on the back nine create the greater challenge, some feature water hazards and there are a few blind shots to navigate. That said, the toughest hole is on the first nine. The SI 3 8th is a sharp dogleg left which presents the temptation to try and execute a draw from the tee to avoid a rocky outcrop running across the right hand side of the fairway. What the first time player can’t see is the large pond running down the length of the left hand side and up to the elevated green. A short but menacing par 5!
If you are one who normally feels a little nervous on the first tee you could be forgiven for visibly trembling here. In fact you might even feel the earth move under your feet, for the club stands in the shadow of one of Europe's most active volcanoes.
The sleeping giant Mount Enta occasionally wakes up from its slumber to spew black ash onto the surrounding land in the North East of Sicily, and in fact did so as recently as May 2023, forcing the nearby international airport at Catania to close.
Fortunately this resort stands on the northerly slopes of the mountain and the prevailing winds ensure there is little to worry about.
That said, the course has had to fully embrace its place and knowingly acknowledges that humans can’t compete with the mighty forces of nature.
This means the course runs over rolling terrain throughout, as you will immediately witness from the opening hole where the fairway drops sharply from the tee.
All fairways are tight, some of the holes very short and its small greens are built on waves of lava deposits producing some very challenging breaking putts.
Nevertheless, with the snow-capped peak in view from many tees this course is a true joy on the eye and an absolute pleasure to play.
It is also beautifully maintained throughout, has large practice areas, and is currently undergoing full renovation under the watchful eye of new owners who have grand plans for the course and adjoining hotel.
There are many stand-out holes, but you may be cursing if you get your driver out of the bag too often. The highlight hole, which admittedly some will hate due to its blind tee shot, is the 13th. Standing at just 255 metres from the back tees, you will only need a mid iron from the tee to reach a narrow strip of fairway sloping right to left. Anything too long will tumble away down a steep ravine full of stern looking lava rocks. A flick onto the green is required for a birdie putt, yet it’s a certain card wrecker if you can’t execute the correct strategy.
All players in my group loved this course, which was a big surprise package throughout.
The largest island in the Mediterranean is steeped in history and has been home to many cultures since it was settled by the Phoenicians in around 750BC.
As a result, each of the golf resorts have splendid off-course activities making each a great centre for exploring the wider area. From Verdura a popular trip is a visit to the Valley of Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Agrigento. It is recommended for those interested in ancient Greek archaeology. Just 20 minutes away from I Monasteri is the 2,700 year old fabled city of Syracuse, the birthplace of Archimedes and formerly capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a lively tourist town and cruise ship port, packed with bars and restaurants which surround the archaeological and architectural wonders of the old town.
The region around Il Picciolo is dominated by Mount Etna which can be visited by helicopter, bus, bike and even donkeys. Its rich mineral-laden deposits have given rise to a wealth of top quality wineries producing some of Europe’s finest vintages. The hotel has a link with the boutique winery I Custodi Delle Vigne dell’Enta, a 10 minute drive away, which hosts excellent wine tours and tastings in glorious surroundings.
Our travel partner Golfbreaks offers deals at each of the hotels and courses mentioned above. See https://www.golfbreaks.com/en-gb/holidays/sicily/#breaks for details
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