Departure time in Tuscany | Travel

In 2008, my beloved grandfather passed away, leaving me a set of golf clubs he had carefully collected since he started playing in the 1950s. During childhood visits to his bungalow in Bognor Regis, we spent hours together at the local putting green, but I, 29, was baffled by the legacy. Real golf was for old people, I thought; I was not – and never will be – old. For more than ten years, the heavy set of irons sat undisturbed in my attic.

However, it turns out Grandpa knew better. When I turned 40, the dusty bag Slazenger began to whisper invitingly, promising hours spent strolling the manicured lawns and enjoying a drink at the clubhouse. After a decade of raising children, the prospect of a hobby conducted in a peaceful adult-only space was suddenly alluring.

I told friends I wanted to learn to play and they reacted in disbelief. Likewise, Italy is generally not considered a powerhouse in golf. But with the country gearing up to host the 2023 Ryder Cup, that’s about to change.

Orla decided to learn to play golf after turning 40

DARIO GAROFALO

The European and American teams will face off at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club near Rome, but I had something different in mind for my golf debut and sought out scenic courses attached to some of the finest hotels in the world. ‘Italy.

The Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, near Pisa, has the longest golf course in Tuscany. From the property’s panoramic terrace, I try to count its 27 holes, scattered among hills, rows of cypresses and lakes glistening in the spring sunshine. The view is almost stunningly perfect, like the backdrop to a Renaissance masterpiece. Ten full-time gardeners are employed to maintain this neat version of Tuscan nature.

“Being in nature brings a different perspective,” says Manola Alberti, director of Castelfalfi Golf Club. “There, it’s just you and the course.” But she readily admits golf has a bit of a recruiting problem, “today’s players are getting older and fewer young people are getting into it.” Embracing the trend towards inclusivity, Castelfalfi offers classes for all ages and ability levels, including beginners like me.

After a decadent golfer’s breakfast at the clubhouse, I borrow a buggy and use its GPS to navigate to the driving range. Pedal to the metal, I carve the curves of the course at 15 mph, watching veteran players soar. Among those who are uniformly dressed in dark, sporty black, my outfit stands out: a colorful homage to vintage golf style, complete with a floral sun visor.

I’m just one of many rookies, says Andrea Perrino, Castelfalfi’s pro instructor. “The pandemic has been really good for golf,” he says. “In Italy it was one of the few games people were still allowed to play.”

He devotes the first part of our lesson to finding my good position, and within an hour I manage to curb my inelegant shots on the turf and start sending ball after ball satisfyingly skyward. “Learning golf requires a lot of time, discipline and respect for the rules; at the beginning, there is a lot of information to assimilate,” says Perrino. “But it’s also important for new players, through practice, to find their own instincts in the game.”

The Castelfalfi lake course is the most suitable for beginners, but I can’t help but put my new skills to good use on the more difficult mountain course. Its topography is perhaps most accurately described as hilly, and the start of the picturesque 9th hole is particularly dizzying. My ball flies over the fairway, landing just yards from the green. Not bad for a beginner.

The best golf hotels in the UK
● The best golf breaks in Europe

My new hobby is clearly using hitherto unknown muscle groups, because the next morning I wake up with the kind of body aches I would normally expect after a particularly strenuous workout in the gym. Nevertheless, after a few hours at the spa and a free stretching class, I am rested enough to walk around the estate.

Walking through the olive groves and among miles of vines, grapes just in bud, I remember that this is a working landscape – Castelfalfi produces its excellent wine and olive oil, which I taste generously at lunch.

Further south, the spa town of Terme di Saturnia offers a very different Tuscan experience. Located in the less-visited region of Maremma, the century-old hotel grew up around an ancient thermal spring.

Saturnia Terms

Saturnia Terms

ROBERTO BONARDI

Sought after for its therapeutic properties since Roman times, it is still popular on weekends in the capital. They congregate around sulphurous pools dressed in fluffy white bathrobes – a relaxed uniform that lasts from morning espresso until sociable happy hour.

Arriving for an early morning swim, I find the pools milky blue, with steam rising from the water. When the sun rises they brighten and looking down I feel like I am floating in the caldera of a volcano. From the depths emerge streams of bubbles and the strange drop of algae, adding to the elemental experience.

Around me, people are supported in the water by chic, gray versions of the “noodles” usually used for children’s swimming lessons. Little hassle doing tricks; instead, the temperature encourages stillness and surrender – it’s as if all the tension has been washed out of my body.

“Ten minutes in the pools really improves your game,” says Procolo Sabatino, the resort’s golf course manager, who is also my teacher for the day. “The more relaxed you are, the better you play.” My swing isn’t the only beneficiary – the mineral-rich waters are also used to irrigate the 173-acre course, helping to earn its GEO-certified status and supporting local wildlife.

A flock of gulls watch my efforts on the green, but after failing to score anything near an eagle, I’m ready for another break. The wisteria-covered Trattoria La Stellata is happy to serve stuffed zucchini flowers and charcuterie in a hidden spot between the 6th and 16th holes.

My coveted hole-in-one doesn’t happen on the course, but at the resort’s massive 53-room spa. Designed with golfers in mind, the exclusive treatment includes a Saturnia antioxidant mud coating, followed by a full body massage. After 80 minutes, I come back to the warmth of the pools feeling like a baby – albeit a 42-year-old who recently started golfing.

Orla Thomas was a guest at Toscana Resort Castelfalfi, which offers bed and breakfast doubles from £245 and one-hour golf lessons for two from £43 pp (castelfalfi.com), and the consultant private travel and Italian specialist Merrion Charles (merrion charles.com) . Two nights’ B&B at Terme di Saturnia, including flights, a golf lesson and a Hole in One treatment, from £1,309 pp (termedisaturnia.it).

Six Other Best Italian Golf Hotels

The swimming pool and gardens of the Sheraton Parco de' Medici, Rome

The swimming pool and gardens of the Sheraton Parco de’ Medici, Rome

Sheraton Parco de’ Medici, Rome

This sprawling 782-room property is half an hour’s drive from the Ryder Cup site and boasts a 27-hole championship course, set amongst acres of greenery. The historic center of Rome is 25 minutes away by taxi, so it’s perfectly possible to do some sightseeing too.
Details B&B doubles from £99 (marriott.com)

Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort, Tuscany

Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort, Tuscany

Argentario Golf & Wellness Resort, Tuscany

A dragonfly-shaped design hotel in the Tuscan Maremma, this sprawling resort combines cutting-edge interiors with a golf course overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can also take advantage of the vast wellness center and the medi-spa.
Details B&B doubles from £315 (argentarioresort.it)

Villa d'Este, Lake Como

Villa d’Este, Lake Como

FANI KURTI

Villa d’Este, Lake Como

Perched on Italy’s most illustrious coastline, patrons of this historic grand dame can enjoy its nearby course, considered one of the toughest in Europe. Afterwards, recuperate in the hotel’s floating pool or terraced gardens.
Details B&B doubles from £640 (villadeste.com)

Verdura Resort, Sicily

Verdura Resort, Sicily

ROCCO FORTE

Verdura Resort, Sicily

Italy’s most beloved island is also home to one of the most prestigious golf destinations in the Mediterranean. This Rocco Forte hotel recently opened its second redesigned course and launched a new coaching program, Green to Tee. Mix things up with time on the tennis courts or in the 60m infinity pool.
Details B&B doubles from £405 (roccofortehotels.com)

Borgo Egnazia, Apulia

Borgo Egnazia, Apulia

An attractive recreation of a fortified village, this resort combines an old-fashioned look with upscale facilities, including two private beaches, three outdoor pools, and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Its San Domenico championship golf course sits right next to the Adriatic.
Details B&B doubles from £262 (borgoegnazia.com)

Palace of Varignana, Bologna

Palace of Varignana, Bologna

Palace of Varignana, Bologna

Full of heritage charm, this 18th century property overlooks the rolling countryside outside one of northern Italy’s most beautiful towns. In addition to the chipping green and the brand new driving range on site, you can enjoy the nearby Le Fonti golf course.
Details B&B doubles from £196 (palazzodivarignana.com)

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