Sam Tremlett travels to Verdura Resort to sample great golf and fantastic food.
Verdura Resort – Heaven On Earth
You could be forgiven for not really considering Italy, more specifically Sicily, when planning an overseas golf break. Having subsequently now been, I’m left scratching my head as to why.
Perhaps it’s because Spain is such a tried-and-trusted proposition and the Algarve continues to be a magnet for British golfing tourists; maybe it simply comes down to poor research on my part.
Either way, Italy will definitely be on the shortlist the next time I come to plan a golf trip abroad.
Spain and Portugal are rightly very popular, but Italy is emerging as a more than viable alternative.
It shares many parallels with those two golf-tourism powerhouses, while adding some idiosyncratic ingredients into the mix.
Sicily is one of Italy’s 20 regions and ranks among its most significant in terms of history, culture, gastronomy and geographical landmarks.
It’s separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina, with Palermo, the region’s capital city, situated in the north-west corner of the island.
An hour and a half to the south is the wonderful Verdura Resort, a Rocco Forte hotel. This all-encompassing and proudly Sicilian locale is defined by quality in every sphere.
You could certainly be excused for never leaving the confines of the resort, for Verdura is essentially a mini-village, with something to do, see, play or explore at every turn.
Throw in a superb climate and the sum of the parts add up to perhaps the best golf and leisure resort I’ve ever visited.
On the course
After arriving by night and a comfortable sleep, my attention turned to the golf which has seen some dramatic changes of late. In years gone by the resort had two course, the East and West, however adverse wether conditions and severe flooding has resulted in many holes being swept away.
As a result when I arrived, the resort had a composite course in place all of which was designed by Kyle Phillips, arguably the most celebrated modern golf course architect. He draws a lot of inspiration from Britain’s classic seaside courses, something that’s evident on the holes I played.
It is worth noting though that this upcoming Autumn the resort is looking to open a new course also designed by Phillips. This course will use more ditches, lakes and streams to divert water towards the sea. Therefore the floods are being used as an opportunity for improvement which is fantastic to see.
After criss-crossing my way around the resorts challenging set-up, two things struck me most vividly. The first conclusion I came to is the greens are sublime. From fairways and tees they appear absolutely tiny but when you walk up to them they are huge which just shows how clever Phillips was with the design. Add to that severe undulations and it is easy to see why it tests the professionals when they arrive on occasion.
The other conclusion was in relation to the wind. It can make the course outstandingly tough, even the smallest par-3 can be turned into an absolute monster when the wind is howling into your face which especially becomes apparent as you head to the final six holes where the course really kicked up a gear.
The 13th is a mid-length par 4 that plays uphill to a green situated at the foot of a Sicilian hillside, while the 14th is a shore-hugging par 4 with water all the way down the right. If you suffer from a slice, close your eyes and hope for the best. At the time it played into the wind and was a brute of a par-4! Oh and a quick tip from my experience, if the pin is near the front of the green, DO NOT go long because the green will make you look very silly indeed.
The final four holes were exceptional too.
The 15th and the 17th – both par 3s with lovely coastal backdrops – come either side of a testing par 4, where you drive at a slight angle to a fairway bisected by a ridge.
The 17th in particular was my favourite hole on the composite. You play right next to the beach and it has aesthetics that would not look out of place at Pebble Beach or Cypress Point.
The final hole is perhaps the pièce de résistance in terms of design. It’s an uphill par 4 with water all the way down the left and some clever bunkering. If you manage to avoid trouble with your drive, you’ll face a mid-iron to a deep green that sits in the shadow of the Torre Bar – as good a spot as you could imagine for a post-round beer.
There’s also a double-ended driving range, chipping and putting greens, not to mention the par-3 course, which is ideal for families, beginners and those wishing to take a break from the championship experience. I recommend going round with a couple of mates and a couple of beers to really enjoy it!
Additionally Verdura has an outstanding performance studio in which you can test yourself, get lessons or have fun with mates on the simulator. The studio uses Trackman and force plates to help you get expert tuition so you can hone your game.
In May, stars of the European Tour descended on Verdura for the Rocco Forte Open, won by Alvaro Quiros.
Away from the fairways
There’s so much else to experience away from the course at Verdura too.
The 60-metre infinity pool – the centrepiece of the complex – is extremely impressive and the private beach is an ideal late-afternoon spot.
If you’re feeling active, you can even indulge in various water sports.
If tennis is your thing, there are six clay courts, while coaches from Juventus are on hand during the summer at the resort’s football pitches.
Children are also well catered for in the form of a newly revamped Kids Club.
Verdura even offers Sicilian cooking classes, which is why I now make the finest Pasta alla Norma north of Rome.
I’m generally not much of a spa-goer, but most of my spare time was spent at Verdura’s wellness mecca.
You can exercise if you’d like (there’s a 20m indoor pool, a fitness studio and a sizable gym) but why do that when you could be in a double-height steam room or a Finnish sauna? I particularly enjoyed the four thalassotherapy pools, which work in unison with each other to unlock pores and generally make you feel rather relaxed. Who knew!
A rather charming quirk at Verdura is the presence of bikes dotted throughout the resort too. You are encouraged to cycle around, something I thoroughly enjoyed doing during my stay.
The ride to and from the golf reception, which runs parallel to the shoreline, is delightful, particularly after a couple of early-afternoon beers following a morning round.
As you might imagine, relaxing and playing golf makes you rather hungry and thirsty.
There are a combined seven restaurants and bars at Verdura catering for different palates and moods.
If you’re looking for a more formal experience, try the wonderful Zagara, which serves exquisite Mediterranean food. Two of the other highlights include the more family-friendly Liola, which provides stupendous clifftop views, and Amare, where you’ll find some of the finest local seafood.
Delicious food, lovely beer and wine, pleasing surroundings, what more can you ask for? (Personally I can recommend trying calzones and cannoli’s because they are immense)
Indeed, Verdura prides itself on its use of local ingredients. It even produces its own olive oil.
Speaking of produce, I’d also heartily recommend a visit to one of Planeta’s wine estates, which are dotted throughout the island. Walking through vineyards with a glass of white in your hand and the sun beating down on you back isn’t the toughest way to spend an afternoon.
It’ll come as no surprise that the accommodation is really rather good too. There are 203 rooms and 50 suites, all beautifully designed and offering stunning sea views. Opulently furnished, with private balconies and salubrious bathrooms, the suites deliver the height of luxury.
As I’ve already mentioned, Sicily is rich in historically and geographically significant sights, from Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe, to the Valley of the Temples, a World Heritage Site.
For the historians among you, the Valley of the Temples is particularly interesting with its large structures and lovely walks.
A little piece of heaven
It really is difficult to convey just how good Verdura Resort is.
Looking back some six weeks after visiting, as I did when putting metaphorical pen to paper, so many memories came flooding back, and not just of the golf.
Naturally, playing is the main motivation behind a golf break, but it’s often the off-course atmosphere and amenities that turn a good holiday into an exceptional one.
Verdura is a little piece of Sicilian heaven, and I’d encourage everyone considering a golf trip abroad to put it right near the top of their contender list. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
How to get there
Palermo accepts daily flights from a host of major European airports. Ryanair operates daily flights from London Stansted, and you can also fly to Palermo with EasyJet and British Airways. Verdura is roughly an hour and a half by car from the airport.
Composite Course – TBC
Par 3 course – par 27, 1,056 yards
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