My previous visits to Italy have been to attend a friend’s birthday in the Tuscan hills of San Gimignano and to attempt a few parallel turns on the slopes of Sauze D’Oulx. But until recently I have never thought of Italy as a golf destination.
Italian golf has been in the headlines over the past twelve months with the exploits of the World Cup holders, the Molinari brothers - Edoardo and Francesco - and Massimo Manassero, currently the world's highest ranked amateur. Edoardo first came to the fore winning the US Amateur in 2005 over the famed Merion Club course where Bobby Jones clinched the original grand slam in 1930, while his Rome-based brother won the Italian Open a couple of years back.
Now Italy's national tourist board (ENIT) is keen to continue the good work of its young superstars and recently invited me to attend a media day at Old Thorns Manor golf course in Hampshire to help spread the word.
Before we headed to the first tee of the co-designed Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas course, Giuseppe Impellizzeri (deputy director of the Italian State Tourist Board) presented some of Italy’s 260 courses.
He admitted that tourists have traditionally flocked to Rome and north of the Italian capital when seeking to explore Italy but there are many more delights on offer for those prepared to venture a little further south - and the same applies to golf.
With a mild climate ideal for golf all-year round, the regions of Puglia, Basilicata, Campania and Calabria have a variety of courses on offer to quench the thirst of every golf enthusiast while the areas of Abruzzo and Molise, to the west of Rome, lends a lovely contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Italian capital.
Stretching from the spur of the Gargano peninsula to the heel of Italy’s boot - Puglia offers a delightful mixture of beautiful golden beaches, pine forests and undulating countryside with olive and almond groves, and some first-class golf courses.
Bari Alto, San Domenico and Acaya in Lecce - known as the Florence of the South - are all immensely enjoyable 18-hole layouts while Riva dei Tessali has hosted European Challenge Tour events and will test all facets of your game as you weave through pine trees not dissimilar to Augusta.
The area of Basilicata is often referred to as the region of unspoilt opportunity and it’s easy to see why. Refreshingly under-explored and built on an agricultural economy, it is a great contrast to Italy’s more traditional tourist hubs and a visit to Metaponto Golf Club should be included on the agenda of any golfer visiting the area.
The course may only have opened in 2004 but the par-72 lay-out belies its young age as it weaves in and around citrus and olive groves. Campania boasts one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world as the Amalfi Coast runs south from Sorrento and golfers can take time out from their holidays to enjoy the nine-hole courses at Circolo Golf Napoli and Volturno.
And, while the areas of Abruzzo and Molise might be considered novices in golfing terms, they are also two of the most beautiful, unspoiled parts of Italy and include Pescara Golf & Country Club, the first 18-hole course in Abruzzo.