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Leading Courses Ambassador trip #9 to Como: "Step into the Shoes of a Member for a Day"

16 May 2023
17 min. read
Leading Courses
Every year Leadingcourses’ Evangelist Leonard takes a selected number of Ambassadors on a trip to a - mostly unknown - golf destination. In April 2023, for the 9th Leading Courses Ambassador trip, a selected group of Ambassadors headed to the Como area just above Milan in Italy and they stayed at the lovely lodges on the best golf club of Italy in 2023: Golf Club Villa d'Este.
The green of the 17th hole with the 18th hole and the impressive clubhouse of Villa d'Este in the background (photo credits: ambassador Emmanuel Marchand)

This article was written by ambassadors Richard Vetter, Alex Wright, Davide Santandrea, Emmanuel Marchand, Neil White, John Hall and Leading Courses employees Jeroen Korving and Leonard van Nunen. 

Lake Como region

View of the Como Lake (Photo by Jesper Brouwers on Unsplash)

Northern Italy is a region that's truly special for golf enthusiasts. Golf courses are abundant, the food is great, temperatures in general are pleasant and course conditions are excellent. Lombardy and Piedmont, as well as Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, are ideal golf destinations. And if you're also a foodie, then going here is a no brainer!

During this Ambassadors trip we slept in nice golf lodges at Golf Club Villa d'Este, which are located on the premises of the golf club. It's a peaceful and relaxing spot, with the semi-detached lodges overlooking the golf course's holes. The rooms are fully equipped and furnished in an original style featuring the (golf) history of Villa d'Este. Every golfer will feel right at home here!

For those arriving by plane, Villa d'Este is easy to reach. It's less than an hour drive from the Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate airports and about an hour from the Orio al Serio airport in Bergamo, the hub for many low-cost airlines like Ryanair. If you travel by car, this area is approximately 3 hours away from Zurich, 5 hours from Munich and 9 hours from Paris.

The best season to golf in Northern Italy is definitely late spring. In April many golf courses are already in good shape, although due to the proximity of the Alpes the grass might just have begun to grow and greenkeepers will be busy preparing the course. In May and June conditions are perfect and the temperatures are still pleasant. During July and August the temperatures and humidity can soar quite a bit, falling again after mid-September. Autumn is also a great season to plan your golf trip to this region, due to the moderate temperatures and as many of the trees will provide stunning and unforgettable colouring. 

Lake Como however isn't really famous for golf. It's mainly known for as a retreat for many VIPs and for its charming villages. The towns of Cernobbio, Laglio, Bellagio, and Menaggio are certainly worth visiting, as is the lake itself. When planning a golf trip to this part of Italy it is wise to factor in some additional 'driving time'. There are not many highways and although the winding roads are lovely and scenic, it is wise to factor in some additional time. 

We visited and played 5 golf courses in the area, which are all described in this article. You can read the individual reviews from the ambassadors by surfing to their profile.

GC Carimate: much more than a designer chair

Nice green complexes at Carimate Golf Club (photo credits: ambassador Alex Wright)

The first course we played - Golf Club Carimate Associazione Sportiva Dilettantistica - lies about half an hour north of Milan and half an hour east of the Milan-Malpensa Airport. The history of GC Carimate dates back to the year 1962. When in 1955 an aristocratic family sold the ancient, 14th-century castle and its surrounding land the intention was to create an area of villas and leave a larger piece of land for a bigger project. That project eventually became Golf Club Carimate in 1962.

Carimate is also known as being the name of a designer chair. It was designed by Vico Magistretti in 1959 - originally in red - for Golf Club Carimate and since then is known around the world. The village of Carimate is known for its historic castle and beautiful surroundings with numerous lakes and forests. The castle of Carimate, or Castello di Carimate, dates back to the14th century and is now an elegant hotel and event venue. It is surrounded by a park. 

The clubhouse offers a range of amenities and services, including a restaurant, bar, and pro shop. The restaurant offers great quality food in a small selection of dishes. Not overpriced, with a good price-performance ratio. The club has hosted several international tournaments over the years, including the Italian Open and the European Ladies Team Championship.

The golf course of Carimate can be described as a parkland course and was designed by golf architect John Harris. The course can be divided into a front and a back 9. The front 9 are not as good as the back 9, which are the original holes. The first holes - which were created later - are much too narrow and nets hang everywhere to protect the surrounding villas. The back 9 impresses with wider fairways, nicer views and more obvious lines to play. The course is more suited for the advanced golfer. The course is well laid out and can be played quickly without any delays. The course is very hilly, so a cart or e-trolley is recommended. The distances between the holes are often relatively short. The course signage is good. The next tees are well marked. A small plus are the water dispensers, which are well distributed throughout the course. The driving range is large enough, with both grass and mat tees (covered and uncovered). There are also practice putting and chipping greens. Parking is more than adequate. The staff is very friendly and helpful. The food in the restaurant is top quality and really good value for money. Overall, the atmosphere is very relaxed and pleasant. Unfortunately, the course still lacks room on the front 9, but this is hard to solve. The rest of the facilities like the nice big clubhouse, the caddie master, and the locker rooms are good. With a weekday green fee of € 70,- (walk-in rate), the price-performance ratio is ok.

GC Biella: in the shadow of the Alps and in the steps of Rory

The iconic 16th hole at Biella, with fairways on two different levels and an amazing backdrop (photo credits: ambassador Emmanuel Marchand)

In the shadow of the magnificent Alpine range, the Serra Moraine, Golf Club Biella is one of the highest-rated and surely one of the friendliest clubs in Italy. Golf Club Biella "Le Betulle" has a welcoming family environment and has a sublime clubhouse in which delicious dishes are served up with great relish.

Golf comes alongside Italian 'gioia di vivere' in a city which has become known for its appreciation of the finer things. Situated about 80 kilometres from both Turin and Milan, the golf club could be included on a trip to either city while a Biella itself reveals a concentration on art, fashion, theatre and design. We were lucky to visit the club on a beautiful spring day with glorious light that picked up the gorgeous mountain backdrop as well as the pink blossom on the course. 

Biella’s trees are its defence – they line almost every hole and demand a strategic approach rather than blasting one’s way around the course. Water also plays its part – there is a brook which lurks on the right-hand side of the first hole and becomes more dangerous in front of the third and 14th and alongside the 12th and 13th. We asked the club manager his favourite hole and, without hesitation, he exclaimed: “The 16th!” It certainly met heightened expectations – a stroke index one, par-five with the mountain on the horizon set against a bright blue sky. Its fairway rises from left to right before dipping down into an area of rough and rocks and then re-emerging in the opposite direction up to a two-tier green. I don’t recall any hole remotely similar during my extensive golf travels. 

Because of its altitude, Biella wasn’t in perfect condition in April but course officials, who have particular pride in their greens, assured us it would be spot-on within a couple of weeks.  The club has hosted many prestigious tournaments over the years with its most famous winner being Rory McIlroy who, carrying his clubs, took the 2006 European Amateur Championship at the age of 17. The young McIlroy would have been fitter than our group who sensibly reverted to buggies, given the up-and-down nature of the terrain. 
It meant we reserved enough energy to tuck into more tasty food after our splendid game on one of Italy’s best and most memorable golf courses. 

Bergamo GC: three quality loops and a unique ambiance

Lovely rolling fairways and great greens at Bergamo GC (photo credits: Jeroen Korving)

Bergamo Golf Club, or Bergamo L'Albenza as it’s better known, lies at the foot of the Orobie Mountains, part of the Lecco Pre-Alps and has magnificent views of the foothills from many of the northward facing holes. The club was founded by Cesare Magnetti, a prominent, local industrialist and a group of his friends from the Bergamo area.

The original (and best) Blue and Yellow nines opened in 1961 and were designed by the English architects Cotton & Sutton. The club added a third nine, the Red, in 1988 designed by architects Marco Croze and Tom Linskey.

Unusually, the road to the centrally situated clubhouse winds through the course, with the first glimpses of the course whetting the appetite for what’s in store. The designers of all 3 nines made excellent use of the site's woodland, streams and old buildings to create some stunning holes with lots of variety, requiring strategic shotmaking and the use of every club in the bag. There are many elevated tees where the hole stretches out in front of you, tree lined and often with a subtle dog leg (dog legs seem to be a very Italian “thing”!), some well-positioned water hazards and excellent greens.

The modernist clubhouse is large, welcoming and friendly, with a fabulous outdoor seating area overlooking the course. If you're lucky, you'll meet Costantino Rocca, Italy’s first Ryder Cup player (1993, 95 & 97) whose homeclub this is and who is probably most famous for holing from the Valley of Sin in the 1995 Open at St Andrews to get into a playoff with John Daly, which Daly won. Rocca, who is a real gentleman and one of golf’s true "characters" holds court on the terracing most days making members and guests alike feel truly at home.

Favourite holes? On the Blue the par 5 7th winds gently up hill to a green with an Ivy covered old barn on the right and a stunning mountain backdrop. The par 4 8th which follows turns gently left to a green protected at 45degrees by a pond, which plays on the mind. On the Yellow the par 4 1st is a stunning long 4 played form an elevated tee down a tree lined valley to a green set in its own amphitheatre and the fifth another long par4 to a severely sloping green. Don’t finish above the hole! On the Red, the short par 4 3 rd hole might be drivable for longer hitters, but the small green set at 45 degrees and sloping front to back is treacherous and well protected.The closing hole runs along a ridge with strategically placed tees and a small well guarded green.I really enjoyed the whole Bergamo experience. The golf course is stunning, views to die for and ambiance something quite special. It's probably my favourite Italian golf course and highly recommended.

Villa d'Este: a historic course with stunning backdrops 

Lovely manicured greens, great layout and amazing views at Villa d'Este (photo credits: ambassador Alex Wright)

Nestled in the heart of Italy's Lombardy region, on the tranquil wooded slopes beside the Lago di Montorfano, lies Villa D’este Golf Club. Designed by Peter Gannon in 1926, this historic course will celebrate its centenary year soon and is one of the most exclusive and prestigious courses in the country. One is provided with a peaceful and serene setting to enjoy your round. Although situated next to the lake, sadly it is only glimpsed through the trees from the tee of the 11th hole, the picturesque Alpine backdrop steals the show and provides a stunning setting for the course and more than makes up for the diminished lake views.

Despite being only a Par 69, it is certainly no pushover and provides a challenging test for golfers of all levels. Features include it’s six testing Par 3s, all but one of which are over 180 yards (165 Meters). These holes require precision and accuracy, as golfers must hit well-struck shots to find all the greens. The course's carpet-like fairways, well-sanded bunkers, and lightning-quick greens add to the premium feel.

The course's signature holes include the awe-inspiring 1st, which boasts a stunning Alpine backdrop. This picturesque hole sets the tone for the round, as golfers are treated to magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. A challenging hole is the tricky par 4 15th, where a hazardous drop to the left of the green can wreak havoc on even the most skilled golfers. Meanwhile, the quirky short par 4 4th provides a unique challenge for golfers, as they must resist the urge to go for the green and navigate a route through a series of well-placed hazards to reach the green. Of course, no discussion of Villa D’este Golf Club would be complete without mentioning its beautiful finishing 18th hole. A raised green protected on its flanks by bunkers, this hole is made even more impressive by the club's stunning clubhouse forming the backdrop, adding to the sense of occasion and exclusivity.

With all its history, Villa D'este could be mistaken for thinking the club might be set in its ways, this could not be further from the truth with modern GPS electric golf carts, a modern and well-stocked Pro shop. Friendly and attentive staff are on hand to help with any task no matter how small.

In conclusion, the Villa D’este Golf Club is an exceptional golfing destination that every golfer should experience at least once. Its stunning setting, challenging layout, and upscale feel make it a true gem of Italian golf.

Barlassina CC: a relaxed country club vibe

The putting green alongside the amazing terrace at Barlassina Country Club (photo credits: Ambassador Alex Wright)

As the saying goes, there’s only one chance to make a first impression, and that’s what I most like about visiting new golf courses and clubs. As you drive through the entrance of any club, you automatically get a feel for the place and you can let yourself be surprised with every new step, from the clubhouse up to the actual course. When arriving at Barlassina Country Club and soon after walking into the clubhouse, it really felt like a place to play golf and share time with friends. And that’s exactly as was described by the owner when chatting with him.

Founded in the 50s by a group of friends, Barlassina Country Club offers golf, tennis and a swimming pool, and I can only imagine the club bursting with activity during the summer months. We arrived early at the club, and although the course seemed quiet at that time, the pro was already busy at the driving range with a student, leveraging the latest technology to track and improve the swing. Just right of the 1st hole, the driving range is wide, and offers both natural and synthetic grass to practice. It’s a small walk from the club house (and actually opposite to the first tee) but that’s a good way to warm up and get ready for your round. The practice green is just by the side of the terrace of the restaurant of the club house, and has plenty of holes to practice any putt. It actually merges quite well with the terrace and you can easily putt on the green and interact with non golfers on the terrace.

The course layout is relatively flat throughout the 18 holes, making it an easy-to-walk course. The holes are well defended - mainly by similarly placed bunkers - and there are only a few very straight holes, forcing the player to choose the good side of the fairway from the tee to avoid having to play a harder second shot. This said, playability is a common theme on the course and you will be able to get back in position if you missed the fairway, and try to scramble with an up and down for par. Pin positions are marked by color and you’ll easily look at the back of the scorecard for the position of the day, indicated on the first tee. Greens are not too slippery but are pretty quick, so putting is really enjoyable as the lines are usually reliable.

Both holes 9 and 18 are nice ways to finish the front and back nine. While the nine is a long par 3 up the hill and well guarded by 5 bunkers on all sides of the green, hole 18 has 6 green side bunkers of its own! Bring your A game to finish in style in front of the members watching over from the terrace!

As mentioned at the beginning, the club really calls out for meeting with friends and families, and you realize it has plenty to offer for non golfers too. It wasn’t the hot season yet but straight behind the first tee you could see the huge swimming pool, tennis court and playing area for the kids. All of it surrounded by trees to protect yourself from sunny days. The restaurant is also a good asset from the club and it’s easy to be tempted by breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Golf near the Como Lake: the verdict

Although the ambassadors that joined this trip have played many well-known golf courses throughout the world, they all agreed that the combination of the lovely food, the great surroundings, the relaxed atmosphere and well-maintained golf courses is unique. As many golf courses in Italy just opened their doors for outside golfers, you really feel like a member for a day. We played here in April - which is high season in Spain and Portugal - and we never felt rushed and could always stop after 9 holes for a great lunch. So, if you want to escape the crowds then heading for Italy is definitely a good idea. 

Getting to Italy - especially the Milan/Como region - is pretty easy. Milan has three international airports to choose from; Malpensa, Linate and the nearby Bergamo airport. Many Italian golf courses have dormy houses or guest rooms, so staying at the golf clubs itself is really no issue. A top tip is to factor in some extra time when driving to golf courses, as the winding roads in this part of Italy will take a bit longer than elsewhere. 

The high quality of golf courses, the relaxed atmosphere and the amazing gastronomy make this a great golf destination. So when you are thinking of your next golf trip, give Italy in chance and especially the Lombardy area! Most of the best Italian golf courses are bookable or reservable online via Leading Courses, so no need to contact the clubs. 

A special thanks goes out to Villa d'Este for hosting this trip and obviously to all the golf courses mentioned for making us feel at home immediately!

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