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Piedmont: A golf and gastronomic delight

Piedmont: A golf and gastronomic delight

Foodies who like finding fairways will find much to admire in this Italian region, as Clive Agran discovered
 

Italians, it has to be said, are very much more into food than they are golf. The two, of course, are not mutually exclusive and it’s perfectly possible to love both.

If you do, then you should give considerable thought to visiting the region of Piedmont in the north-east of Italy, which excels in both golf and gastronomy.

With Turin as its capital, it boasts nine of the top 20 courses in the country and features no fewer than 45 Michelin-starred restaurants. As I discovered, you don’t have to choose between the two as it’s perfectly possible to enjoy both earthly pleasures in one mouth-watering combination.

And foodies don’t necessarily need venture outside the golf clubs to indulge their passion as both the management and members appear to pay every bit as much attention to the appointment of the chef as they do to the pro or the greenkeeper.

Consequently, the food is fabulous and is about as far removed from a sausage sandwich and chips that you might be lucky enough to grab in the UK as a certain airline is from customer care. After a relaxing day recovering from you-know-whose flight by wandering around the elegant streets of Turin, I was ready for fresh food, fresh air and inviting fairways.

Curiously, Bogogno Golf Resort is marginally closer to the airport at Milan than it is to the one in Turin but it’s less than an hour from both. Set in the midst of glorious countryside with mountains not all that far in the distance, it’s a very modern resort with all the creature comforts – such as a luxury spa and gym – that you would expect.

There are also two exceptional courses, both of which opened in 1998 and are in Italy’s top 20. The Bonoro course is undoubtedly the tougher of the two. While both are sprinkled with water hazards, on Bonoro the wet stuff seems to come into play more often, especially off the tee.  With bunkers very often on the seemingly safer bail-out side, ‘keep on the grass’ is a sensible strategy.

One of the most appealing aspects of the course is the numerous very elevated tees. A couple of the par threes elicit an almost audible gasp as you step onto the lofty tee and survey the inviting green below.

Although not strictly part of the course, another attractive feature is the impressive properties alongside the opening holes. Perfectly presented and endowed with immaculate greens, the course certainly merits its high ranking.

As a Spurs’ supporter who hasn’t quite forgiven Antonio for the disappointment of last season, I was somewhat anxious about tackling the Conte course.

I needn’t have been because it’s a lot friendlier than its neighbour. Describing it as a classic resort course is a bit unfair as that implies it’s easy, which it certainly isn’t; the numerous lakes and ponds see to that. But it is a lot more open and forgiving and, frankly, quite a bit more enjoyable.

One of the fun features of which I most heartily approve is the expansive waste bunkers. There’s quite a few and they add both to the visual appeal as well as the overall experience.

Perhaps the most impressive is the one that snakes alongside the final hole. Sitting outside enjoying a cold beer and the splendid panorama after the round, I couldn’t help noticing that this self-same bunker viewed from the veranda bears an uncanny resemblance to an outline map of Great Britain.

None of the three course architects who collaborated on the design – Robert Von Hagge, Mike Smelek and Rick Baril – is ‘one of us’ and so perhaps they were paying ‘homage’ to the island that is, after all, the home of golf.

Piedmont golf

From the immensely comfortable present to the wonderfully evocative past for the next treat at Biella Golf Club Le Betulle. Perched in the hills on the slopes of the Sierra moraine just a few miles from Biella, it’s a wonderfully nostalgic step back in time.

It even has a sizeable dormy house that more than makes up in character what it might lack in facilities. Bertie Wooster would have loved it here, as indeed did I.

Although the accommodation and the wooden-floored clubhouse might appear a tad old-fashioned, the place simply oozes charm, as does the course.

Laid out by an Englishman (John Morrison) in the 50s, it’s a classic, tree-lined masterpiece that sweeps majestically up and down the undulating terrain between imposing old oaks and other splendid specimen trees. 

Sixteen-year-old Rory McIlroy won an amateur tournament here in 2006 and his course-record 65 still stands. Seve, too, has walked its fabulous fairways. Always in Italy’s top three and frequently at number one, it’s an outstanding course attached to a true members’ club where the warmth of the welcome is every bit as impressive as the smoothness of the exceptionally fast greens.

Back to Turin for the final leg, a couple of true top-notch clubs that lie about half-an-hour from the city centre in a beautiful piece of parkland that, before the War, was owned by the Italian royal family. I Roveri (The Oaks) is evidently rather exclusive with entry into the walled estate through a manned barrier. It’s Italy’s answer to Wentworth with smart celebrity homes, two stunning parkland courses with beautiful water features and an unmistakeably affluent atmosphere.

In some ways it typifies the rather elitist image that golf suffers from in Italy. Widely regarded as the preserve of the rich and very rich, it is not generally thought of as a suitable pursuit for ordinary folk. Football, on the other hand, most definitely is the people’s game. Hence, the total number of regular golfers in the whole country is roughly only twice the capacity of the nearby Juventus’s Allianz stadium.

Curiously, the two widely contrasting cultures come together at I Roveri where the Agnelli family, who own Juventus, have a major shareholding in the golf club and many of the Juventus players regard I Roveri as a second home. 

Apparently, when he wore the famous black and white stripes, Carlos Tevez spent more time on the lovely fairways here than he did on the training ground.

To be fair to the club, its enlightened management have made an enormous effort to try and broaden their appeal and encourage fok, especially youngsters, to take up the game. And once you’ve passed through the gates, the atmosphere inside is welcoming and very friendly.

Incidentally, if you turn up in a BMW you can park in one of a number of premium places set aside for Beamers. It’s because BMW are one of the club’s sponsors.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior, the original course dates back to the early 1970s while the second Allianz Bank (another sponsor) course opened in 2006. Although the former has hosted the Italian Open no fewer than four times, the members are pretty evenly divided as to which they prefer.

Piedmont golf

The same is not true of the neighbouring Torino Golf Club La Mandria, where the Blue is more popular than the Yellow. Both, however, are exceptionally fine parkland courses that are, if not somewhat flatter, not that dissimilar to the two next door. Open champion Francesco Molinari, who lives just around the corner, is frequently seen sharpening his short game at the excellent practice facilities and his image, clutching the claret jug, adorns the front of the scorecard.

All eyes will be on Italy come September when the Ryder Cup is staged near Rome. Whether or not it piques Italians’ interest in the Royal and Ancient game is open to doubt but what is absolutely certain is that Piedmont offers visiting golfers the salivating prospect of exceptional golf and delicious food.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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