by Edward Kiersh
Bergamo Italy – 3378 yards, extremely-tight fairways, and countless blind shots to microscopic greens all add up to pure deviltry, a par-seeker’s Hell.
So how does one prepare for the undulating fairways, sharp doglegs, and Alpine streams that complicate and doom even the best of shots?
Before heading to Bergamo’s L’Albenza Golf Club, once home to famous European Tour player Constantine Rocca, extreme measures might be necessary.
In intriguing Bergamo, an often-ignored, medieval-walled, “upper city” between Milan and Venice in northern Italy, that may well mean invoking golf’s gods—praying to them and asking for a blessed touch on L’Albenza’s dauntingly-slick, treacherously-sloped greens.
It’s unknown if Rocca, a runner-up at the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews believed in such saintly intervention, but before tackling L’Albenza’s 27 holes it’s best to get a good night’s sleep in the “upper city’s” boutique Gombit Hotel—and to find some heavenly inspiration in the towering Santa Maria Maggiore church.
Built in 1137, this Romanesque Duomo is one of the architectural marvels in Lombardy’s Lake Region. Featuring exquisitely-executed tapestries, numerous tombs, assorted columns and arcades, it dominates the Piazza Vecchia in the Citta Alta, a square charmingly buzzing with restaurants—and is conducive to relaxing before playing the course that helped spur Rocca into golfing’s elite.
If playing all of L’Albenza’s 27 holes interferes with visiting the nearby Alps and the wine producing region in Franciacorta (the site of a Pete Dye course) simply make time for the 9-hole Yellow “Percorso.”
The brutish 411-yard, dogleg right 1st immediately demands a tee shot to a narrow valley, and then a perfectly-executed approach shot to a green flanked by three gaping bunkers. It is a rude introduction to a course framed by beatific scenery at every turn.
Making par on the 166-yard 2nd is also no mean task, for this deceptive hole is all uphill, and if too long off the tee, balls can easily spill down into an unforgiving ravine behind the green.
Straying right or left means another disaster on the 404-yard 3rd, a sharp dogleg left which is so densely lined with thick, tall trees, even the best drives force blind approach shots to an elevated green guarded by four wide bunkers. A par here evokes images of Rocca’s sterling play during his halycon mid-1990’s successes.
The 4th promises even more headaches. Though there’s a generous landing area off the elevated tee, this par 5, 553-yard dogleg right compels of those Risk versus Rewards moments: Do you dare hit a wood over a stream about 300 yards down the fairway, or lay up with an iron?
In either event, the third shot to a green totally defended by deep bunkers is another delicate task, made even more complicated by all the contours on the postage stamp-sized green.
Befitting the oddly-located chapel on the 5th—is it time to offer up thanks, or to plead for a merciful few less torments—this 416-yard dog leg left is rather charitable. The wide landing area is forgiving, and thankfully, there’s only one bunker alongside a fairly-flat, expansive green.
A series of bunkers on the right side, along with several outcroppings of trees thwart many long drives on the 6th, a 495-yard par 5 featuring several elevation changes, and a large lake perilously close to the fairway.
The 8th hole, a 418-yard, sharp dogleg right with a sloping fairway and numerous plateaus poses other grave challenges. There’s a long stream on the right side, so it’s imperative to keep tee shots left. That side of the fairway presents its own mix of trouble; deep woods and a slope that takes balls into a valley of sidehill lies.
On this hole a great deal of finesse is necessary on all approach shots, as the narrow green sits on steep plateau, and it only can be reached by avoiding two cavernous bunkers.
The only relief in sight is the straight forward, 322-yard 9th, a possible birdie hole. If a 3 is carded, it’s tempting to consider playing another 9, preferably on the equally difficult Blue Percorso. Yet less taxing pleasures await in Bergamo.
The Gambit Hotel, an “experimental art laboratory” filled with abstract paintings and sculptures, flaunts the latest in Italian minimalist furniture and hi-tech functionality.
So even if the Yellow course proves humbling, freshen up at the Gambit, explore the adjoining stone tower, then stroll along the medieval, cobblestoned streets in this UNESCO Heritage preserved city. Like L’Albenza, the Citta Alta is one of Italy’s most luminous gems.
Golf and travel writer Edward Kiersh has written for such publications as Golf Digest, The Robb Report, SPIN Magazine, and Cigar Aficionado where he wrote about resorts and golf course designers. He also wrote a golf feature for the New York Times Sunday Magazine section, and a best-selling baseball book, ‘Where Have You Gone, Vince DiMaggio?’
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