Written by Edward Kiersh (Photos supplied by properties)
It was a mystery that went unsolved, at least for this one day in Paradise.
No one in the inviting Menaggio and Cadenabbia clubhouse knew where their most famous member was, so the speculation grew. Was he off shooting a movie in Sardinia? Or just lying low in his villa on the shores of Lake Como, away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi?
Amid these swirling questions about the fame and fortune of George Clooney—the club’s 12-handicap golfer who everyone described as “just a down to earth regular guy”— playing this heavily-forested, stunningly-beautiful hillside test of precise drives, painfully-narrow fairways and dramatically-contoured greens often becomes an afterthought. The shaded outdoor terrace, along with the cozy library, stocked with the second largest collection of golf publications in Europe (1200 volumes) is that relaxing.
But once enough courage is summoned to leave Menaggio and Cadenabbia intimate bar and the camaraderie in the elegant 1907-built clubhouse, be prepared for undulating, 30-yard wide fairways, steep inclines, and backdrops of the Central Alps.
These sweeping panoramas of the Penine and Lepontine mountains surrounding Lake Como can lull the Tiger in you. So, can a few short par 4s, like the 327-yard 4th with a cross bunker about 200 yards out, and the totally uphill 17th, a 256-yard dogleg sandwiched between thick clusters of tall trees on both sides of the fairway.
Beware then the club’s “For Sure” motto. It’s meant to convey the soothing feeling that golfers will find only tranquility and an enclave of pure escapism from the clamor of the workaday world. Yet Menaggio and Cadenabbia is anything but an escape from golf’s most exhilarating—and sometimes most exasperating—challenges.
The 522-yard, par 5 5th hole is particularly daunting. A slight dogleg right, it demands precision off the tee for the landing area is about 25 yards wide. Two sprawling bunkers guard the right-hand side further raising the fear quotient, and the rest of the hole plays dramatically uphill, past a series of different terraces or elevation changes to a tiny, well-bunkered green.
Equally memorable, the 8th and 9th holes are also bedeviling, uphill tests of driving accuracy. Each of these doglegs cuts through clusters of trees, play to different elevations, feature long, ball-losing drop-offs on each side, and offer little room for error once approaching minute-sized, severely-undulating greens.
The back 9 offers little relief, especially the menacingly-sloped 13th and 14th, two par 5s (505 and 492 yards) which ‘forebodingly’ ascend past ever-looming trees towards very well-protected greens. These holes can be an adventure, yet the sweet and seductive Alpine air tempers all misfortunes.
The tight, decidedly uphill, 145-yard par 3 15th is another heart-stopping vexation. Short tee shots are likely to roll 70 yards downhill, straight into oblivion.
Yet mastering the 18th, a 254-yard dogleg left with a generous landing area, is enough reason to punctuate the round with a glass of congratulatory Prosecco.
After spending time on the terrace, lamenting what might have been, head for a nearby ferry to Bellagio, and forget those bogeys in a welcoming, time-defying oasis. Hugging the shores of Lake Como in Lezzeno, with an ever-inviting La Cantina wine cellar and outdoor terrace for gazing at the passing vaporetti, the Palazzo Del Vice Re, a historic palace with five separate living quarters dotes on Old World charm—and is a hidden gem.
“We love to cater to golfers, especially those who need a little luxury after a challenging round,” says the boutique hotel’s Hospitality Executive Steff Rau. “Whether it’s sun bathing, fine dining, or staying in our 3-bedroom loft apartment with a custom hot tub, we offer just the right atmosphere to cure those golf pains or to prepare for the next trip to Menaggio.”
It’s not easy leaving this time capsule retreat, a place where ‘dolce far niente’ (sweet idleness) is prized. Its’ Il Cortile terrace, offering breathtaking views, is simply delightful, a breeze-swept hideaway where indulging in pure self-pampering is a must.
But these sybaritic pleasures must be momentarily forgotten. There’s even greater joys in the offing by returning to the M & C and solving its’ many mysteries. More putts are sure to drop this time round, and now in typical Italian fashion, the clubhouse greetings will be even warmer.
There’s even a good chance that Menaggio and Cadenabbia’s all-encompassing riddle will be unraveled. For the smiling presence next to you at the bar just might be that “regular guy” named George.
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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