By John Dean
For most North American golfers, a trip over the ‘pond’ that is the Atlantic normally leads to Scotland, and rounds at St Andrews, Kingsbarns, and maybe a slice of Carnoustie.
But there is another way which I would like to champion, and that’s a golfing trip around Europe by train. OK, slip in a bit of Scotland if you must, and why wouldn’t you, but there is a great big golfing world to be savoured in what we Brits call Continental Europe.
As a Brit, and sometimes golf writer, I can be accused of being a bit UK centric, as between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, we are spoiled for choice – if not weather. But what with our recent political upheavals, and the environmental crisis, I have decided to step out and take the train to play golf around Europe.
So, what are my golf credentials for this trip? Well, back in the day, I helped launch a magazine called GolfPunk, which I believe did play some part in bringing golf kicking and screaming into the modern world. Sixteen long years on, and the brand is still going, but I am taking a break from it so I can focus on what I love doing most, which is travelling, playing golf, and writing about it.
I’ve therefore decided to travel through 9 different countries in Europe to play golf over the course of a whole month. And it will all be done by train, as I will use InterRail for my journey.
It was April last year when my long-time friend Dave Finn asked if I would be interested in joining him for the WHO – World Hickory Open Golf Championship in Gullane. I had no idea what a WHO is let alone where to find Gullane. If someone would have asked, I would’ve guessed Ireland. Well, it’s on the north coast of Scotland, affectionately know as the Scotland’s Golf Coast, the last bastion of soil before the North Sea.
My first thoughts were, I had just gone through some momentous changes in my life and I wasn’t ready for a big trip like this. Too much preparation was in order. I didn’t even have clubs! Where do you start? Playing with hundred-year-old clubs was going to be a challenge but I knew this trip was about more than the golf. It was about the camaraderie and pushing beyond my comfort zone. I knew I had to make this happen!
by Edward Kiersh
My rain and cold weather gear were packed. So were six dozen Titleists, for there would be a lot of traipsing through ankle-deep gorse, all sorts of bedeviling hillocks, and unplayable seaside lies.
An adventure loomed, 12 days in the Cradle—pursuing Old Tom Morris’ spirit, confronting notorious winds along with other trials and tribulations—and just hoping to savor the unique pleasures of Scottish links golf.
So the prolonged terrifying jolts of turbulence punctuating my flight over the Atlantic served as a true portent of what was lying ahead. There’d be memorable visits to fabled Royal Dornoch and North Berwick, even some taming of sharply-contoured greens after hitting “heroic”—cum—gutsy shots over treacherous dunes and beachside ravines. But these glories would also be coupled with too many struggles in yawning bunkers and ensnarling grasses.
Despite the fact that I studied art history at university, after Rome and Florence, we were on historical and cultural ‘overload.’ We knew that like fine wine and great food, we needed a break to experience ‘la dolce vita’ and not rush our Veneto & Venice experience. Firmly believing that the charm of the Veneto community extended well beyond the lagoon, we grabbed a rental car at the Maestro station and headed for the countryside before venturing to Venezia, reportedly the most visited city in the world.
Travelling by car was much easier then I expected since Italians drive on the same side of the road as North Americans and the GPS system made navigating a synch (well almost!). Gradually the urban landscape gave way to the rolling hills of the Vicenza valley, and 65 km later we were in the heart of the Grappa Mountains and Valboddiandene wine country. With little effort we soon found ourselves meandering along the Prosecco Road, popping into small local vineyards to sample the region’s specialty before checking at the Asolo Golf Resort. As we headed to our guesthouse, we couldn’t help but notice the lushness of the golf course on one side of the winding drive and the orderly rows of grapes on the other – ‘nine and wine’ in total harmony. It was at that moment that our decision to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities was the right choice.
By Edward Kiersh
Sitting alongside the Grand Canal outside the Grand Hotel Monaco, a glass of sparkling Prosecco in hand while watching the gondoliers ply through the dark water, it’s easy to understand why Venice is such a fabled city. It’s frenetic, throbbing with energy, a city on the brink of environmental disaster due to the surging lagoon, but still a place of mystery, surprises and seduction.
Go to any bar in the non-touristy Cannaregio district or away from San Marco Square and enjoy a giro d’ombra, a night crawl between cafes to savor plates of cicchetti, small fried fish dishes that come with prosciutto, olives, cheeses and other wonders.
Drink a Bellini at the tiny and romantic Harry’s Bar.
Stand on the Accademia Bridge to watch the vaporetti navigating through the Canal.
And for dinner head for Vini da Gigio, a small family-run trattoria owned by two incredibly-friendly owners who have been serving Venetian fish dishes for 40 years. Here the pasta with crab is a must, as is the squid in black ink with polenta.
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.
by Edward Kiersh
Go back in time. Way back in time, over 1000 year to the days of feudal defense systems, medieval castles, and to a serene, undisturbed setting near the Po River in Italy that still epitomizes all the glories once enjoyed by noble families.
All this awaits those explorers who want to combine discovering a Golf Eldorado along with famed culinary delights in this Emilia-Romagna part of Italy, a region where the legendary prosciutto is as glorious as the scenery.
The jumping off point for this golfing/culture adventure is the Antico Borgo di Tabiano Castello. Built on the ruins of an 11th Century Roman settlement, this painstakingly-restored village/boutique hotel, while once the center of the struggle between Vatican and Imperial forces, is now a citadel of calm.
So indulge, be rejuvenated, whether that means a spa treatment, a long dip in the pool, visiting a few other nearby castles, or enjoying some famous Parma ham. But then comes difficulties, the tough choice. In this valley of rolling hillsides and dairy farms, which of the 9 nearby courses (all within 1 1/2 hours from Tabiano), will be tackled?
It was extremely difficult, even painful to leave Aloxe Corton. A petite, charming village on the Côte de Nuits, the wine-producing communes in Burgundy, France known for elegant and affordable reds, this town near Beaune boasts five exceptional vintners offering daily tastings.
But another delight was on the horizon—a stay at the Hôtel Golf Château de Chailly, a 16th Century castle with an 18-hole championship golf course.
Opened in 1990, amid natural streams, lakes and a glorious variety of century-old trees, this 6,737-yard, parkland course 30 miles from Dijon has several challenging water-riddled holes that demand pinpoint accuracy. Over a dozen, well-bunkered, elongated and sloped greens exponentially increase the tract’s difficulty.
Paris was bustling with fashionistas, and that was to be expected since it was Fashion Week, a time to celebrate Dior, Armani, Hermes and Tom Ford. Not a time to celebrate the Ryder Cup which was more my fashion—so I decided to leave Paris for one more day in Burgundy—to drink great wine and to decompress from all the pastries and rich food I was eating.
Bourgogne and its amazingly remarkable small towns like Noyers and Vezelay were certainly more my style. But with limited time before my return trip home I drove to relatively nearby Chablis.
Packing my clubs for another day, and after negotiating many small roads, I ultimately arrived at a vineyard named after owner Clotilde Davenne, a small winery not far from the magical towns of Irancy and Vezelay.
Golf in Paris? Tiger is back. The Ryder Cup is ready to start on Friday outside Paris. The weather is sublime for golf, in the mid-60s and sunny. Magnifique!
But here in this glittering city that many people fear, or often disparage because of some nonsensical feelings about the French, few people care about Tiger or the Cup. It’s as if it was being played on a different planet.
Take my favorite baker for example. I expected to see a few little cakes decorated with the European logo. But she would have none of that. Her only interest was serving me a heavenly cup of coffee and a wondrous pained chocolate. Yum! But there was spectacle that did delight her made her even talkative.