Castello di Antognolla lies a half an hour’s drive north of Perugia city centre and it dates back to the 12th century, when the crypt below the castle’s chapel was part of a Benedictine monastery which once housed the remains of Ercolano, the patron saint of Perugia.
The castle and its 500-hectare estate passed from Ruggero di Antognolli and his heirs to Cornelius Oddi then onto the Gugliemi family between 1836 and 1921 but the property has since changed hands several times – it was once an asset of the Agnelli family – before its acquisition by Russian investors.
And so, a new chapter in the history of Antognolla is under way, with the castle and estate earmarked for transformation into an exclusive international resort which will feature a luxury hotel and a small number of resplendent residences, the first project of its kind in Italy.
At the centre of the development is an 18-hole golf course which has been completely remodelled by Robert Trent Jones Jr. The course originally opened in 1998 so the outdated, 20-year-old irrigation system was replaced with a modern computer-controlled version.
Because the course sits in a valley with clay-based soil, a new network of drainage pipes and sand-slits was installed to provide Antognolla with year-round playability and ensure quick drying surfaces. Drainage water is both captured and recycled, greatly boosting Antognolla’s eco-credentials.
Some of the old bunkers were removed, others were relocated and all the bunkers have been completely redesigned and rebuilt using the capilliary concrete lining system. These sand hazards are now far more more visually attractive, whilst still blending sympathetically into their natural surroundings.
Finally, grassing lines have been improved on all the holes and areas of rough and semi-rough have been modified and fescue grasses introduced. New tees have lengthened the course in certain parts, enhancing the playing experience for many.
The first thing that strikes you about playing at Antognolla is the bunkering, which is truly magnificent. Jagged edged and beautifully proportioned, the sand traps are wonderful, grass-banked hazards that are positioned in all the right places, both on the fairways and around the greens.
It’s also obvious a fair bit of the upgrade budget was spent below the surface of the fairway as quite a few holes were still showing a little scar tissue from the installation of drainage lines, which will obviously help playing conditions during the wetter winter months in times to come.
I understand the greens had reduced in size over time so they’ve been expanded back to the way they once were, retaining their original design. Some of them are brilliant – my notes for #2 mention the contours as “Maxwell Rolls” and the L-shaped putting surface on #6 is an absolute cracker.
My jottings for the front nine also reference the following: the gun platform tee boxes on #5 and #7; the double green on #5 (shared with the steeply downhill #17); and the L-shaped, two-tiered green on #6. There’s also an extensive note (made IN CAPITALS) of one of the most outrageous par fives I have ever come across.
The par five 8th measures 485 metres from the tips and is rated stroke index 2. Located at the most northerly point on the property, it’s also set at the highest part of the valley where most of the holes are laid out. There are gullies to cross and very narrow fairway landing areas to negotiate as the hole veers right and upwards to a green placed at the top of a ridge.
I can fully understand if anybody hates the hole as it’s unashamedly contrived but I loved it, despite losing a couple of balls along the way – it’s definitely a hole you would want to play several times to try and get a proper handle on it as it messes with your head from the moment you stand on the tee until you finally putt out (hopefully with the same ball) several shots later.
The back nine plays up and down the valley, highlighted by the Biarritz green on the par five 12th and the fashionable “speed slot” in the fairway on the par four 15th, propelling shots down towards the green – though I wasn’t keen on the copse of trees on the right side blocking the view to the target.
Ponds play a part in proceedings on three of the holes at the start and end of the round but it never feels as though water is interfering too much.
Overlooked by a castle that dominates the skyline on the opening and closing holes, the course at Antognolla is still something of a hidden gem, tucked away in the hills between Rome and Florence, but I suspect we’ll be hearing more about it as its reputation grows.
Antognolla is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr design that went through a renovation in 2018. With the omnipresent castle overlooking the course it creates a unique setting. It is not a long course, but it is a fun course.
The first hole is not real welcoming. A long flat par four to a well protected green. There is a water hazard right off the tee. The 2nd is a birdie oppty, a short par 4. Off the tee favor the right side as the contours will push your ball left. Same on the approach and there is also a greenside bunker left. The short par 3 3rd is also a green light birdie oppty. The first 3 holes are the flattest section of the course.
The 4th hole, while not long on the card, is uphill with a water hazard left. Take an extra club on your approach. The 5th is a relatively straight downhill par 4. The 6th, while an uphill par 5, with a perched green, can be reached in two, although I wasn’t even close. The green is well protected with bunkers, so two really good shots will be rewarded. I think a 3 shot approach will yield more birdies. The 7th is another uphill par 4, slight dogleg left.
Enjoy the respite. I consider the par 5 8th a love/hate hole. I thought it was fun, and I didn’t even birdie it. One of our group hated it and the member said he either pars or birdies or doubles or worse. It is uphill and sweeps to the right with a ravine and OB right. If you push your drive, pretty much dead. Big hitters can get home in two, but there is not a lot of margin for error. The safer play is straight off the tee, with your second shot over the ravine and favor the left side of the fairway to set up your short approach. To go for it, favor the right side off the tee. Too far right into the ravine and OB. If you hit your drive too far, while still in play it will roll down the hill and the probability of something good happening went downhill with it. Number 2 handicap hole, I am sure some people will think it is tricked up and quirky. I thought it was interesting. You can literally catch your breath on 9, from the uphill exertions of 8, short downhill par 3.
The back starts with a downhill dogleg right par 4 with a bunker on the inside elbow. You want to carry as much of the elbow as possible. The 11th is an uphill dogleg left. The green is very well protected with a bunker short right and two left. The 12th is a birdieable par 5. Downhill slight dogleg right with fairway bunkers on the left. Favor the right to give yourself the best chance to get home in two, This green is also perched on a hill with a bunker below the green on the left. It is the supposedly the second easiest hole on the course.
The 13th is a long downhill par 3. The 14th and 15th are dogleg mirror images of each other. One uphill, one downhill, with the 14th being the tougher of the two. The 16th is a long par four and the number one handicap hole. You must favor the left side off the tee. Another elevated green that is protected with greenside bunkers right and left. The 17th is a downhill par 3. Due to the elevation change, I hit two clubs less and was pin high. The 18th is a decent finishing hole. Not real long, slight bender right with a water hazard all the way down the right side.
Antognolla is a fun course, one of the better ones that I played in Italy. It is hilly. If in doubt, take a cart. Also, for whatever reason, there is no drinking water on the course. Make sure you have a water bottle and it is full. I would pay to play it again.