The 27-hole golf complex at this Lombardian retreat lies close to Lake Garda, in a beautiful parkland estate that’s served by a 15th-century manor house which acts as the focal point for the Palazzo Arzaga Hotel Spa & Golf Resort. Jack Nicklaus II designed Arzaga’s 18-hole course and it opened in 1998, with Gary Player later adding a 9-hole layout.
Set within a sprawling, 360-acre property the fairways of the Nicklaus course are wide and generally forgiving, though water comes into play at several holes, most significantly at the 156-metre 7th, where a pond runs all along the left of the fairway, and at four other holes (10th, 14th, 15th and 18th) on the back nine.The 396-metre 4th offers probably the stiffest test on the outward half, playing to a two-tiered green that’s protected by sand to the left of the putting surface whilst, on the way home, the enormous bunkers fronting the short par three 17th have the potential to derail a good score late in the round.
Arzaga Golf Club is a resort, and it lets you know it from the start. Where else do you drive up to a roundabout dressed as a green, complete with bunker, hole and flag even before you arrive at the access road to the club? Once your car is safely parked, you walk around the 18th green of the Nicklaus II course and up the short but steep uphill lane to the caddy master’s lane (unless you know your way around and drive up to drop your clubs, then hand the car keys to a valet) to prepare your bag and buggy for your round, and finally up the ramp to the clubhouse, quite large, with a modern interior design, vast pro-shop and well-appointed bar. The Palazzo Arzaga and spa, built in and around a 15th century convent turned palace turned 5-star hotel, dominates from the top of the hill.
The golf at Arzaga was given at least as much attention as the accommodations. There are two courses on the property: the Jack Nicklaus II 18-hole track, and a 9-hole addition designed by Gary Player. Both are worth playing and are quite different.
The Nicklaus course is a true resort course: very open, gently rolling hills, large fairways, vast bunkers, big greens, and length to match anyone’s abilities from the appropriate set of tees. There are some pretty holes, like the short 2nd whose green offers views on the lower part of the course and all the way to the nearby towns of Bedizzole and Rezzato, and to the first Alpine hills in the background (the Alps always appear in the background of golf clubs in northern Italy, i.e. Aosta, Piemonte, Lombardia, Trentino Alto Adige and Veneto regions); the 9th, for the view of the clubhouse and convent-hotel on top of the hill, and the quirky bunker shared with the 1st hole, designed so that buggies ride right through it; the 17th, with its green built at the top of a hill, overlooking that of the 8th and the same valley as from the 2nd green; and the 18th par four which offers another great view of the valley below the clubhouse.
There are also some harder holes as far as golf is concerned: the 4th, a flat but long par four (413 m from the tips and still 337 m from the red tees) with a sand trap littered drive landing area, and a sand trap belted 40 m long green with two tiers; the par four 6th, 15th and 18th, because of the water lurking along the left side of the fairway. The 18th is a very nice finishing hole. It is only index 7 on the card, but one has a great view of the valley between the sharply elevated tee and the green on the facing up slope, which also includes the 1st, 9th and 10th holes,,, and importantly the 19th hole as well!
The Gary Player nine holes are maybe a sterner, but also very interesting test of golf. It is built around the top and back of the hill where the resort’s main buildings are located. Most of the holes are narrower, with fairway lining trees more in play. The first and last two holes make use of dramatic elevation changes, the bunkers are deeper and more dangerous even though they are a bit smaller, and overall the course feels more British while the Nicklaus course feels more American. The members of Arzaga like it a lot, in part because they feel it is tougher, and in part because it seems to be less crowded.
After playing the Nicklaus course, I could not help it and had to experience the Player track as well, and I found it has my preference as well, even though the walk to the 1st tee makes one wonder whether the uphill stretch will ever end, and the one between the 8th green and the 9th tee makes sure that you will have no breath left to play the ending par three. After all, we know the Mr. Player is a fitness fanatic, he just wants us to share the experience. In between, the terrain is much less hilly, and golf is the priority. The hardest hole is the long 4th, a 557 m par five with bunkers in the landing areas of both the drive and the second shot, and a final one guarding the left of the green while a lake will catch any ball on the right. Then the short 6th may also force you to take another ball from your bag, as the elevated green is surrounded on three sides by water so being short, long or astray are not good options if you are looking for pars. The long 8th is a dramatic hole, a par five with a drop and a turn just where your drive is supposed to land, then a shrinking fairway for your downhill lying second shot to reach approach distance to the green surrounded by a steep uphill on the left (with trees, danger) and back (path and bushes, danger) and a lake on the right. Who needs bunkers?
Overall, a well-rounded golf resort with something for every visitor.