Situated just a few miles from the 18 charming holes of Gerre Losone in the Swiss canton of Ticino, the course at Ascona occupies a wonderfully scenic Alpine position on the delta where the River Maggia flows into Lake Maggiore.
Golf Club Patriziale Ascona was founded in the late 1920s as Golf Club Ascona-Locarno and the course is owned and run by the local city fathers. As the layout enjoys the presentation and conditioning of a top private golf facility, unsuspecting golfers are hard pressed to guess that this is effectively the local municipal course.
Architects Colt and Alison planned a full 18-hole layout for the 125-acre property at the outset but the initial 9-hole track remained in play for thirty years until C.K. Cotton added another nine holes in 1957.
Despite the stunning lakeside setting, water rarely comes into play on the course (except for the small ponds at the 209-yard 2nd, 199-yard 17th and the par four 8th holes) as the tree-lined fairways wander back and forth on a relatively flat site beside the lake.The Harradine golf design firm is credited with upgrading the course in recent years, installing an irrigation system at the end of the 1990s then rebuilding three holes (at 2, 8 and 10) a short time later.
We played this course at the beginning of May, 2016. The access to the course is most striking, as the path from the clubhouse along the training areas to the first tee is surrounded by expansive beds of very colourful flowers and bushes which set an impression of tropical garden, an impression prolonged by the first couple of holes as the green of the 1st is set against a backdrop of more flowerbeds and the 2nd, a short par three and the signature hole, is played over a manicured pond. Both holes, as in fact almost all of the holes of this course, offer greens with a magnificent mountain backdrop, and this golf course must be among the most scenic ones I have played.
This track is not really difficult to play. It is completely flat, the fairways are usually large, even though the trees that line them and separate the holes will unfailingly penalize the player who sprays drives her and there, and even if most of the doglegs have a large bunker inside the turn to prevent too much of “Tiger line” tactics, several of these defenses will be easily carried by longer hitters. The two exceptions are the 8th hole, a short par four with water along the left side of the fairway to make it risky to try and drive the elevated green as well as taunt inaccurate approach shots; the 9th, also a par four whose defense is the length, 386 m from the back tees; and the 16th, another par four where the bunker on the outside of the turn, on the Lake Maggiore side, while the inside track is defended by a bunch of trees.
The greens were not very fast when we visited because they had been fertilized the day before. However their condition was still very good and the roll of the ball was quite true. There are not too many greenside bunkers as only the 6th and 11th holes have four, but on the other hand only the 8th has none. The bunkers look very pretty with their pink sand, and prove to be not too hard to get out of onto the greens are in most cases the green side slope is not very steep and there is no lip to the sand trap, so when the sand is hardened by rain, as was the case during our round, putting out of the bunker is a very reasonable option in many instances.
The land on which the course was built is limited and not extendable as it is surrounded by either urban development or the Lake Maggiore, so even though the course is not very long at 5948 m from the back tees, one is under the impression (and the impression is correct) that many holes go back and forth in parallel directions and that most of the course, at least outside the short holes, is built along a north-south axis. Only the 5th, 15th and 16th par fours deviate from this general orientation. Still, the beautiful trees planted since the early 20th century, including palm trees as this valley may see snow from time to time but has an almost tropical climate nonetheless, make a round at Golf Club Patriziale Ascona a particularly pleasant and memorable one.
The 18th hole is a great finishing hole. With index 4, it is a pretty strong finish, in part due to its length (382 m from the back tees), and in part due to the large elevated green which is defended by a single, large bunker which allows for many bunker-protected pin placements. In addition, the very flowery clubhouse on the left and the old hunting lodge behind the green offer a very nice visual welcome and prepare the golfer for a nice, refreshing drink on the terrace. After all, golf is not only strokes, but also finding oneself in a peaceful and beautiful environment! The Ascona golf course may not be the hardest test of golf nowadays, but it is set on one of the most beautiful locales one can wish for.