Situated less than a 30-minute drive from the centre of Siena, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 18-hole layout at Royal Golf La Bagnaia is Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s first design in Tuscany, and it’s one of three Italian courses currently in the American architect’s portfolio.
The course is set out as an “inland links” within an enormous, rolling estate where fairways are positioned around the sparkling waters of five attractive lakes. Indeed, many of the feature holes on both nines are set out beside these attratctive water hazards.
On the front nine, holes 3, 4 and 7 all dogleg left around the aquatic obstacles. The 399-metre 4th is rated the most difficult hole on the outward half, played to an offset green that slopes markedly from right to left, towards the water.After the turn, the par five 13th hole also skirts past another large body of water, with the boomerang-shaped fairway turning sharply right towards a small green sitting on the far side of the lake and this hole is rated stroke index 2 for a good reason -- it's tough to play!.
The 18-hole layout at La Bagnaia is laid out in a large estate, with a couple of old converted villages, Borgo Bagnaia and Borgo Filetta, offering boutique hotel accommodation. It’s hard to write about the course in isolation when the fairways occupy such a wonderful, rustic setting and the playing atmosphere is largely influenced by the sensational surroundings.
The topography can best be described as rolling, with holes gently rising and falling across a 325-acre portion of the property, and because there’s such a lot of ground to cover, a buggy is absolutely essential when teeing it up here, otherwise you’d be exhausted by the time you walked off the 18th green.
Fairways and generally wide and forgiving, the bunker style is easy on the eye and a little subdued – apart from one or two holes like the uphill 9th and downhill 16th where sand dominates on either side of the fairway – and water features only occasionally on a layout that is as well-conditioned as any I have come across recently.
My favourite holes included the par three 5th, played to an infinity green with a fabulous backdrop of wooded hills in the distance (see first picture), and the short par four 8th, which veers sharply left at the landing area, across a small stream to a shallow raised green that sits behind a couple of protecting bunkers.
On the back nine, the par five 13th is a real beast, doglegging right around a lake with only a narrow fairway to assist with navigating your ball from tee to green. Plotting your way very carefully around the hazard is probably the best strategy here as there’s plenty of sand to also worry about away from the water.
My playing partner and I were the only people on the course at La Bagnaia on a Saturday afternoon and we got the impression that the place might never be over-run by visiting players which is a real pity as it deserves to be enjoyed by discerning golfers who appreciate a superior playing experience.
Pay no attention to the dirt road that you drive down for about half a mile before you get to Royal Bagnaia. It will all be fine. A Robert Trent Jones, Jr course, not only is it a fine layout but the conditioning was probably the best I have experienced in Italy thus far. Yardage bigots beware, it is not long and is a par 71. Number one is a good starting hole. Relatively short apr four with fairway bunkers left and right. The green is protected on the right with another greenside bunker. The 2nd is a short par 3 with a carry over a creek. The green is protected left and right with bunkers. The third is a reachable dogleg left par five. My recommendation is to aim between the two right fairway bunkers. There is a water hazard left, so don’t get too greedy. Also, the hazard sneaks near the green. The green is tilted right to left, thus, I would aim about 5 yards right of your intended target. Not really sure why number four is the number one handicap hole (of course I did 3 putt bogey it). Relatively short par 4, albeit slightly uphill with a water hazard down the left side. A good target line off the tee is about 10 yards to the right of the utility pole you see in the distance. The terrain will force ball left. The green is protected by four bunkers and left is dead. Aim about five yards right of the flag. Number six downhill par four, good birdie opportunity. Unless you hit into the fairway bunker left which I know someone who did. The green is extraordinarily well protected with a consortium of bunkers. The 7th is another par dogleg left. If you can carry, the fairway bunker on the inside left, you can easily get home in two. For those of us who cannot, you should still be able to salvage par. The 8th is a good birdie oppty. Slight dogleg left with the green elevated and on the other side of the creek. Do not muck around trying to cut the corner and fly the bunker. There is no benefit and all you will do is bring the creek into play. The par 4 9th does not look long on the card but it will pay two clubs longer. Aim at the minefield of bunkers right off the tee and make sure you take at least one extra club on the approach.
The 10th is a tough downhill par four, especially if you hook your ball into the fairway bunker left. There is a creek about 50 yards short of the green with bunkers greenside right. The 11th is a ho-hum par three bunker right and the green sloping front to back. The 12th is a par four dogleg left with a boatload of bunkers on the inside elbow. Best line is the right side of the bunker. Take an extra club to this elevated green. I suspect the 13th is the signature hole. A good par five dogleg right, with a BAB on the inside corner. However, there is a water hazard to the right of that extending to the green. There are three fairway bunkers through the fairway, I would suggest aiming at the middle one. It is possible to get a home in two. Lot of risk not much reward as it is all carry. There is a very narrow throat going around the hazard better play lay up to your preferred wedge distance. The short downhill par 3 14th is a fun hole. Depending upon pin location, at least one club less. The 15th is a dogleg left par 4. Favor the right side off the tee to avoid the left bunkers. This is a large two tier green. The 16th is the easiest hole on the course. Short par four downhill fairway bunker right couple on the left. Take dead aim at the flag, big boys can get there with a few lucky bounces. The dogleg right uphill par 5 18th is a good finishing hole. One must navigate the fairway bunkers off the tee and on your second shot. Take an extra club on your approach. If the pin is front, you probably do not want to be on the green. Two players in our group had the putter wedge walk of shame.
One of the best courses I have played in Italy. Bring water