The original eighteen holes at Bergamo-L’Albenza Golf Club were formed by C K Cotton in the early 1960s and this course was just one of several Italian layouts that he designed or restyled around that time. Another 9-hole circuit was added in 1987 to give members a wonderful 27-hole complex that allows them to play three different 18-hole courses.
This is fine golfing country in the Orobic hills above the town of Bergamo as Milano and also Villa d’Este is located 35 kilometres to the west of here. The Blue and Yellow nines of the original 18 holes are laid out over challenging forested terrain that rises and falls with regularity over the course of the round.
Bergamo Golf Club L’Albenza has hosted many top competitions over the years and one of the most prestigious of these in recent times was the 53rd Italian Open in 1996 when Englishman Jim Payne claimed the trophy – one of two victories he managed to achieve in a 9-year career on the European Tour.
Another famous professional with fond memories of this course is local lad Costantino Rocca, a one-time caddie at L’Albenza, and he still pops in for a game from time to time.
We played the Blue and Yellow nine-hole loops of Golf Club Bergamo L’Albenza at the beginning of May under very gray skies. The dull light, however, could not dim the impression this golf course produces on the visitor. This is a beautiful venue, and a serious test of golf.
The first hole, a par five, is designed to ease you into the game while hinting at the difficulties you will have to overcome: it has a wide fairway, but the ground drops on both sides to take any ball too far off centre into the woods; then the second shot is blind over a ridge and around a corner of woods, that is, if you have landed on the right side of the fairway (this side looked more friendly from the tee because the sloping grounds were more pronounced on the left); if you miss the green, the slopes will roll your ball away farther and yield an awkward lie. The second hole is a mid-length par three, protected on the right by a deep bunker, on the left by another slope ready to take your ball away, and one should not be too long as the green ends into another slope leading to the woods close by. And so it goes on, over and around hillsides, with elevation change, slanted fairways, blind tee shots and bunker-defended greens. The holes are never looking really narrow, but the trees are always ready to come into play if one strays from the centre. The course is not overly long either, at 6175 m from the tips, but none of the par fives are easily reachable in two strokes. The last three holes of the first loop are the most striking of this part of the course: the long 7th (458 m from the tips) is a double doglegged affair, ending uphill to a green which must be aimed at blindly as it lies higher than the usual spot for the approach shot. One should remain on the left side of the fairway not to be walled off by the old house standing next to the green. The green itself is very slanted and very fast (more so for the downhill putts!). The 8th goes back down the hill, a dogleg left with a twist: your drive should not be too long or the ball will fall into the river that crosses the fairway at the bottom, but it should be long enough to see the green around the wooded bend, which guarantees an approach shot over a small lake. Then the par four 9th takes you from an elevated tee across the narrow valley and back up to the clubhouse, with a hillside becoming sharper as you get closer to the green, encircled by large bunkers and jutting out from the hillside. It is the hardest hole of the course at 388 m.
The incoming nine holes, or Yellow course, starts with a dogleg par four seemingly dug into and through the hillside, with sharp slopes on both sides before arriving at a green tucked into a corner overlooked by the woods. However, after the 12th the course settles at the bottom of a small valley, and is flat until you reach the last hole. This does not mean it becomes easy, but in my mind it may be the nicest stretch of the track, with beautiful perspectives opening almost at every step. Water comes into play on the par five 13th as the river meanders first on the right, then on the left of the hole and the fairway leans toward the water all the time; on the 14th as the tributary brook defines the left side of the fairway for both this hole and the next, a par five dogleg right encountering two small lakes on its left to snare one’s second shot while the right side is the limit of the property, while the river runs around the green on three sides. Finally the 18th hole runs somewhat parallel to the 9th, but is rated the easiest hole on the course, due to its much shorter length at only 294 m from the back tees. Its main defense is the large bunker straight ahead from the tees, designed to swallow any overly confident (i.e., long) drive.
Reaching the clubhouse we feel exhilarated. The sun was not to be seen, but the setting is beautiful, with tall, mature trees of many varieties, hills that are testing but not straining, greens that are true and fast, and overall impeccable quality of the work of the greenkeeper. The armchairs of the clubhouse are deep as bunkers, and the view from the mezzanine is so very charming over the 9th and the 18th… let’s plan a come-back trip already!