Golf Club Biella – known locally as “Le Betulle” – is situated to the north east of Turin in Valcarozza, one of the most evocative and serene spots in northern Italy. It’s here, back in the late 1950s, that Harry Colt’s associate John Morrison designed this remarkable 18-hole course on behalf of the three founding members of the golf club.
Having acquired a variety of small plots of land from dozens of local landowners in and around the village of Magnano, the club began building the course in late 1957, and work continued under the architect’s supervision for a couple of years until he was forced to retire due to ill health.
Fortunately, Morrison’s design associates at the time, Commander John Harris and Donald Harradine, oversaw the completion of the project. Indeed, Harris would return almost a decade later to redesign several greens and advise on other course improvements.
Today the course has been extended to 6,497 metres from the back tees with par set at 73 so Biella is a challenge. And once you factor in strategically placed bunkers, rocky outcrops, fairways framed by forest, a sprinkling of water in the shape of streams and ponds then you can understand why Biella is such a respected layout.
With almost every non par three hole doglegging left or right off the tee, the course is certainly entertaining and varied, none more so than at the par five 16th, where the vista of the rugged Alpine foothills opens up from the raised tee. Indeed, some think it’s worth the trip to play Biella just for this tee shot alone.
I played Biella - Le Betulle this past weekend, under a scorching sun and without a cloud in sight. The course was being used mostly that day by young golfers under 16 who were training for the International under 16 Italian Championship tournament, which takes place on August 30-September 1, 2016. My impressions of the course were mixed. The setting is beautiful, the layout of the course is varied and quite intelligent, requiring a good number of skills to score well, none the least on the greens which were very fast and full of slopes, big and small. Maybe the one weak point of the course design is the par-threes: while varying in configuration, from the yellow and red tees (for most golfers therefore) the length is the same, give or take a few (less than five) meters.
However, I am not giving this club a very good rating, because I found the condition of the course pretty shameful for a place hosting a quite serious tournament (judging from the faces of all these youngsters swarming around it): the tee boxes looked more like war zones than tee boxes, and the fairways displayed all kinds of raw spots, muddy areas (despite the total lack of rain). I assume that the tee problem will be solved for the tournament by choosing the better areas for the tees, but nothing will improve the fairways. As we are still in the middle of the high season for this course, I am afraid that there have been lasting maintenance problems this season.
My experience of this great layout was somewhat mitigated and in this condition I would not recommend to anyone Le Betulle as the destination of a special golf trip.