The 27-hole golf facility at Franciacorta Golf Club is one of Pete Dye’s rare European projects from the mid-1980s and he designed the layout in collaboration with Marco Croze. The Brut and Saten nines form the championship 18-hole layout, measuring 6,143 metres from the back markers and playing to a par of 73.
The Brut nine features three par fives and it’s the second of these, the 450-metre 6th, that most golfers will remember. The hole is known as “the hole in the wall” and it plays steadily uphill, over a ten-foot high stone dyke that crosses the fairway, forcing a blind approach to a long, kidney-shaped green.
The Saten nine’s most memorable hole is the par three 120-metre 2nd, which plays to a spectacular island green. It requires a mere flick of a short iron to reach the putting surface, but – like its more famous equivalent at the Sawgrass 17th – the intimidation factor is very high on a hole that can make or break a round.
Franciacorta has hosted a number of top amateur and professional events in recent years. Most notably, the Italian PGA Championship of 2008 and the Senior Italian Championships in 2009 were both held at this venue.
”The Wine Golf Course is not the longest” said Costantino Rocca, “but it has the subtlety of a fine wine and I always look forward to a game here – and a sociable drink. Brut/Saten [the names of two of the three layouts] is the usual way to play 18 of the 27 holes. With L’Albereta hotel and Marchesi’s restaurant nearby, this is how to enjoy golf and la dolce vita.”
I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed. Franciacorta was my first Pete Dye design and I expected a little more from that. Well, the site is nice but not spectacular and the best course designer cannot make the aforementioned high voltage electric line vanish. Unfortunately we played the Rosé loop first, which is clearly inferior to the other 2 loops. I would go as far as to say, that this cannot be Pete Dye. Starting with a par 3, the second long par 4 second has water to the right. The par 5 hole no. 3 is quite decent, but the there are two forgettable short par 4s and two medium length par3s. The dogleg hole no. 9 leaves you after a short first shot with an awkward long second one.
The Brut and Saten loops with the nice holes around the lake are much more interesting with some quality holes and some thrill due to the water. The conditioning was good, although the bunkers were mostly hard as concrete with too little sand in it. But I have experienced that before on Italian courses. Don't they have enough sand there? All in all the ranking does the course justice, as I said, I just expected a little more.
I played the Franciacorta course on May 5, 2016. This course was originally designed to be totally private, but eventually a resort concept was developed, associating the course with the region’s Franciacorta wine, which is mostly a sparkling white wine produced in three qualities: Brut, Saten and Rosè, after which the three 9-hole loops of the property were named. The course has some 500 members, but is frequently visited by many players from many countries, including the neighbouring European countries but also touring golfers from Asia.
I played the Brut and Saten loops, the Rosè one being newer and shorter and considered as the “junior” course. Although the course is never totally flat, it is not a test of your physical form either, as it is located in a pretty valley centered around a big lake, which is in play on four holes of the Brut loop and 2 of the Rosè nine. The par 5 6th hole of the Brut loop is a little different with an 8-foot high wall crossing the fairway, forcing most average players to lay up their second shot in front of it and reach the green in 4 shots, while the longer ones risk getting caught in it (the bottom of the wall is marked as a water hazard to allow a little bit of relief (just a few feet, to give a chance to pass the hazard with a wedge, and with a penalty stroke however). The approach shot will mostly be blind, over the top of the hill, even though there is a mast giving players the line to the green and the position of the flag relative to the front of the green. The game is always pleasant on this course even though there is a pesky high voltage electric line splitting the property and spoiling the views of some of the prettier holes. Also, on a busy weekend the play tends to be very slow as the course is filled with four-balls. My only regret was the less than optimal condition of the tee boxes due to wear and tear, and that of the greens which had suffered lately, and had been aerated and sanded a few days before my visit. There was no pain left after reaching the vast clubhouse and sampling the Franciacorta Saten , a very nice, fruity sparkling wine less sweet than Prosecco, not as dry as Champagne, and quite a bit more affordable!