Formerly known as Golf Club Le Querce, Golf Nazionale is situated approximately 60 kilometres to the northwest of Rome and this beautiful course is set in 60 hectares of delightful undulating land. With fairways flanked by stately oaks it's not surprising to note that the club was known as “The Oaks” in English.
Golf Nazionale opened for play in 1990 and Jim Fazio, nephew of the great George Fazio, designed the course with a little help from Italian David Mezzacane. This is certainly a course from the amazing Fazio stable, which was set up to house the Italian Golf Federation. A mere twelve months after the course opened for play Le Querce hosted the 1991 World Cup of Golf, now part of the World Golf Championships. The 1991 event saw the Swedish pairing of Per-Ulrik Johansson and Anders Forsbrande emerge victorious.
The round starts and ends with a lengthy par five and in between, half the holes on the card are doglegged to a certain degree, especially the 6th and 15th holes. There are three consecutive, demanding, par fours on the front nine beginning at the 435-yard 4th hole whilst both par threes on the back nine (at the 14th and 17th) are longer than 235 yards from the back tees. Little surprise then to discover Golf Nazionale has been ranked as high as any other top Italian course for its degree of difficulty.
The 595-yard 1st sets the tone for the whole round and is a real three-shot hole. The drive must avoid a large bunker to the right of the landing area so the preferred line is down the more open left of the fairway. Water to the left and trees to the right threaten the second shot before an approach can be played to a well-guarded, elevated green.
On arrival, both the clubhouse and the adjoining accommodation wing appear a little dated (the place is less than thirty years old) but I was later told both are due to be refurbished. Once out on the course, you can tell from the first hole that this is going to be an epic 18-hole layout as the fairway plunges downhill, past a large pond on the left, then up left to a raised green.
It’s a stout opener and the holes just get stronger as you get going – to be honest, the level of challenge is pretty unrelenting for the remainder of the round as tree-lined holes weave their way across a heavily wooded property which continually rises and falls from start to finish.
I gave top marks to each of the opening five holes – the downhill par three 3rd in the northeast corner of the estate is a beauty and the forced carry off the tee at the following hole is fearsome – but the severely doglegged 6th didn’t impress as I’ve never liked holes where you must be long off the tee in order to play your next shot directly to the flag.
After the terrific par five 7th, where the benched green is protected by three cavernous bunkers gouged into the slope in front of the putting surface, there then follows three really disconcerting holes, each of which suffers very badly from the encroachment of trees affecting the tee shot – and in the case of the remarkable 10th hole, you encounter this extreme arboreal interference at both the tee box and in front of the green!
On the back nine, I liked the downhill par three 12th and the par five 14th, which runs along a ridge to the greensite, but my favourite hole was the par four 16th, playing downhill to a prodigious offset green that sits behind acres of sand and is gloriously framed by specimen oaks.
I can’t believe only one major event (the 1991 World Cup) has been held on this course of tournament- sized proportions. For Golf Nazionale to have never hosted the Italian Open (when twenty-five others have) is absolutely criminal.
I know it’s a relative newcomer on the Italian golf scene but, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s patently perverse if this place has never been considered for selection – especially when it’s the home of the Italian Golf Federation and the National Golf School!
Then again, considering what I mentioned earlier about trees seriously hampering lines of play on many of the holes, perhaps it’s no surprise that Golf Nazionale has been overlooked. With that in mind, it must surely be time to call in the chainsaw gangs…