It was back in 1903 that a number of like-minded, golf-mad British expatriates created the first Italian golf course – along with a cricket pitch and tennis court – at Roma Acquasanta, to the south east of the Eternal City. Over 100 years later, Roma Acquasanta Golf Club remains not only one of the most prestigious clubs in the country and a wonderfully atmospheric place to play golf, but also Italy's oldest golf course.
Laid out over an enchanting parkland landscape, with views of the Via Appia Antica, Aqua Claudius arches and ancient tomb of Cecilia Metella in the background, Roma Acquasanta seems suspended in a time warp with the course and its surroundings standing still as the modern world goes by.
Like Muirfield, the course routing is such that the back nine is played within a loop created around the perimeter of the property by the front nine holes. Sad to say, its 6,429 yardage is no longer challenging enough for professional players and it’s more than likely that the 1980 Italian Open – won by Massimo Mannelli – will be the last one held here.
The course plays fairly tightly, with trees, the meandering river Almone and intelligently placed bunkers coming into play at many holes. A prime example is the 430-yard par four 17th which is played downhill to a hole protected by a bunker to the front right. Before the green complex, however, there are not one, but two streams running across the fairway, the second of which continues laterally along the left side of the putting surface.
The classic old parkland track at Roma Acquasanta proved to be a fitting end to my recent trip to Italy. Founded by the British at the start of the last century, it’s said that Acquasanta only really became an Italian club in the 1930s, when Mussolini’s son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano took over its affairs.
It’s not known who laid out the course but it has to have been somebody of architectural repute because the two nines are imaginatively routed in a way that an amateur architect would never have been capable of designing, with the wandering waters of the Almone stream brought into play on several holes.
There are a few lesser holes on the front nine, starting early on with the par three 2nd, where trees front left of the green unfairly obstruct the target. The par four 4th and bunkerless par three 5th are also largely nondescript, running along the southernmost part of the property but the best holes are kept until last on this half.
The 8th is a very good par four, its brilliantly contoured fairway rising up to a volcano-shaped green that drops off severely on all sides, and the 9th is another cracker, playing along a slender little valley to a raised green at the side of the clubhouse, next to the Via Appia Nuova.
Holes on the back nine are laid out in the centre of the course, encircled by the holes on the front nine. The 11th is a drop down par three to a green surrounded by umbrella pines, followed by a big sweeping right doglegged par four at the 12th.
Unfortunately, two holes later, you chance upon an utterly ghastly sight in the centre of the downhill 14th – an ornamental pond (complete with fountain) right in front of the green – on a course ranked within the European Top 100 chart?!? Shome mishtake shurely…
And yet, there’s still time to recover this sorry situation with another two great holes at the end of the round; the 17th (stroke index 4) which is the best hole on the card, playing downhill and across the Almone to an offset green, and the 18th (stroke index 6), where the home green is located directly uphill from the teebox, in front of the clubhouse.
It’s a pity the standard of the two closing holes on each nine is not maintained throughout the course at Roma Acquasanta. Nonetheless, it’s a track well worth playing if you’re ever visiting the Eternal City.