The charming medieval settlement of Saturnia sits in the centre of Tuscan Maremma, almost equidistant between Livorno and Rome on the east side of Italy. It’s an old spa town where the climate and nearby hot sulphurous springs are meant to aid recuperation and restoration of body, mind and spirit.
Terme di Saturnia is also where American Ron Fream and his Golfplan team made their mark on the design front in 2007 with the introduction of a new course. As much of Fream’s time is taken up on Asian projects, this is a rare excursion for him into Italy as – apart from several Portuguese projects in the 1990s – any work on the continent has been in Scandinavia or central Europe.
Situated in the Terme di Saturnia valley, between Montemerano and Poggio Murella, the course was constructed on a property extending to over 170 acres with a prime consideration of respecting and safeguarding local nature in order to gain Italian Golf Federation ecological certification.
It’s safe to say the course has had no detrimental effect on the local wildlife; in fact the artificial lakes, ponds and natural streams have actually attracted new species, particularly between holes 13 to 18 where water comes into play at every hole.
I really like Ron Fream courses, having played most of his Tunisian designs, as well as Arcangues in southwest France, and this wee Tuscan beauty didn’t disappoint either. Ron’s a man of vast experience, having travelled all over the world as a golf course architect, so my expectations of finding a decent track here were more than matched.
It starts quietly enough, with water in play on the opening three holes, before arriving at the most northerly part of the property and the downhill short par four 4th, which was originally the opening hole (close to the resort’s hotel) before the clubhouse was built. There’s also a driving range and practice area to the right of this fairway.
I liked the S-shaped fairway of the par five 5th, with out of bounds threatening on the left side, but the best hole on the front nine for me was the short par four 6th, doglegging right and downhill to a raised green perched on the other side of a boulder-strewn stream – it looks pretty innocuous but it has obviously earned a strong stroke index rating of 2 because it’s a lot more difficult than it first appears!
On the inward half, the 12th was visually stimulating, with a couple of mature “gateway” trees on either side of a fairway leading to a green that was beautifully backdropped by a long line of tall Italian cypress trees. This hole was immediately followed by a terrific par four, where a couple of winding, rocky dry watercourses cut across the fairway in the landing area off the tee.
There’s some very links-like, artistically-shaped mounding on the 15th leading up to the green, which is then followed by a downhill drive at the 16th, then a sharp turn left and up to the green. The final two holes then head back to a perfectly functional little clubhouse that’s been built to accommodate intimate groups of golfers in a lovely rustic setting.