Situated just to the north of Milan, in the pine, chestnut and birch tree-clad Como hills beside Lake Montorfano, lies Circolo Golf Villa d’Este. A timeless classic, regarded as a jewel in the Italian golfing crown.
Designed by Peter Gannon in 1926 (he would go on to work with Cecil R. Blandforth at Milano in 1928 and Varese in 1934), Villa d’Este has been something of a royal retreat over the years with Kings and Queens of Belgium, Britain, Spain and Greece signing the VIP “gold book” in the opulent clubhouse.
The overall yardage of the course is a modest 6,300 yards but with a lowly par of 69 and six demanding par threes to be played, only one of which (the 5th hole) is less than 180 yards off the championship tees, Villa d’Este is no pushover.
The 15th hole measures a formidable 464 yards and is by far the longest par four on the card. The fairway slopes from right to left, meaning most second shots will be played from an uneven lie to a small green with a bunker positioned front left that catches many pulled approaches.
No club has hosted more Italian Opens than Villa d’Este, but the national championship has not returned to Como since it was last held here in 1972 when Scotland’s Norman Wood won his only European Tour competition. In many respects the modern game has rendered the course obsolete for the professionals and that is very much their loss as both club members and many annual visitors will readily testify.
What a joy to play this beautiful members course. The Milanesi lucky enough to call themselves members are very privileged.
The stars here are the routing and the topography. There are 6 par 3’s and 3 par 5s, which – you might have guessed it – adds up to par 69. It has an amazing flow. The course starts off with two relatively dull holes, followed by a magnificent par 3 third which makes great use of the natural slopes of the old forest. The rest of the front nine is very solid without any evident highlights, but there is much to enjoy! The back nine however is truly magnificent. Every hole is different, challenging, very beautiful and strategically ingenious. There are no weak holes. The set of par 5s is very good, the par 3s are dramatic and 5 of them require mid or long irons. The par 4s are also challenging due to their sheer length, strategic delicacies, elevation changes or narrowness combined with small targets.
Hole 12 is one of the great mid length par 4s I’ve played. It’s about 340 meters. The drive has to be kept short of a big beautiful water hazard left. It has to be artificially made, but you couldn’t tell. A small patch of sloping fairway on the right leads to the back to front sloping green, perched against a natural hill with pine trees and with a small false front. It is stunningly beautiful and my signature hole apart from hole 18 which you’ve seen on photographs.
The bunkers on the course are very small, deep, beautifully shaped and highly distinctive. They did not resemble any bunkers I have previously seen. Overall, the shaping of the course was of a very high level. Naturally provided for most of the feautures, but also some extravagantly dug green complexes.
Villa d’Este will still be a great golf course in 100 years. What golf needs is more courses like this. The course will never bore you, the clubhouse is great and you’ll be round for 18 in three hours easily if your a member and don’t have the time to spend the entire day at the club as I would recommend any first timer. However, that is just what the members and their families seemed to do when I was here on a sunny September Sunday.
So much for this declaration of love, admittedly I have one major concern with regard to this course and that regards the state of the greens due to poor tree management. Too many trees are standing right next to the greens, taking all the sunrays and water away, and leaving most of the greens absolutely exhausted. Some greens were very soft while others were dried out and firm. They were visibly unhealthy and three greens on the back nine had seemingly just died already. You could make a sand castle on most of the green and astonishingly it was still in play. I did not let this define my experience but I do hope that these problems will be addressed in the very near future as this course deserves way better.
Inspiring review Maarten - adds another golf course to the “must plan a family holiday to the area so I can sneak away & play here” list.
If they sort the greens out, could it gather an extra half ball rating from you - or did you ignore the conditioning completely with the 5 balls you gave?
I’d sure recommend it! I didn’t subtract any points for the quality of the greens, but when they would sort it out it might elevate the experience as a whole significantly. For me, the course would be an even more solid 5 still, although then maybe the star distribution would be different: I could give the back nine 5,5 stars and the front nine 4,5 stars to keep it at overall 5.
Played Villa d'Este on a hot August day this year and what a treat it was. Everything is close together, from the elegant club house to the range to the first and tenth tees. The range is perfectly fine for warmup and there also seems to be a fully kitted out training studio. You then walk down towards the first tee, which is a longish downhill par 5 - quite a gentle opening hole. The second then takes you uphill again (not easy) before going behind the club house for holes 3-9. Those holes interloop at times and there are a number of par 3s. These are nice holes but nothing too special. All the special treats await you on the back 9. Holes 11-18 are truly outstanding with wonderful views and great routing. It's basically an 'in and out' routing bringing you back to the club house. Holes 16-18 are a special treat and a wonderful way to finish your round.
After the round the wonderful terrace invites you for lunch or a cold drink, with a view to the 18th.
If you're in Milano or the area around the lakes, Villa d'Este is much recommended.
What a golf course! I played the course in April and it was in very good condition. From the moment you enter through the gate, you can see that this is all high quality. The place is quite a bit outside of Como with great views of the surrounding mountains (although no view of Lake Como). There are big old trees that surround every hole. The clubhouse is very nice and has a lot of class. The course design is great, no weak hole; I can easily remember almost every hole. The first 9 play mostly above the clubhouse, the second 9 below. In my opinion the finishing stretch from 12 to 18 is particularly strong with a mix of very interesting holes. The signature hole is the 18th which is slightly uphill to the majestic clubhouse above the green. The course is built on sandy soil, has quite steep elevation and practically every hole is surrounded by trees which add a lot to the difficulty of the course and it doesn't play short at all. The greens are not that much undulated, but there are very nice bunker complexes around the greens. All in all a great experience and it comes with the great Italian flair.