Verdura Resort, Rocco Forte’s Sicilian Jewel
The mantelpiece at Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort in Sicily is brimming with just about every award available – and I’d heard the golf wasn’t too shabby either – so when I was invited by The Azalea Group to experience the luxury resort, set on the south coast of the Mediterranean’s largest island, I jumped at the chance.
Located a few kilometres from the historic spa town and fishing port of Sciacca, about an hour’s drive from Palermo Airport, the five-star Vedura Resort – with its award-winning spa and three Kyle Phillips-designed golf courses – promised a taste of the good life at the very top end of the luxury market.
The timing of the trip was perfect. The European Tour was also in town as the resort was hosting the 2017 Rocco Forte Open, named after Sir Rocco, the English hotelier who established the Rocco Forte Hotels group back in 1996.
Verdura is no stranger to top-flight professional golf. The second staging of the Sicilian Open was played here in 2012 following the inaugural tournament, which was previously hosted at Donnafugata – located further down the island’s south coast. Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen claimed the 2012 title at Verdura (his maiden European Tour victory) when the tournament was played over a composite layout using an amalgam of holes from both the East and West courses.
I’ve been lucky enough to stay at many fine golf resorts down the years, but never have I felt at home more quickly than here at Verdura. After being on property for less than twenty-four hours, it seemed as though I’d actually been here for days. There’s clearly something in the Sicilian air that soothes and calms both body and mind. I’ll never forget the sunrise view from my “Grand Suite” casting shadows across the 16th fairway of the West course with the sun-drenched Mediterranean as a shimmering backdrop.
Since setting up on his own in 1997, after spending sixteen years with Robert Trent Jones II Golf Course Design, Kyle Phillips has made a bit of a name for himself in the world of golf course architecture. His new millennium creation of Kingsbarns (at the Home of Golf in Scotland) catapulted the American designer into the limelight. Phillips has since fashioned new course projects in his native America, South Korea, Morocco, Abu Dhabi, Sweden and also here in Italy.
The resort boasts 45 golf holes, with two 18-hole layouts (East and West) plus a fun 1,056-yard 9-hole par three course. It was nine holes from each of the main layouts that made up the composite track for the 2017 European Tour event. In my view it was absolutely the right thing to do. The Tournament course brought in the best holes from each layout to perfectly showcase the property to the players and those watching from around the world. Comments about the quality of the course from the European Tour players were consistently complimentary.
Despite the resort hosting the 2012 Sicilian Open, the 2017 Rocco Forte Open was a significant step up the ladder and the event was undoubtedly a success, with Spain’s Alarvo Quiros winning after a play-off with Zander Lombard from South Africa. It was wonderful to see a return to form from Quiros, although he did stumble on Sunday’s back nine as his 7-shot lead with 12 holes to play had disappeared on the 72nd tee. We followed the final group, and although it was an exciting and dramatic climax, it wasn’t easy to watch.
As far as the two main courses are concerned, the East generally has the edge over the West in terms of rankings, but I am not too sure, because in my opinion the West has the better set of closing holes which hug the coastline. The original brief from Sir Rocco Forte to Kyle Phillips was to create two equal courses in terms of quality – that has certainly been achieved. There is no main course / relief course situation at Verdura, and I would be more than happy to play either layout time and time again.
During the trip we were luckily enough to play the Tournament course the day after the European Tour event, and a few of us decided to “go macho”, choosing the tees that were in play just the day before at 7,200+ yards. It’s fair to say this yardage was a little longer than my comfortable distance! Although I didn’t quite play to handicap, I wasn’t too far adrift, so I was pleased and pleasantly surprised.
For those interested, the routing configuration for the 2017 Tournament course was as follows:
Front nine – 1st East #1, 2nd East #4, 3rd West #8, 4th West #9, 5th West #10, 6th East #5, 7th East #6, 8th East #7, 9th East #8
Back nine – 10th East #9, 11th West #1, 12th West #14, 13th West #15, 14th West #16, 15th West #17, 16th West #18, 17th East #17, 18th East #18
Verdura Resort is one of twenty-four venues in a strong network of European Tour Properties, and it’s the second facility in the Italian collection alongside the Ryder Cup 2022 hosts, Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
The German writer and statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, travelled to Sicily in 1787 and he was renowned for his quotes. One line in particular rings true and it’s widely used as one of Verdura’s monikers: “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to have not seen Italy at all.”
This was my first visit to Sicily – it certainly won’t be my last.
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