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~ ~ One of the essential requirements when I go off for my summer holiday is that the region and the place we are staying is on or adjacent to a good golf facility. The last two years (2004 and 2005) we spent in the Biarritz area of the south of France, where you are spoiled for choice such is the plethora of great golf courses in the region.
This year my wife wanted to return to her favourite European holiday destination, Italy, and to an area we had never visited before, the beautiful and picturesque Lake Garda region in the north of the country. Lake Garda wouldnt be a spot that springs immediately to mind when it comes to golf tourism, but on further investigation I discovered that golfers are, in fact, well catered for, with no fewer than 8 championship golf courses surrounding the Lake.
~ ~ We eventually settled for a weeks stay in a small village called Peschiera on the southern part of the lake, and were delighted to find a huge golfing holiday facility surrounding a new Championship golf course called Paradiso del Garda which only opened as recently as 2004. We chose a one bed roomed self catering apartment in the huge Golf Residence accommodation complex that surrounds the golf course, which includes four separate large blocks of apartments that are allied to the two luxury hotels in the complex. This gave us full use of the facilities of both the Golf Hotel Paradiso and the adjacent Parc Hotel, which included no fewer than half a dozen swimming pools, and a choice of other leisure facilities plus a couple of very good standard restaurants. (Ill review the hotel and residence separately from the golf course)
~ ~ I was a little worried that with the golf course being so new it would still be going through a maturing process and experiencing teething problems, but this certainly didnt seem to be the case. The course, a par-71 from the Championship tees, measures 5961 metres (6519 yards) so is not particularly long by modern day standards with most new golf courses now measuring 7000 yards plus. I would imagine the slightly shorter length is to make the course more golfer friendly for the many high handicap visitors which it was specifically designed to cater for. Coincidentally, the course was designed by an American golf course architect by the name of Jim Fazio, who was also responsible for another Italian golf course just outside Rome that I played a couple of years back called the Marco Simone Golf Club. As I loved the Marco Simone course, this was a point in its favour even before my feet hit the first tee!
~ ~ As you would expect with an American designer, the course itself is very American in nature. Its parkland (as distinct from seaside links) with lots of both large and small water features ready and willing to swallow up the ball of any golfer who happens to hit their shot offline. It also has lots of dogleg holes, where you are hitting your tee shot out to the apex of a corner, and the hole then turns right or left to the green for your second (or third) approach shot. There are a fair number of shrubs and trees dotted about the place, which makes life difficult if you contrive to end up amongst them.
The course, at least during the busy summer period, tends to be very busy, and its essential that you book a tee time either directly with the golf reception or through the information centres in either the hotels or apartments. More on the actual cost of playing later, but you do get a 20% discount on the green fee tariff if you are a resident of the complex.
~ ~ After a gentle start of a fairly straightforward par-4, followed by a relatively easy par-3 and a simple par-5, the first hole that really grabs your attention is the par-4 fourth. Measuring 360 metres (about 400 yards) from the Championship tees, its difficulty is not so much in its length but in the fact that you MUST pick out the right spot in the fairway with your tee shot if you are to have a chance of recording a par score. The hole doglegs sharply a full 90 degrees from right to left at 224 metres (245 yards) so its difficult enough for the average handicap golfer to simply get the ball out there far enough to leave themselves a straightforward shot into the well protected and contoured green. If you are long enough you can attempt to carry your tee shot clean over a huge area of rough ground and bog to the left hand side of the fairway, which will foreshorten the hole considerably. I actually attempted this the first time I played the course without really realising the length of the carry through the air that was required. Needless to say, I got myself into trouble, and ended up with a double bogey six! (It was the last time I attempted the carry!)
If you go too far right with your tee shot, then youll either be out of bounds (penalty shots) or caught up in two very strategically placed fairway bunkers. Theres also a huge bunker measuring over 120 yards or so in length that runs up the full length of the fairway from where you land your drive, right up to the green. Not for nothing is this considered the fourth most difficult hole on the golf course.
~ ~ The other hole on the front nine that require great care and attention is the par-5 sixth. A bit of a monster this one, measuring 510 metres. (558 yards) Once again its your tee shot that must be extremely accurate if you want to have a chance of walking off this hole with either a par 5 or a birdie 4. From the Championship tees you have to carry your ball in the air over 200 to get over a large rise which is flanked on both sides by mature trees. The gap between the trees is very narrow, so when you stand over your ball on the tee you feel as though youre looking down a very narrow alleyway. Get your tee shot out there past the gap and you find a large, wide, generous fairway and youre left with a relatively straightforward par-5. But miss that drive and the hole could easily cost you a double bogey seven! (Or worse!)
~ ~ There are many fine holes on the inward nine, but the two that really stick in my memory are at the very end of your round, the 17th and 18th.
The 17th is a brilliant risk and reward hole measuring a mere 293 meters. (320 yards) The problem here is water. The hole doglegs at 90 degrees from right to left around a huge lake, and the green is perched temptingly on the far side of the lake with a carry of 190 meters (208 yards) to clear the water with your drive and possibly find the putting surface. The sensible shot is a 5 or 6 iron out to the corner of the dogleg, which leaves you a short chip shot with a wedge. However, its terribly tempting to load up with a three-wood or driver and attempt the carry over the water! The problem is the green is fronted by two bunkers as well as the water, with another bunker at the back of the green and trees all around.
So even if you clear the water hazard you have no guarantee of finding the putting surface. The first time I played the course I used two balls, hitting one over the water into one of the front bunkers, and the second out safely with an iron to the corner of the dogleg. I made a birdie three with both balls (thanks to a good bunker shot) but in all honesty if I was playing the hole in serious competition then Id be inclined to play the safe shot every time.
~ ~ The 18th hole is a monster of a par-5 measuring all of 527 meters (576 yards) from the Championship tees. You have out of bounds on the left hand side of the fairway (the hotel grounds) and a large lake all the way up the right hand side. Your drive stars out over the corner of the water, and you better make sure you hit in long and straight as theres a 210 yard carry before you get past the end of the lake and find the (relative) safety of the fairway. With your second shot you have to once again choose whether to carry it over a large, boggy area of reeds which stretches all the way across the fairway, or else lay it up short of the trouble, which leaves you with a much longer third shot to a well protected green. I have bad memories of this hole, as it cost me a win in an Open Competition I played on the course. A par-5 would have won me the competition outright, but I (wrongly) opted to go for the long carry with my second shot and ended up taking a bogey-6 on the hole as a consequence! Still, I managed second place and won three very nice Tommy Hilfiger designer polo shirts for my efforts. (Mind you, it took my 15-year-old daughter to tell me they were actually designer shirts and very expensive. I just thought they were being a wee bit mean with their second prize!)
~ ~ Anything I dont like about the course? In common with a lot of Continental courses (at least during the summer months) its necessary to keep the fairways and greens constantly watered in order to stop the grass from quite literally burning up and dying! The whole week we spent in Lake Garda the daytime temperature never dropped much below 40 degrees Centigrade. (Over a 100 degrees Fahrenheit!) This meant that the ground staff had sprinklers on both the fairways and greens on an almost constant basis, and a lot of the time you were squelching your way through puddles of water on the (admittedly) perfectly manicured fairways. This constant watering also meant that you were getting no run on the ball once it landed, making the course play exceptionally long, and that the greens (putting surfaces) resembled sponges where the ball simply plugged where it landed. So, in effect, you were playing target golf and there was very little scope to play wee inventive running shots, or delicate pitch and run shots around the greens.
Once you got off the manicured fairways the rough, which is supposed to punish a bad shot, was little more than sparse scrub, and it was as easy to hit a shot out of it as playing from the fairway. (Ive found this to be a common problem with many Continental courses down through the years, as the rough isnt watered like the fairways.)
The heat was also a constant pain in the posterior. For visitors from the UK and Ireland, where we are used to a more moderate climate (to say the least) heat of this magnitude is very unpleasant if you are doing anything more strenuous than lazing around the swimming pool. It meant I was constantly pumping out sweat, and having to permanently take on board extra liquid to ensure I didnt suffer from dehydration. It also meant that walking around the course wasnt really an option, and you had to go to the extra expense of renting a ride-on golf cart. (Mind you, this is a small crib, as this is something I tend to do when away on holiday in any case, and hang the extra cost!)
But overall this is a very pleasant and fairly challenging golf course which is in superb condition considering its relatively new and the large number of visitors who play it during the summer months.
~ ~ The facilities, as you would expect at a course of this standard, are nothing short of excellent.
The golf reception is immediately adjacent to the course and part of the main Golf Hotel complex, and the players have full use of the hotel facilities, including a Wellness Centre which includes showers, a steam room, sauna, indoor swimming pool, Turkish bath, and Jacuzzi. A separate ticket for the Wellness Centre on its own will cost you 12.
The reception area has a well stocked bar and snack bar, and an impressive golf shop stocking all the latest in golf equipment and designer golf gear. (Although the prices in the golf shop are FAR higher than at home in Ireland!) If you fancy a full meal after your round then the hotel boasts an award winning a la carte restaurant called El Pirlar, where you can sit in a bay window or out on an open air balcony overlooking the course. I didnt avail of the restaurant facilities while I was there, (other than the snack bar) but if its even half as good as the other restaurants dotted throughout the hotel complex then youd be guaranteed a good meal at reasonable prices.
Adjacent to the hotel is a full golf practice area, including a range with both a practice putting green and numerous driving bays. A bucket of 24 practice balls will only cost you 1.50. You can even avail of golf lessons from one of their resident professionals at 40 per hour.
~ ~ How much will it cost you to play a round at the Golf Club Paradiso? A very reasonable 57 on weekdays, rising to 67 at weekends and on public holidays. (Deduct from this the 20% discount that you receive if you are a resident at the complex.) A ride-on golf cart (a must during the summer) will cost you an extra 35 which isnt too bad if youre sharing it between two players, but is a wee bit over the top if you are renting one on your own. There are also various all-in deals if you purchase a set number of rounds, along with season tickets and a 50% reduction for junior golfers. For more details go to the Golf Club Paradise website at http://www.golfclubparadiso.it/default.asp.
~ ~ The Golf Club Paradiso del Garda is located only about 1 kilometre from the motorway exit for Peschiera del Garda on the main A4 Milan to Venice motorway, and about 2 kilometres from the centre of the village.
Recommended if you ever find yourself in this beautiful part of Italy.
Parc Hotels Central Reservations (Italy)
Tel: 0365 954174 - 913540
Fax: 0365 954447
© KenJ October 2006