This trip all started when my girlfriend told me her boss was getting married in Tuscany and she would need to go. She then mentioned why don’t we take the rest of the summer and travel all over Europe. Uh ok!
And with that my planning began. First up, Castiglion Del Bosco, one of the oldest and best-preserved estates in Tuscany (with a golf course, hotel and winery on the property) - the course considered by many to be the Augusta of Italy for its truly elite membership and exclusivity. It’s the only truly private club in all of Italy (74 members) and is owned by the Ferragamo family. Yes that Ferragamo!
Arriving at the course was a bit of a challenge as my cell phone wasn’t getting any reception. I was stuck with a GPS unit that guided me through the woods onto a dirt road. After about 15 minutes on this dirt road I arrived at the GPS coordinates but...where was the golf course? Not here! Totally frustrated I just decided to keep going down the dirt road, thinking the whole time I must be nowhere near this course because how could a super exclusive private club be on a dusty dirt road? But guess what- a few miles later there it was!
I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately greeted by Martin, the head pro/golf operation coordinator. Martin, to my surprise, was not Italian but Scottish. I guess if you are considered the best club in all of Italy why not hire a staff from the birthplace of golf. As Martin lead me inside the rustic restored farm houses that had been converted into the clubhouse and pro shop, I had few questions.
My first questions seemed an obvious one: how come you guys have a 20 mile dirt road and not pavement? This can’t be favorable for the Lamborghinis and Ferraris. "There is a very simple explanation to this," he said while laughing. The entire grounds, all 5000 hecters, is a UNESCO world heritage site which means no changes are allowed anywhere on the property. This includes the road, buildings and grounds themselves. In fact, any new structures (including bathrooms on the course) were forbidden and only structures that were already on the course property where able to be restored and/or built upon. Currently they were scouring the property to try and find old foundations to restore and turn into villas and other necessary buildings. Quite a task! But wow - what history.
The property consists of three different locations: the golf course, the town/hotel (consisting of various suites in the old village/borgo and scattered villas) and the winery. Originally the vineyard was the main focus but soon after, a few American investors suggested that Massimo Farragamo build a golf course in addition to the winery. After all...is there a better combination- Italy, wine, golf?! And with that the project began. From that point until my arrival marked seven years. Now here I was, ready to rate this truly magnificent course.
Inside the clubhouse I was taken to the men’s locker room which is behind a locked door only accessible by staff and members. Once inside the small, well appointed room I was shown to my locker, which was inscribed with my name on a plaque on the door. This was a very nice touch as I have not seen such detail at any of the clubs in America. After changing into my golf clothes and grabbing an espresso and piece of fruit (true Italian style), it was time to hit the course.
I would be playing with Martin, which is something I always find enjoyable when the head pro joins me. Carts are not mandatory but there are currently no caddies, so if you choose to walk you will be using an electric push cart. Most members opt for a cart, as did I.
First stop was the range. The range is full size, allowing drivers and any other club of your liking. The amount of space on the tee is quite small but with only 75 current members and most being either from America or international, a bigger teeing ground is really not necessary.
The course is divided into two sides. Each 9 is separated by the dirt road. The course was designed by Tom Weiskopf who was given instructions that the course should blend seamlessly with the surrounding land. This task can be a real challenge if the land you are given is not suitable for golf. Fortunately for Weiskopf, he was given a piece of land that any architect would die for. The rolling terrain of Tuscany is perfectly suited for golf.
One interesting story about the course is that when Tom was ready to put the sand in the traps, he wanted to use white sand to make the course pop in contrast. But this was immediately shot down by Massimo, as he wanted sand the color of the fescue to ensure the seamless blending of the course and its surroundings. Once the right sand was found and placed in the bunkers, Weiskopf agreed that it was the perfect accent to the land and the course. Massimo had chosen wisely.
The front nine gently makes its way down toward the bottom of the valley and then just as gently finds its way back up to the clubhouse. The entire time you stand in awe of your surroundings as the hills of Tuscany truly take your breath away. Pictures don’t do the course justice. The magnitude and scope of the surroundings can’t truly be captured on film. This is a course for the eyes.
The course itself can play very tough from the tips at nearly 7200 yards. It offers all you could want if torture is your game! The wind was blowing quite hard the day I played and I told Martin to mix up the tee boxes when he thought necessary. I’m not a big fan of playing 3 woods into every green. My feeling is you should try and find a tee that allows you to play the hole the way the architect designed it. This means understanding how far you hit and where the kick points in the fairway are. Designers are always thinking about where you should land your ball if you strike it perfectly and then rewarding you with either a better angle to the green or a slope in the fairway that will give your tee shot some extra roll if you hit the correct spot. Understanding this aspect of the game can increase your enjoyment 10 fold. Even for myself who hits the ball 275+ yards, a hole can become a nightmare if the wind is blowing too hard for me to reach the proper location off the tee. This is why in tournament golf they move the tees up or back on certain days depending on the weather.
Weiskopf has added some great design features to the course. From the tees and from the fairways the traps are ever present. He has done a remarkable job of disguising the traps. What looks like three small pot bunkers are actually one giant bunker across an entire area. This is a great visual illusion that not every architect takes the time to incorporate into their designs. The greens as well offer some tough challenges with many crowned areas ready to repel shots not struck with precision.
Once we finished with the front nine, Martin asked if I would like to stop and have some lunch. I gladly accepted of course! Anna, the PR manager of CDB, joined us as well. The lunch was delicious - I had an octopus salad with potatoes. There were chunks of giant octopus that were cooked to perfection and boiled potatoes that had just the right texture. Yum! I always try and eat a light lunch on the course. I find if I eat a heavy lunch my body becomes too lethargic for the back nine.
After a great lunch and wonderful conversation, off we went to see the rest of the course. The back nine, in my opinion, is the better of the two but Martin told me his favorite changes daily! I see his reasoning as both are superb but the back just captivated me in a different way.
It starts with a steep descent downward to a short but challenging par 4. It then winds itself between and around steep rolling hills. The fescue grasses are quite tall and almost all balls entering tend to stay in this grassy abyss.
The next 3 holes on the course were my favorites. The 11th is a tough driving hole that wants you to cut the corner but this is a mistake as the rough is so high - any shot not finding the fairway will surely be a lost ball or an impossible shot out of the rough.
The 12th hole is an uphill par 4 that will require a precise tee shot threading its way between a bunch of traps, leaving you with a tough uphill approach to a blind green surface.
Finally the 13th hole is a brilliant par 5 that is cut right between two Tuscan hills. The hole is quite long and challenging. A par here and you will feel like you accomplished something. Lol!
After finishing the back with a beautiful uphill par 4 I was bummed that the round was over. I removed my hat and with a customary handshake, thanked Martin for a great round. He smiled at me and informed me we weren’t quite finished yet! "Don’t forget about our 19th hole," he said. Sure enough, only a few steps away was a 100m par 3 called the 19th hole. It was built as a hole to settle all unfinished bets that needed one more hole. I nearly holed out my sand wedge and rolled in a well timed birdie putt! Classic.
At the close of the round, I headed to the clubhouse and was introduced to the GM, David Waters (another Scottsman), who suggested I join Martin for a tour of the grounds including the first class winery. I thanked David for inviting me out for the day and told him how much I loved the course. After a quick shower and change of clothes, I jumped in the car with Martin and off we went to the winery.
The winery has been perfecting its techniques for a few years and is considered one of the top wineries in the area. I did a wine tasting of 5 different wines and all were spectacular. After purchasing a bottle, it was off to the wine cellar where I was shown the private wine room where each member is assigned a wine locker for their own collections. The circular room can be transformed into a dining room upon request from any member. This was truly one of the coolest wine rooms I had ever seen. Private, exclusive, classy.
We made our way by car (about a mile from the winery) to the Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco Hotel. Truly magnificent. The hotel property consists of 23 suites and 11 villas, as well as a world class spa. And you don't have to worry about being disturbed. The staff moves about the property through an underground tunnel system that was built during the restoration some years ago. There is an infinity pool on the edge of a hill and a vegetable garden used by the restaurant for a true farm to table experience. The hotel and winery are open to the public (average nightly rate at the hotel is around 1350 Euro) but the golf course is private. The public is afforded a one time only chance to play the golf course so if you are in Tuscany and want a first class experience, you would be well served to stay and play here.
After touring the grounds I thanked Martin and the staff for a truly exceptional day and one that any golfer would enjoy. I drove away down the dirt road, fully aware that I had just played one of the most exceptional courses in the world. If you have the opportunity to play CDB, do it. You will always remember the course, but most of all you will remember the adventure.
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