Off the coast of central Italy are a set of two magnificant islands: Corsica to the north and Sardinia to the south. It was a toss up as to which island would win out but in the end I opted for Corsica. Aside from the absolutely stunning landscape of the island as a whole, the southern Corsican golf course of Sperone is a well regarded championship course designed by Robert Trent Jones and has some outstanding reviews. Some even call it the Pebble Beach of Europe. There was a bit of mystique surrounding this course and I just had to check it out.
After a couple of emails to the right people I was invited to come spend a day at Sperone. And with that Corsica became the next destination on our European vacation. Corsica has been part of France for quite a few years now but has a distinct Italian culture. The language spoken is predominately French although some locals do speak a Corsican dialect. The Corsicans are a very proud people and have been vying for their independence from France for many years. This was evident by the scattered graffiti saying "Tourists Go Home!", and they weren’t talking about me!
Getting to Corsica from Italy (where we were at the time) can be a bit of a challenge. There are no direct flights from Italy so we opted for the four hour ferry ride from Livorno to Bastia (northern Corsica). Upon arrival at the port we grabbed our rental car from Hertz and the adventure began!
Sperone is in Bonifacio - all the way down south. We were all the way up north. But this gave us three days to explore Corsica as we drove on down. Our first stop was St. Florent, only a 30 minute drive from Bastia. The north is very rugged and some say it's the true authentic Corsica. St. Florent has one of the most glorious beaches in the world: Saleccia Beach. A bit off the beaten path, it's necessary to take a 30 minute taxi boat from St. Florent to Loto Beach and then a 90 minute hike along the coast before reaching Saleccia (there is also a 45 minute inland route but we took the hike by the water since it's much more scenic). Definitely worth the trek. If you make it to Corsica - this is a must!
Corsica has some spectacular fresh food with the specialty being veal and seafood. On our second night we were lucky enough to eat at an amazing local restaurant, La Villa Michel (in San Pietro, Corsica) that served butter and milk local to the island. According to our waiter Tom, there is only one farmer on all of Corsica that raises dairy cows for fresh milk and butter (which explains the lack of fresh dairy in Corsica!).
As we continued the drive down south to Bonifacio, I saw the signs for Sperone Golf Club. Up and down a windy road we came upon a small guard house and a gate. Inside the gate only a short distance away was the seaside style clubhouse. The winds in this area can be ferocious but the day I visited it was relatively calm at only 10-15 mph.
The course is semi-private with a membership of over 100 members. The course does not have caddies but that's not an issue since the majority of members prefer to walk. Push carts are available for rental as well as electric carts. The clubhouse is a modern design with an open feel throughout the interior. The pro shop is upstairs along with the world class restaurant which we visited at the turn. The pro shop offers a wide variety of merchandise with and without course logos. In the shop I was greeted by a welcoming staff ready to show off their beautiful course.
I was taken downstairs and introduced to the asst pro Stephane, who was nice enough to share with me all he knew about the course. After a great introduction it was off to the range to warm up. Lackluster it might be, but the views from the range are incredible. The range is long enough to hit a driver. To your right you can see the Italian island of Sardinia. Corsica, most notable Bonifacio, is popular with the rich and famous because of the remote nature and small crowds, fresh food and amazing weather and views. The practice putting green showed signs of crab grass which meant the putting may be a challenge. Some of the reviews I had previously read mentioned the conditions of the course being a little rough, and this is true due to the proximately of the course to the Mediterranean. It’s been my experience that coastal courses tend to have a more rugged conditioning. I personally enjoy this feature because it’s a different style which means all kinds of new shots will probably be required, adding to the test.
The first hole is a great starting hole. A wide open tee shot leads to a very interesting approach shot over a small patch of trees, to a false front green and a challenging green.
The second is a really tough Redan style hole. It plays only 150m slightly downhill. The green slopes severely from front to back away from your tee shot. If the pin is in the front you can’t land on the green or it will roll to the back. I was fortunate to make a nice putt after rolling to the back and saving my par.
The front side never gives you a real view of the sea. This doesn’t mean the holes aren’t spectacular. The terrain is dramatic with huge rolls and some spectacular outcroppings of rocks.
Many of the holes on the front ask the player to be in certain positions off the tee to truly take advantage of the tough greens. From an architectural standpoint I found the front to be an overall better design than the back. The back, however, has some of the most spectacular views you will ever see.
After making a par on the 9th hole and shooting 36, it was time for some lunch. The course was a little crowded so I figured a nice long break would open things up a little.
Sitting on the terrace with views of the sea, we could hardly wait to feast on the impressive menu with all local ingredients. My girlfriend said her tuna, avocado, crab salad was the best she had ever had. My truffle risotto was incredible as well. And the Corsican wine...wow! After eating it was time to hit the back nine that I had read so much about.
The back 9 features mostly target style holes. You are not going to over-power the back but you can strategically place your ball and score very well. The first time you see the Mediterranean is on the 11th fairway. The next 3 holes are draped on the coast high above the sea.
The par 3 12th is a tough shot requiring a well struck shot to find the surface. More bogeys than birdies are made here - I'm sure of it.
After playing the 13th, a drivable par 4 with trouble everywhere, it's back to inland golf to set you up for a dramatic finish.
From the tee on the 15th it looks as if you will play another inland hole but once you find your tee shot, the hole opens up and you have a green hanging out near the edge of the sea.
The 16th is considered the signature hole and for good reason. The short par 5 forces you to not just go over the water on your drive but also on your approach shot. It’s a truly visually stunning hole. It certainly does stack up there with some of the views at Pebble Beach. When comparing Sperone with Pebble Beach (if you can even compare the two - which are two completely different courses) the one commonality is obvious: the outstanding views. Outside of the views, you really can't compare these two courses - they each hold their own.
The 17th is a wonderful par 3. 180m to a postage stamp size green with an inland lagoon on your right. The precision required is surgical.
The 18th is a roller coaster par 5. The crickets on the island can be overwhelming at times but never seemed to be too much of a distraction from this truly outstanding seaside course. The smell of fresh sea is always present and after our round we decided why not hit the beach, which we had admired all day below us while playing the course.
After a short drive, we arrived at a path that said "La Plage" and had an arrow. This way to the beach! Over cliffs, natural stone staircases and a maze of shrubs we arrived at our destination: a secluded beach with crystal clear water. The perfect ending to a perfect day of golf. But that wasn't the end of this Corsican adventure...
We had one last visit and that was to the medieval town of Bonafacio. We had no time earlier in the day to explore the oldest town in Corsica (founded in the 9th century) so now was our chance. The dramatic clifftop citadel takes your breath away, as does the town itself, which appears stuck in time.
Walking along these medieval cobblestone streets with over 1000 years of stories to tell, I feel exhausted yet exhilarated. The past four days in Corsica have felt more like four weeks. Bright sunshine, glorious blue waters, picture-perfect golf, scrumptiously fresh food, adventure at every turn. Yes...life is good.
Use these links for more info on the course and the area!