It is thanks to the lofty literature of great writers Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Heinrich Mann and Franz Kafka that the beauty of the "land where lemon trees bloom" is known all over the world. Now along the shores of Italy's largest lake, a junction between the Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige regions, every possible detail has been attended to in order to offer unforgettable tourism experiences. Golf included.
The age-old olive trees at Torbole, the busy yet sunny and carefree lives of the people, the mild climate, the gardens and terraces cultivated with the citrus trees of the Benaco - the other name by which Lake Garda is known - continue to win over travelers as was Goethe at the end of the 1700s. The difference lies today in the quality and quantity of hotels that are available for accommodating tourists in the best way possible. Bicycle rides and windsurfing on the blue and transparent waters of the lake for sports enthusiasts; for culture lovers, medieval villages enclosed by walls and towers, with sumptuous villas once frequented by kings which were theaters of important historical events. Antique markets on Sundays in Bardolino and Desenzano or Wednesday in Torri del Benaco for those in search of curious objects from the past. The enogastronomical specialties - from exquisite olive oil and citrus fruits found in many recipes to excellent d.o.c. (controlled denomination of origin) wines such as Merlot, Cabernet or Bardolino, to be enjoyed while traveling on spectacular itineraries through the vineyards where the wines are produced.
Smaller yet no less fascinating, Lake Iseo, known also as the Sebino, is wedged between the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, at the end of Camonica Valley. Those in search of tranquility will prefer it.
The area golf courses have grown with the passing of time and the expansion of tourism. At the beginning, there was the Golf Club Bogliaco, which for more than a century has been sheltered by the western hills of Lake Garda. Rolling fairways and a unique landscape - at 100 meters of altitude, the lake can be admired for almost the entirety of its length. There were originally 9 holes which in June 2004 became 18.
The Arzaga Golf Club is a must-see, with its sumptuous 15th century residence which houses the clubhouse and the resort's five-star accommodations built at the behest of Baron Lando Lanni della Quara. The two courses hold true to the expectations created by such an inviting welcome, as they were designed by two important names in the world golf scenario: the American, Jack Nicklaus II, the son of the Golden Bear, was responsible for the 18-hole course whereas South African Gary Player was the mastermind behind the 9-hole course.
Not far away is the Gardagolf Country Club, whose history began in 1986 with the brilliant foresight of its promoters: the choice of a well-suited piece of land - the 110 hectares of the historic estate of the Omodeo family dominated by the stunning villa which today serves as clubhouse - with a mild and temperate microclimate that allows for play even in the colder months. Designed by the English architectural studio Cotton, Penninck, Steel & Partners, 18 holes opened first (Red and White courses), which were then extended to 27 (Yellow course) four years later. The technical qualities of the course were immediately acknowledged on an international level: the Ladies Italian Open was played here in 1990, followed by two memorable editions of the Men's Italian Open, in 1997 and 2003, in which the Swede Mathias Gronberg and German Bernhard Langer triumphed respectively.
To find the Chervò Golf Hotel Spa & Resort with its 27 holes plus 9 executives, we head to southern part of Lake Garda, lands where the Second War of Independence was fought in 1859 between the Franco-Sardinian and Austrian armies. The only battles being fought here today are fortunately the personal ones with one's golf game, and still without too many frustrations: this is a course where even players with high handicaps can enjoy themselves (there are five tee boxes on the holes to adapt the course to all levels) and where you don't have to spend a lot of time looking for your ball because it's always in plain sight (unless it ends up in one of the many water hazards!). Traveling about 30 kilometers east will take you to the Golf Club Verona, a timeless oasis, with a clubhouse built of stone and red bricks covered with ivy, an ancient well spouting geraniums, and trees shading the patio in front of the putting green. It is a traditional club, founded in 1963 with a hilly course running through vineyards which, to the west of Verona - the city of Romeo and Juliet - serve to frame the hills of Custoza.
On the Veronese shore of Lake Garda, north of Bardolino, the Golf Club Ca' degli Ulivi's 18 holes (plus 9 executives) wind through a natural setting of rare beauty with an exceptionally mild climate that allows golf to be played all year long.
A visit to the Golf Club Paradiso del Garda is certainly worthwhile, located in the the southernmost area of the lake close to Peschiera, with 18 modern holes designed by American Jim Fazio.
The Golf Club Franciacorta is closer to Lake Iseo, with a name that makes one think immediately of the exquisite wines of this area bordering on the southern shore of the lake between Brescia and Adro. The three 9-hole courses, distinguished with names that recall the area's main product (Brut and Satèn comprise the normal championship course, whereas the Rosé is better suited to practice and beginners) were opened in the mid-1980s out of the brilliant foresight of entrepreneur Vittorio Moretti and the drafting pencils of two architects, first the American Peter Dye, then that of Venetian Marco Croze, who followed it through to completion. Turning west, make sure you leave time for a stop at the Golf Club Bergamo l'Albenza, renowned as one of Italy's most beautiful courses, hidden amongst the hills embracing Bergamo, one of the most esteemed cities of art. A sweeping parkland winding through age-old woods, where the great champion, Costantino Rocca, the pride of Italian golf, took his first golfing steps and matured competitively.