by Ann Mooney

Tell people you are going to Venice for golf and they look at you with shock.

“Venice, “they say, “We never realised that Venice has golf courses or that it is a golfing destination”.

Yes my friends, Venice and golf, in fact amazing golf is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the world. But not for much longer because two gorgeous girls called Tabita and Sabrina of  “Amazing Venice Golf” have taken it on their shoulders   to put the region of Veneto and its golf courses on the international travel map.

It is truly a remarkable experience to play golf Dolce Vita style where you can end up searching for your ball among olive groves and play on courses developed in the gardens of ancient villas. Then just follow all that with wonderful wine and food on the 19th.

The Veneto region lies between the Po River and the peaks of the Dolomites and better still it is the very heartland of Prosecco production in Italy, with the country’s trademark sparkling wine produced in the hills around Venice. The quality of the Prosecco produced here is as good as any champagne. The grapes are grown in vineyards high up in the hills. You can indulge with a bottle costing as little as E5 or have an ecstatic taste experience by going a little dearer.

Anyway, Prosecco can be bought at great prices and really in the end it’s all about enjoying the wonderful wine and great Italian food, a truly amazing experience.

Asolo

Our first port of call was the Asolo Golf Club where visitors can stay in the quaint guesthouse, which was originally an old traditional farmhouse converted into a modern accommodation facility or in the well appointed apartments and villas, overlooking the golf course.

The Asolo course offers three nine hole courses, each of which are unique in design and challenging for the good golfer. Even those whose golfing expertise is not that of experienced players, the courses, located in a picturesque valley surrounded by hills offer pleasant distractions.

At the sixth hole on the red nine for example you reach the Church of Cavasa, while the green nine holes bring players closer to the Asolo hills and a combination of many water hazards.

A visit to the village of Asolo is a must as it is one of the best known and loveliest of Italian villages nestled as it is into the hills. It is called “the city of 100 horizons” offering medieval views, Palladian villas, the Piazza Garibaldi, a   square with lovely restaurants and shops with its 16th century fountain topped by the winged lion of St Mark.  The 17th century Scotti-Pasini villa dominates the square from the top of its tiered gardens and there are castles, museums, ancient churches and other monuments to see.

And as you would expect in Italy, the flavours of the local products are hallmarks of the wonderful food and as a producer of vigorous reds and important white wines a visit to the restaurants, the taverns, the cafes and the wine bars is a memorable experience that does not cost the earth.

We visited Relais Duca di Dolle, a magical location high up in the hills in the heart of the Prosecco region. Here the Bisol family, grape growers and wine producers since 1542 allow visitors to share the experience of this little corner of paradise. The Relais is an ancient monastery dating back to the 15th century that has been lovingly restored offering unique accommodation and experiences.

We also dropped into the Bisol winery where their Prosecco is considered the best in Italy but then with experience stretching over the centuries is that surprising?

Castelfranco

The Castelfranco Golf Club which is presently 9 holes but will soon be 18 is located in the grounds of Villa Ca Amata Park, one of the many golf courses in this region which have been developed in the gardens of well-known villas.

This one is on one of the 18th century Venice’s most prestigious architectural sites. You don’t even have to play golf but simply walk around this garden course with its ancient wall, bridges, lakes and canal systems, and waterfalls features which combine with the shrubs, trees and flowers to create a unique golfing experience.

I really don’t know where else in the world you can play golf in a romantic 18th century setting and in an area supervised by the Superintendence of Architecture. We were privileged to be shown around the Villa Rizzetti which is a major attraction for architects and students because of its unique features and it offers the perfect backdrop to the finishing 9th hole.

For the shopaholics among us the are outlet stores in the region and the most wonderful of stores and boutiques in the cities, including Venice. The Irish are very familiar with the Geox footwear, the leading footwear manufacturer in Italy, a collection that is available in Ireland.

Now the company has launched the first ever collection of fully breathable golf footwear for men and women that is also waterproof. The colours and designs are exciting and Irish golfers should keep a lookout for the 2010 collection in Irish shoe and sports shops.

Villa Condulmer Golf Club was built 50 years ago and as the name indicates it was created in part of the Villa Condulmer estate where the wonderful 18th century Venetian Villa is now a five star hotel which has hosted many famous names including President Ronald Regan and his wife Nancy, whose photographs grace the grand piano in the majestic central entrance hall.

The bedrooms in the original villa are a dream and presently other sections of the hotel are being developed to incorporate many modern features including a spa.

The golf course which opened in 1960 is among the oldest and most challenging of the courses we visited. Here you have everything as playing golf here is an amazing experience as you enjoy not only the golf park but also the historical plants, thousands of various trees, canals and natural lakes which form the water hazards and then afterwards you retire to the luxurious clubhouse with its excellent restaurant.

Lido

Our final course was Circolo Del Golf Di Venezia located on the beautiful island of Lido. This is ranked as one of the top 10 courses in Italy and it owes its existence to Henry Ford. Back in 1928 he  disembarked with his golf clubs to stay at the famous Hotel Excelsior to discover that neither Venice or Lido had a golf course. He convinced  Count Volpi to build a course on an opportune site and this is the result.

From there we returned on the ferry, experiencing an amazing journey in the lagoon, to Venice where we spent a few enjoyable hours seeing the sights and experiencing the uniqueness of this city built on water.

But that is a story for another time.