The beautiful Verdura Resort plays host to the European Tour this week, with the first edition of The Rocco Forte Open – Verdura, Sicily taking place on the stunning south-western coast of the idyllic Italian island.
The 7,217-yard par 71 lay-out is a composite of the two breath-taking East and West courses, specifically taking in the coastal holes, with nine holes from each set to provide a firm yet memorable test.
Located in between the fishing town of Sciacca and popular tourist destination Agrigento, the Kyle Phillips-designed course guarantees some of the most picturesque views on tour, with the Mediterranean Sea lining some of the holes.
Among them will be the closing 18th, ranked the hardest hole when the 2012 Sicilian Open was held here, with just 21 birdies recorded over four rounds. The 2012 edition of the aforementioned tournament represented the only other time the European Tour has visited this course, regarded as one of the best in Italy.
Despite water running alongside several of the course’s holes, the wind sweeping in from the Mediterranean will pose the biggest threat to this week’s hopefuls.
One man who will be more familiar than most with the course and the dangers that lie ahead is Tom Foster, director of golf instruction at Verdura and a tournament invitee. Europeantour.com sat down with Foster for a discussion about what the players can expect and how a European Tour winner and friend has been giving him advice of this week…
“Kyle Phillips actually designed his Championship Course within the 36 holes across the site. The composite course really is going in and out of the two courses and quite a few of the holes are down by the sea and they’re the spectacular ones, with some tricky ones out the back as well, which will play into the wind.
“The seventh is an interesting hole. It’s a little par three that will play anywhere between 100 and 120 metres. When the wind is blowing off the sea it’s a tricky one to pick the right club. The last few holes will be fascinating. If there’s wind blowing on the 16th, it'll be left-to-right and coming around to 18 it’ll be right-to-left coming off the sea, so it’s a good mix.
“We’ve got Bermuda grass on the course and it’s not a winter-growing grass, so it’s been difficult to get it to grow any kind of rough. The rough won’t be protecting the course, so if the wind blows that’ll make it tricky, but if it’s benign conditions you’ll see some good scoring here.”
“The fairways are quite wide here and there’s not a huge deal of rough. If the wind’s going to blow it’s going to be about keeping it low and a key shot could be a low punch shot. There are guys who drive it miles and straight, but the open fairways means that won’t be a huge thing this week.
“The par four sixth hole right off the back is playing around 505 yards and that normally plays into the wind. There was a little bit of wind playing into us during practice and we were hitting drivers and three-woods and drivers and hybrids. It’s a big green, but that’s going to be a tricky one.”
“The 16th, which is the 18th of the West Course, plays towards the clubhouse. Again, if conditions are benign it’ll play differently, but if the wind is coming off the left then sometimes you have to take it over the sea to hold the fairway.”
“The 18th, depending on the wind, is a driver and a really long club to finish off the championship, so that could be a tough hole. But if it’s downwind then it’s a driver and a wedge. There are three different winds you can get on this golf course and it looks like it might move around a bit this week, so it could be interesting.”
Most important club this week
"There are a few tricky run-offs around the greens as well. Sometimes the grass grows the wrong way and they’re not the easiest to get up and down. There are quite a few humps and hollows, so if you’re on the wrong side then the sand wedge is going to be quite important."
On playing in the event
“It’s my first one ever. Years and years ago when I was working in France I played a few Challenge Tour events, but this is a huge step up.
“I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a nervy one, but I’m going to try and have a lot of fun this week. I know I won’t be looking at a top ten finish, but if I can have fun and make the cut it’d be fantastic. Just keep the ball in play and hole a few putts.
“Raphaël Jacquelin is a good friend of mine and I played a few holes with him, so he’s been very sweet and cool, helping me with a few bits. The support from the people here is great too, so I just hope I can play half-decent."