Ask anyone, even a golfer perhaps, when the Italian Open was last disputed in Rome, and he or she may not come up with the right answer. Eight years later (it was 1994) the event returns to the capital after a gap that caused even the most dedicated local followers of the noble and ancient game to lose interest in what is Italys premier golfing event.
The history of Roman editions of the Italian Open, first disputed in 1925 at Stresa near Novara, is indeed a sketchy affair. What better venue for a golfing championship than in or near the capital? So it would seem.
Yet it was only in 1950 that the Open referred to in Italian as Gli Open first came to Rome. The venue was Acquasanta, Italys oldest club, which will celebrate its centenary next year. Acquasanta, also known as Roma, hosted the event on two further occasions: in 1973 together with Olgiata, and in 1980. The Open then bounced back northwards where golfers are more numerous until 1994, when golf club Marco Simone on Via Palombarese near Guidonia got a look-in. There followed a brief flirt during the Jubilee year when Rome was to celebrate the new millennium in golfing style at Le Querce near Viterbo, but the Open was ferried off to the Sardinian golf resort of Is Molas whose impresario, Aldo Michele Valtellina, signed a seven-year contract with the Italian golf federation.
This year, however, its Olgiata that will be teeing up. Owing to restructuring works on the Is Molas complex, and awaiting the completion of his new resort near Milan, Valtellina re-routed the Open to Rome with the collaboration of Olgiatas president, Teseo Sirolli Mendaro.
The club on Via Cassia is no stranger to international events. Founded in 1961 American legend Sam Snead, Guinness Book of Records amateur Isa Goldschmid (ne Bevione) and two times Italian Open winner Ugo Grappasonni played the inaugural round Olgiatas magnificent parkland course was already earmarked as one of Italys best. The first big international event came in 1964 with the Eisenhower Trophy. Other events include editions of the World Cup in 1968 and in 1984 and, more recently, from 1989 to 1991 the season openers of the then WPGET, the unwieldy acronym of the Women Professional Golfers European Tour. Countless national championships were also disputed at Olgiata.
Now the 59th Italian Open, scheduled to take place from 31 October to 3 November, with Telecom Italia as title sponsor, is to be added to the list. Co-sponsors are Unisys, Oracle, Spalding, Puma and Gruppo Sangemini. The purse of 1,100,000, of which 183,330 will be awarded to the winner, is the highest in the history of the Italian Open. The tournament will be disputed according to the habitual 72-hole stroke play format (18 holes a day), with 116 professionals and 4 selected Italian amateur players taking part. The halfway cut after 36 holes will leave 70 players to contend for final honours. Play usually starts at about 08.00 and continues throughout most of the day. The Pro-Am, which traditionally precedes the tournament, will take place on Wednesday 30 October.
Many eyes will be on Costantino Rocca, the first and only Italian to make the European Ryder Cup team. But perhaps Rocca, whose form has inevitably slipped in recent years, will be remembered most for his performance during the British Open at St Andrews in 1995, when he holed an incredible putt to gain playoff status against American John Daly, who eventually won the major tournament. Stocky Emanuele Canonica, who has usurped Roccas number one spot in national rankings and who can outdrive Tiger Woods, is another Italian hopeful. But will Woods turn up in Rome too? The answer appears to be no as European Tour officials officially frown upon appearance money. Not to mention that getting the worlds best player and his golf bag to the Eternal City could easily beggar the municipal coffers.
Never before seen a real live golf professional drive a ball except on television, and perhaps not even that? It can be quite an experience. Never heard the almighty crack of a driver coming into contact with the ball? Its scary. Think that those little 5-inch putts are always dead easy? Theyre not. But newcomer spectators to the game of golf beware. No walking on the greens in high heels and tottering off again with a pretty white dimpled ball, as reportedly occurred not so long ago at a world-class competition. Not that any of you would do that. But silence is definitely golden while the game is on.