Golf is a rather strange and reviled game. Ask any non-golfer and you may find that he or she still agrees, even at a subconscious level, with Mark Twains old dictum about a good walk spoiled. Is golf a sport? Well no, not really, theyll say not like tennis or football or baseball or even a jog in the park. Watch television or read a novel and you will quite often find that the bad guys unpleasant qualities are epitomised by placing him in the middle of a fairway with a golf club in his hand. Filthy rich, fat, lazy, nasty or just too old to do anything else? Chances are they all have the added vice or disadvantage of being golfers. Forget the exception and exceptional James Bond. He played golf solely to defeat filthy rich, fat, lazy, nasty Goldfinger.

Despite such inexplicable bad press, golf is a very healthy industry indeed. American professional world number one Tiger Woods (temporarily dethroned by Fiji Islander Vijay Singh) is reputedly the highest-paid sportsperson in the world, a statistic based on official winnings and endorsements. Few countries where tourism feeds the national revenue can afford to ignore the golf factor. Even Italy is at last waking up to the fact that stirring golf into the tourism pot is rather a good idea. In Sicily, for example, local government-supported plans are going ahead for the development of several facilities and resorts to add to the islands single golf course, which nestles dramatically at the foot of Mount Etna.

Rome has no shortage of top-level golf courses, but visitors are usually astounded to discover that the game, which has its roots in imperial Rome, can be played in or near todays eternal city. Over the past 40 years, Rome has sporadically hosted international professional events such as the mens World Cup in 1991 at Le Querce Golf Club in Via Cassia. A reminder that golf and Rome actually coexist will be emphasised by the forthcoming BMW Italian Ladies Open at Sheraton Golf Parco de Medici from 2-5 June.

The club presents a perfect example of city golf as it lies within the Gran Raccordo Anulare (GRA) ring road near the Rome-Fiumicino motorway and about five minutes from EUR. Established in 1989 by the Rebecchini family, the club is now part of a huge complex that includes the Sheraton Parco de Medici Hotel and Warner Village, multiplex cinema centre. Historically the area takes its name from the Giovanni de Medici (1475-1521), a.k.a. Pope Leo X, who maintained a country villa and hunting lodge there. This second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent was pals with Henry VIII of England, an enemy of Martin Luther, and in the course of his relatively short but busy papal life he transformed Rome into the centre of European culture.

In the period before world war two, the area was earmarked to serve as Romes seaplane drome, but the project never materialised and abandonment set in. The now greenly-flourishing golf course (18 championship holes designed by David Mezzacane and Peter Fazio and nine par-three holes designed by Fabiano Rebecchini) is an ecological miracle laid out over reclaimed land. The inevitable Roman ruin discovered during construction, the foundations of a 1st-century AD dwelling or wharf house that served ancient Romes seaport, was left undisturbed and incorporated into the fairway of the 18th hole.

The 18th edition of the Italian Ladies Open is preceded by the traditional professional-amateur competition on 1 June, a fun event. The tournament proper, the eighth scheduled competition on the ladies European 2005 circuit, will tee off on Thursday 2 June 18 holes a day to be played over four days. At the halfway mark, following 36 holes, players are cut, the best 60 progressing to the final two rounds. The winner is the player with the lowest aggregate score (ie. the least number of strokes overall) at close of play on Sunday 5 June. She will receive a cheque for e45,000 from the total prize money of e300,000.

Women golfers are called proette in Italian and, to make a tennis connection, the Maria Sharapova-type glamour is very much there, down to the sharp gear and bared midriffs. One hundred and twenty contestants are scheduled to take part, and the strong Italian contingent, including six amateur players, is led by local professional Diana Luna, who looks pretty good when she swings. Defending champion is Spains Ana Beln Sanchez.

Getting there from either EUR or the GRA (exit 30) is quite easy as, unusually for Rome and environs, Parco de Medici is well signposted. Entry to the club on all days of the tournament is free of charge.

Golf Club Parco de Medici, Viale Parco de Medici 165/167.

Tel. 066553477, golfclubpdm@sheratongolf.it; www.ladieseuropeantour-tic.com.