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Head for the winter sun with a Golf Break in Sicily

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If you haven’t considered golf in the Mediterranean then it’s time to…

You may not have considered Sicily as a destination for your golf trip but on a recent trip to the island Mark McGowan from Irish Golfer Magazine discovered some fabulous golf courses, wonderful resorts and outstanding cuisine . . .

Why golf in Sicily?

When it comes to Mediterranean golfing destinations, Sicily may not be the first to spring to mind, but basking year-round in the sun, the island is an ideal destination as the nights get longer and the temperature drops on domestic shores.

A long history of invasion and conquest, beginning with the Phoenicians in the first millennia B.C., through the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Moors, the Normans, the French, the Germans, the Spanish, and even the British, make modern Sicily a cultural cocktail.  Italian is the official language, of course, but Sicilians regularly switch to a local dialect barely recognisable to that of the mainland.

Geographically, Sicily’s most southern point is more equatorial than most of the North African coast, virtually guaranteeing sunshine all year long, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius in the summer months. Sandy beaches can be found around the entire island, and the warm Mediterranean Sea makes for ideal bathing.

Sicilian golf consists of five resorts, which boast seven courses between them. Golf is a relatively new activity on the island, with the oldest course, Il Picciolo), not even 30 years in existence. The newest resort, Verdura, has two courses and is situated on the South-West side of the Island. Donnafugata, on the South-East coast also has two courses, while Monasteri, Le Saie and Il Picciolo each have one course and are all situated on the East coast.

 

Golf in Sicily at Verdura Golf & Spa Resort

Verdura Golf and Spa Resort is the undoubted jewel in the crown. Most easily accessed from Palermo airport, a short detour which might be of interest to fans of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola is the village of Corleone, whose name was adopted by the legendary (if fictional) mob boss in the Mafioso classics. Although affiliated by name only, in a rare example of life imitating art, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Corleonesi became the most powerful sector of the Sicilian mafia in spite of relatively modest resources.

Set on an expanse of coastal land, the Verdura luxury resort is modernist to the core, and boasts one of the Italy’s leading spas. Two courses, the East and the West, offer a demanding challenge of championship proportions along the picturesque coastline. Host of the Sicilian Open in 2012 and 2017 (the event wasn’t held in the four intervening years) on the European Tour, Álvaro Quirós and Thorbjørn Olesen will both have very fond memories of their visit to Verdura.

Beautifully manicured and conditioned, both courses are playable by golfers of all standards with a variety of long and challenging holes to suit the longer hitters, and short holes where accuracy rather than power, is key. The short par-3 6th and the par-4 18th on the East course are the signature holes, with the latter requiring a nerve racking drive along rugged cliffs with a watery grave below for errant shots.

In terms of cuisine, the resort offers a variety of options and locations to ensure guests are never bored at meal times. The main hotel restaurant is formal, and rather upscale, but this is offset by a traditional Sicilian Trattoria close by, and an Italian Pizzeria by the golf club. Additionally, there is a seafood restaurant by the shore behind the sixth green which is open April to October.

 

Golf in Sicily at Donnafaguta Golf & Spa Resort

Located close to Verdura is the historic city of Agrigento. Founded by the Greeks in the sixth century, B.C., Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples. A ridge, rather than an actual valley, upon which stand the Temple of Juno and the Temple of Concordia and an hour’s drive East of Agrigento lies Donnafugata Golf and Spa Resort. In the shadow of the historic castle of the same name, Donnafugata offers two different challenges in its Links and Parkland courses. The Links Course – although not a typical links by Irish standards – is an undulating journey through an inlet valley just off the Mediterranean Sea. Largely devoid of trees, the Links Course offers breath-taking panoramic sea views and a challenge to suit golfers of all levels. The Parkland Course is designed by Gary Player, and hosted the Sicilian Open in 2011 when won by Raphaël Jacquelin.

The Parkland course is vastly different from the Links course, as you may expect, and occupies the opposite end of the resort where the fertile soils surrounding several of the resort’s springs facilitates the growth of carob and olive trees, and many holes feature traditional stone walls – a surviving token from the estate’s agricultural past. Dense scrub punishes errant drives on most holes, and water comes into play on five of the eighteen.

A hot and exceptionally dry summer – most of the island hasn’t seen rain in six months – has left the course in need of a drop of rain, however, being overly critical would be unfair, and the resort itself is incredibly impressive, and affords a certain sense of intimacy in spite of its expansive layout. Three restaurants – the highlight of which is the open-air bar and grill area – serve up a host of Sicilian specialities, composed entirely of locally sourced ingredients, and cooked to perfection.

The city of Ragusa in Sicily

Not far from Donnafugata, and a little further inland, is the hillside city of Ragusa. A city of two halves, Ragusa’s lower half – Ragusa Ibla – was destroyed by the large earthquake of 1693. Subsequently, Ragusa Upper was constructed on the other side of a canyon and the two sides were only connected in 1926. Ragusa Ibla is home to a number of Baroque-style cathedrals, reconstructed after the earthquake, showcasing the grandeur of the Catholic Church in all its splendour.

Allegroitalia Siracusa Golf Monasteri

A 90-minute drive east of Ragusa is Allegroitalia Siracusa Golf Monasteri, on the outskirts of Siracusa, one of the oldest Greek settlements on the island. Monasteri is, as the name suggests, a former Benedictine Monastery that has been converted into a Golf and Spa Resort. Combining the modern elegance of a spa resort with the rustic charm of a traditional Roman farm, Monasteri is set within an 86-acre orange, lemon and prickly pear plantation, all of which are features of the 18-hole golf course on site.

A 6,520 metre, par-71, Monasteri golf course is a fascinating blend of expansive, wide-open holes and devilishly narrow driving channels. Suffering a similar plight to Donnafugata in terms of an extended arid spell, Monasteri was a little under the weather when I visited. Most unusual was the wealth of prickly pear cactus trees – a most unusual sight – that lined the fairways on several holes, most notably the low indexed, par-4 sixth, where the cacti stand like sentries on both sides of the fairway, making an errant drive both a fearsome and painful thought.

The course itself features a number of very good holes, and is set to undergo some small renovations. The restaurant is spacious, with a large outdoor fireplace ideal for late night gathering in late autumn and early spring. The rooms are contemporary, and very impressive, and the spa, whilst considerably smaller than the two previous resorts, is ideal for relaxation and tranquillity.

Forty minutes north of Siracusa is Le Saie Golf Club. Opened in 2014, Le Saie is Sicily’s youngest golf course. Featuring water hazards throughout, and beautifully kept fairways and greens, Le Saie also boasts a three-tier driving range. Annexed to the course is the Le Saie resort, which is still under construction. Due for completion in mid-2018, the resort is enormous – capable of accommodating 1000 guests.

Argentario Sicily Italy

Il Picciolo – Golf at Sicily’s oldest golf course

Last, but by no means least, is Il Picciolo – Sicily’s oldest golf course – part of the Etna Golf and Spa Resort. The name is of course derived from the active volcano – Europe’s highest – in whose shadow the course lies, and whose rich, fertile volcanic plains make Il Picciolo an entirely different golfing experience from the island’s six other courses. Tree lined, and beautifully manicured, it is most definitely a course you must think your way around. Spectacular views of a smouldering Mount Etna, along with visible lava stone on the 16th and 17th holes make for a unique acquaintance.

Interestingly, the local town, Castiglione di Sicilia, is twinned with Killarney and Il Picciolo twinned with the incredibly picturesque Dooks golf club in Glenbeigh.

Unlike Dooks, however, the park surrounding Il Picciolo is a haven of lush Mediterranean vegetation, including vineyards, orchards and, of course, the olive trees that are synonymous with the entire island. The four-star hotel is elegant and benefits from cooler temperatures mid-summer due to it being almost 500 metres above sea-level.

Apart from Etna itself, which is of course a major attraction, the nearby coastal towns of Taormina and Giardini Nexus are major tourist attractions due to their ancient Greek heritage and some of the artefacts and archaeological findings that have been uncovered. Perhaps most interesting is the Ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina, built in the third century B.C., and is still used for concerts and operas to this day.

Although it may fall short of the sheer quantity of golf courses of the Algarve or the Costa del Sol, and the sheer quality of golf courses of the British Isles and Ireland, Sicily provides something entirely different. A relaxing family getaway, or a romantic excursion with some golf to tip the scales. Soak up the sun, immerse yourself in the culture, the conviviality and the cuisine. Enjoy the wine, and a little pampering. And above all else, don’t call them Italian…

 

If you wish to discover Sicily’s fabulous golf courses, wonderful resorts and outstanding cuisine for yourself, Chaka Travel can tailor-make your golfing trip to Sicily.
See our suggested Sicilian golf holidays here.

Destinations

Luxury Golf holidays in Sri Lanka

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The guys at Chaka Travel are passionate about golf and have been extremely fortunate to go and explore the world so they can, with confidence, give you first-hand advice. The resorts thrye feature are always tried and tested, and their team can tailor-make the perfect golf holiday that suits you down to a tee. Their PGA Professional Jacques Gous and Managing Director Mark Marais recently made a trip to Sri Lanka

 

Well, Mark and I are back after an epic adventure in Sri Lanka and let me tell you that this is a magnificent country to visit for all sorts of reasons. We did, of course, go to investigate the golf holiday possibilities and trust me when I say that this was great from a golfer’s point of view. (Mark – also from a hacker’s point of view!)

We started off in Colombo with a wonderful overnight stay in the Jetwing Colombo 7 Hotel. This new hotel is well located and has great views from the sky-roof restaurant both in the day and at night

Mark – We overlooked the floodlit T20 match against Bangladesh below us, as we enjoyed dinner in the open air, overlooking the city with Hiran Cooray, the charming Chairman of Jetwing. We learned a lot about the ongoing growth of tourism in Sri Lanka from him and his son Dmitri as well as from Ramesh, the very experienced general manager of the hotel. Sri Lanka has moved on a long way since the civil war which ended in 2004 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Colombo’s tower-crane littered skyline reflects the inward investment resulting from the country rebuilding and moving rapidly forward. The meal was a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable affair – the natural friendliness and hospitality was something we enjoyed throughout the week.

Mark & Jacques arrive in Sri Lanka on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaThe pools at the Jetwing Colombo 7 Hotel, Sri Lanka

Jetwing Seven Colombo pool

We woke up early the next day and we were off to Royal Colombo Golf Club for our first round with two lovely Sri Lankan gentleman and let me tell you it was a pleasure. The temperature was a mere 34 degrees and we had to keep drinking water all the way. I thought it was a great course and the greens were pure as anything.

Mark – We played with two members, Priath Fernando, the President of the Sri Lanka Golf Union and Rinal Pieris, both could not have made the round more enjoyable or informative as they shared their knowledge about the course and the history of golf in Sri Lanka. Enjoying their company plus the wonderful colonial clubhouse and the, at times quirky, course made for a super morning. It’s not often you wait for a train full of commuters to pass the tee box before you continue with your game! Royal Colombo opened in 1879 and is the second oldest ‘royal’ golf course in the world outside of the UK)

Royal Colombo Golf Club, Sri Lanka on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaMark & Jacques at Royal Colombo Golf Club

Mark & Jacques at Royal Colombo Golf Club

Train passing the tee box at Royal Colombo Golf course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday

It’s not often you wait for a train full of commuters to pass the tee box before you continue with your game!

'Pure' greens at Royal Colombo Golf Club on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday

“the greens were pure as anything” – Jacques

After golf, we drove to Kandy (Mark -the less said about the drivers in Sri Lanka the better, but it’s definitely not for the faint hearted!) where we stayed and overnight at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel. This had a very colonial feel to it and sat on the riverside with some great views. We enjoyed dinner with the owner Jay who had kindly upgraded us to superb suites. The next morning was another early wakeup call and we were off to Mark’s and my number one course in Sri Lanka, namely Victoria Golf Club designed by Donald Steel. This course was set between the hills and valleys and the views with the Victoria reservoir in the distance was amazing. We had two great caddies and trust me when I say that these are the most happy go lucky people you have ever met and we really enjoyed their knowledge of the course and company.

Mark – as you drive into Victoria Golf Club you pass a par-5 with the narrowest fairway I have ever seen – my accuracy has always been a problem so my heart was in my mouth as we prepared to tee off. Fortunately, the rest of the course was much more forgiving and thoroughly enjoyable, and I played some of my best golf in a long time. This stunning course with its amazing views, huge trees, and clever layout is in my top 10 courses and I’m delighted to have finally played it after hearing Ian Botham raving about it during a cricket commentary many years ago. I understand that he never fails to play here when cricket tours bring him to Sri Lanka. On one occasion, he wrote in the visitor’s book; “try to stop me playing at Victoria.” I can fully understand why and know my next trip to Sri Lanka will involve at least one round at Victoria!Sri Lankan breakfast Kandy on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan breakfast Kandy

Sri Lanka Victoria Golf Course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaVictoria Golf Course Sri Lanka Mark teeing off on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaVictoria Golf Course Sri Lanka Mark 1st hole on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaVictoria Golf Course Sri Lanka lakeVictoria Golf Course Sri Lanka restaurant on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

After finishing our game and a quick shower we enjoyed a light lunch washed down by a few cold Singha beers before heading off to Nuwara Eliya, also known as “Little England” which was set at one of the highest points in Sri Lanka. We left Victoria which was set at 1,800ft above sea level to drive and reach our next hotel, Jetwing St Andrews which was at 6,000ft above sea level. This drive was amazing, climbing all the way through the most beautiful scenery, with waterfalls and tea plantations wherever you looked. This hotel and golf course was epic and the course boasts as not only one of the oldest in Sri Lanka but the world, constructed in 1889.

Mark – I didn’t have particularly high expectations of Nuwara Eliya golf course but was delighted to arrive at a lovely old clubhouse and a well-maintained course. Being such an old course it was no surprise to find that the trees lining the fairways were all very mature. It’s definitely a quirky course which has been molded to fit its location in the centre of the town, it has a few crossing fairways and one of the tee boxes is across a narrow laneway next to the course. One tee box is virtually in the high street so as you are teeing off, the local shoppers are watching from behind a fence just a few yards away! Jacques and I both came off the course very pleased with having played a well designed, clever layout with some superb holes and all in a stunning region high in the more temperate mountains.)

Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya tea plantationMark & Jacques at the Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya tea plantation on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaMark teeing off on the Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya golf course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaMark on the Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya golf course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

We left Nuwara Eliya after golf and headed down south to Hambantota, where the luxurious Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort awaited us. Just before arriving at the resort we were treated to a game drive in the Yala National Park. This was the closest thing to a game drive in Africa that I have ever experienced and the park and surroundings were awesome. Then off to the resort where everything was as expected, five-star from start to finish and the golf the next morning did not disappoint either.

Mark – the course only opened in June 2016 and apart from a few holes where they are replacing the fairways, was excellent – A great finish to a wonderful golfing adventure was watching Jacques and super caddy Kurunda work hard to ensure he rolled in a birdie putt to take him to one under for the round. As always it was a real pleasure to play with Jacques, he makes the game look so easy and is always cool, calm and collected…Kurunda the caddy was charming, helpful and knowledgeable and never stopped smiling even when I nailed drives into the long grass – which unfortunately I did quite a lot of for most of the front nine…..)

Sri Lanka temple & Ella Gap waterfall on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan temple & Ella Gap waterfall

Sri Lanka Yala Elephant rock on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

Yala Elephant rock

Sri Lanka Yala National Park elephant on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

Elephant at the Sri Lanka Yala National Park

Mark teeing off on Shangri La's Hambantota Golf Course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

Mark teeing off on Shangri La’s Hambantota Golf Course

Shangri La's Hambantota Golf Course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaMark and Jacques at Shangri La's Hambantota on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaJacques getting a birdie on the Shangri La's Hambantota Golf Course on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

Jacques getting a birdie on Shangri La’s Hambantota Golf Course

Shangri La's Hambantota the view from Marks room on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri LankaShangri La's Hambantota golf course card on Sri Lanka Golf Holiday Sri Lanka

We left straight after golf and headed back to Colombo where we would spend our last night at the Jetwing Lagoon Resort, only a short hop away from the airport. On the way there we stopped at the beautiful Jetwing Lighthouse Resort for some sight-seeing and lunch in Galle where the famous cricket ground also sits. We saw the fort and the lighthouse which was built by the Dutch way back in 1663.

Mark – one of the highlights of the week was Jacques asking me if the Lighthouse was inland or up the coast……I was tempted to say it was in an arid region to warn the ships of the desert!)

In Galle, we also witnessed a Sri Lankan trying to make a living by risking his own life and throwing himself of a ten metre cliff diving into some of the shallowest water you can imagine. This was impressive. Our last night was spent at the Jetwing Lagoon at Negombo near to the airport. Breakfast the following day was enjoyed watching the sunrise over the lagoon.

Mark – Once we got to Colombo we were treated like kings at a superb final dinner with Chandana and Ayomal from Island Leisure Lanka. Chandana is known by many of his friends as Chaka!!!! Ayomal accompanied us around the island and is a charming, well-mannered and extremely courteous young man, he is a rugby player also which went down well with Jacques and me!! We were looked after like royalty from start to finish and we couldn’t be more grateful for the wonderful hospitality we enjoyed!!!)

All taken into consideration, this was an epic adventure and one that myself and Mark will remember for a very long time. Thank you Sri Lanka, it was great!!
Jacques Gous

Mark – yes Sri Lanka was a fascinating, diverse country – great scenery, food and thoroughly enjoyable golf. Jacques many thanks for the laughs – you were great company! We both really appreciated the wonderful hospitality and friendliness we enjoyed throughout the trip and like Ian Botham I’ll definitely be back!)


Mark Marais

Above is just an appetiser of what you too can experience!
We have been sending golfers all over the world for over 22 years and would love to organise your next golfing getaway.
To get the ball rolling please call us at Chaka Travel on 02890 232112 or click the banner below to view our packages.

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Caribbean

Golf Holidays in the Caribbean

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We all dream of holidays in the Caribbean; for the weather, beaches and the laid-back vibe. But the Caribbean is a golfer’s paradise with amazing golf courses, designed by some of the world’s most renowned golf architects. 

Quality golf courses range from coastal courses to inland courses set amid tropical flora. Many are beside or within the resort grounds and whether you are a low handicap golfer or holiday golfer, there are golf courses to suit all holiday golfers across the Caribbean islands.  Along with our friends at Chaka Travel we recommended the following Caribbean resorts and golf courses:

Golf Holidays in the Dominican Republic

For serious golfers, we suggest the Dominican Republic which in terms of both quality and quantity is the undisputed golfing capital of the Caribbean. Home to some 28 golf courses created by a host of leading designers including Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones Senior, Gary Player, Tom Fazio, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.

For a wonderful golf resort experience, we recommend the Casa de Campo in the southeast of the country. This plush gated villa community occupies an amazing 7,000-acre site where Pete Dye had created three distinct courses: the oceanside LinksDye Fore and the must-play Teeth of the Dog course which is ranked number 1 in the Caribbean. Non-golfers are equally well catered for at Casa de Campo, with boutique shopping, beaches and cafes by the marina, plus boat trips departing from Casa De Campo to Robinson Crusoe-style islands.

Teeth of the Dog Golf Course

And if three onsite courses are not enough for you, there are two further golf courses nearby. Puerto Plata has Playa Grande at the Amanera. Recently enhanced by Rees Jones, 10 of the holes stretch along the clifftop above the Atlantic Ocean. Around the coast in Punta Cana are the equally dramatic oceanside holes of Punta Espada at Cap Cana, close to Eden Roc.

A great option in Dominican Republic for golfers seeking an all Inclusive adults-only resort is the Sanctuary Cap Cana with access to four golf courses; La CanaCoralesPunta Espada and Teeth of the Dog.

 

La Cana Golf Course

Stay and Play Golf in Jamaica

For stay and play holiday golfers we would recommend you base yourself in the Montego Bay area, staying at the Half Moon Resort. Half Moon Jamaica is a golf resort elegantly set amidst 400 tropical acres in magical Montego Bay and just 10 minutes from the airport.  Half Moon Golf Club provides a relaxing holiday game off the forward markers or a serious golfing challenge from the back pegs. Just four minutes away from Half Moon are the White Witch and Cinnamon Hill golf courses. We can also arrange for golf in the north of the island at two great courses; Negril Hills and Jamaica Golf and Country Club.

Exclusive Golf Breaks at the Green Monkey at Sandy Lane Barbados

Sandy Lane in Barbados is renowned as the ultimate luxury golf resort and offers some of the best golf in the world. This prestigious resort has three golf courses: the Old Nine, the Country Club and the world-renowned Green Monkey.  For exclusivity, tranquillity and elegance the Green Monkey at Sandy Lane is one for the bucket list as only those staying at this iconic resort get to play the course. The other two of Sandy Lanes courses, the Old Nine and the Country Club, are open to non-guests.

Green Monkey Golf Course

 

To start planning your Caribbean golfing getaway speak to the golf experts at Chaka Travel

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