Aug 20th, 2015
Words: Shaun McGuckian
Puglia has the reputation of being one of the poorer regions of Italy, which I’m finding hard to believe as I dabble my toes in the balmy, naturally- filtered seawater pool of the Masseria San Domenico.
But then, this place has a rich history to compete against. Italy’s fiercely competitive nature gave Florence the Renaissance, Rome the Vatican and Modena the Ferrari, somewhere was bound to be left behind. Unfortunately for Puglia, geography screwed it.
Located on the heel of Italy’s south coast, it was the perfect entry point for the Greek, Turk and Spanish armies who all had a go at annexing Italy. Puglia became the battleground where new arrivals felt the wrath of the short Italian temperament.
They haven’t quite got round to sprucing it up yet, hence the wasteland topography and ruins you see on the drive from Bari or Brindisi airport. But trust us folks, we’re professionals.
The area has bucketloads of brochure- speak ‘rustic charm’ – translation: an absence of neon lights and people enquiring whether the chef does chips. So, the key to escaping your everyday hassles is to go rustic and tuck into the local culture. With more wine produced in Puglia alone than Germany and more olive oil than the rest of Italy put together, there’s plenty to go round and trust me, the tomatoes here take tastebuds to fruitopia.
And attached to the idyllic Masseria San Domenico hotel is a golfing rarity; a Mediterranean links course. It’s the brainchild of contractors, European Golf Design (EGD), whose sculpting roster includes Wentworth, Lytham St Annes, Carton House and Dubai Creek –so you have to think they know what they’re doing.
They took on the challenge of converting centuries-old arable land as close to the Adriatic sea as humanly possible. Given that this land was flatter than An Audience With Jim Davidson, their cunning and guile was employed in abundance and executed with precision to carve out a testing layout – with USGA-standard greens thrown in as a finishing touch.
The result is a lush and enjoyable game of golf. Calm Mediterranean days will have you exceeding your own handicap expectations – but make the most of them. EGD have utilised the temperamental winds that race up from Greece across the Adriatic, plus distracting wasteland areas made from the crushed debris of the original rocks and sea-green rough thicker than the average Big Brother contestant, giving an experience as daunting as hurricane season in Orkney.
San Domenico offers a lesson in the virtues of playing solid, percentage golf, backed by the endorsement of the Challenge Tour who use it for their end-of- season fanfare, the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final. This is their graduation ceremony for all those hopefuls trying to make it onto the big stage. As a tension builder, last year every player who teed off on the Thursday morning had a chance of gaining their European Tour card with a good finish. It’s the course the top brass believe is capable of testing and teaching the next generation of superstars the skills they need to become world-class players.
And if that last sentence has got you grabbing the clubs from the closet, chasing the Puglia experience, then this will have you booking the flight. It’s only two hours away, sunny all the time, has food that will make you question your mother’s reputation as a chef, makes you feel culturally enriched, physically refreshed and has beaches so good and a welcome so homely that it makes a day trip to Bournemouth feel like a campaign in Basra.