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Club Castel d' Aviano to be savored like fine Italian wine

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

AVIANO, Italy - This is Italian golf, no doubt about it. You can't play the Golf Club Castel d' Aviano without being constantly reminded you're playing golf in Italy.

First, there's the Villa Policreti, the 16th-century building used for the hotel and clubhouse. Then, there's the rolling, Italian countryside, the looming mountains and vineyards and the castle of Aviano itself.

The bells ringing in the countryside remind you of "A Bell for Adano," the novel by John Hershey. Pordenone could stand in for the town of that book.

There are the Italian accents, of course, gamely trying to speak English and the scramble for carts, which have a tendency to disappear quickly. If all that weren't enough, there's the glass-enclosed statue of the Contessa de Porcia at the No. 9 green.

No worry about the carts: this is a great course to walk, even if the hilly terrain, humidity and close Italian sun has you sweating before you reach the second hole of this funky, little nine-holer in northeast Italy.

That terrain obviously affords some dramatic elevation changes, even for a fairly short course - 2,879 meters. It also makes for a variety of blind shots, off the tee and from fairway to green.

"Everything's blind," said American Joe Stine, playing the course for the first time. "I've been teeing off with a wedge. No sense in hitting it where you don't know where it's going to go."

Like the very tight No. 8, a 331-meter dogleg right where your second shot is downhill, over water and through the trees to the green. Or No. 2, a shortish par 4 that requires a blind approach shot, downhill again, to a green blocked by a tree slap dab in the middle of the fairway.

It's a very lush, narrow course, and if you do boom it with the driver and miss the fairway, you're in trouble: you can lose your ball over a hill or get lost in the thick rough, where all sorts of Italian stuff is growing, some of it sharp and painful.

"It's like Italian, spaghetti-grass," said Rosie Kammerl, a German also playing the course for the first time.

The verdict

This is a course to be savored, like fine Italian wine, though it doesn't have the immaculate conditioning of many of the top, Italian courses. With the charming old clubhouse, stone walls and birds singing in the thick bush, it's an Italian experience.

Some of the cart rides between holes can be adventurous. It's easy to get lost, but again, no worry - just ask a neighbor which way to No. 6. The fairways are lush, the greens are moderately undulating and in good shape, if slow, and the parkland setting is very green and inviting.

I'm not sure if I'd tee off with a wedge every hole, but long irons and fairway woods should come into play a great deal here, especially if you're playing the course for the first time.

"Every hole has a hidden bunker, water, something special," Kammerl said.

The course is about an hour away from the Austrian border, near the Castle of Aviano, and is open year-round. It has a golf shop, putting green, restaurant, hotel and trolleys. Carts and bags are for hire - make sure they have enough carts if you don't want to walk.

The course is scheduled to open an additional nine holes in the future. Green fees are 30 Euros weekdays and 35 weekends. Members get discount rates and there are special hotel rates.

Places to stay

The Hotel Villa Policreti has 12 suites, 26 double rooms and five singles - all with air-conditioning, for which you will be grateful. The oldest part of the hotel dates back to the 1500s and you can view the nearby Castello ruins and the little church of San Gregorio.

The hotel has been restored and features Venetian marble and wood floors, murals and marble-covered bathrooms. There is a park nearby with rare plants and small lakes.

Other nearby hotels include Antares, Ciasa de Gahja, Due Leoni, and the President Grand Hotel.

Places to eat

The Ristorante Villa Policreti is in a "barchessa" that once housed horses, hay and carriages. It has a spacious terrace and meeting and conference rooms for up to 200 people. Try to get there during the Pordenone fair.

In a small town called Maniago, about 15 minutes from Aviano, there is a tiny pizzeria called Pizzeria de Mario. It's a local hangout with friendly Italians and some swear by its thin-crust, hand-turned pizza and calzone.

Ristorannte Castello is another excellent restaurant.

Fast fact

This area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and remains of the Roman period can be found as well, especially at Torre di Pordenone.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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