Set in a valley between rugged mountains close to the southern tip of the French island of Corsica, Domaine de Murtoli is a working farm. For centuries, sheep and cattle have grazed the land, and crops have been harvested.
When Paul Canarelli inherited the estate from his grandfather, his vision was to blend this rustic heritage with luxury to create a rural retreat. He set about converting the ruins scattered around the property into dwellings – a collection of individual stone-built villas and farmhouses, with their own pools and modern comforts. Each building has been designed to sit at ease in the Corsican landscape and provide a base from which guests can explore the surroundings and immerse themselves in nature, whether fishing in sea or river, horse riding or relaxing on the private beach.
Chefs create dishes using produce from the farm, sea and local suppliers, served at three restaurants – one at the beach, another in the farmhouse, with furniture crafted from salvaged driftwood, and one nestled into a natural cave with a terrace that overlooks the landscape.
The overriding ethos at Murtoli is to remain true to its place, with meticulous attention to every last detail so that visitors have an authentic Corsican experience.
So when Canarelli decided to introduce golf, the very last thing he wanted was for a course to impose itself on the landscape.
He appointed Kyle Phillips, who turned to the history of golf for inspiration – in particular the original twelve holes of Prestwick, one of golf’s oldest courses. Old Tom Morris’s 1851 design was a playground of golf, including a double green, for the third and sixth, and crossing fairways in several places.
At a time when many golf clubs have been compelled to contemplate the merits of their business model, out-of-the-box thinking might be called for. And what better place to start than with the origins of the game.
Phillips’ design for Murtoli, which opened in 2014, consists of twelve greens but is unlimited in terms of the sequence or number of holes. Two of the greens are large enough to serve two holes at once, fairways blend into each other and many holes cross over the same terrain.
“By breaking the rules of the 18-hole par 72 standard, the course provides a fun and dynamic experience while remaining light on the land,” he says.
“The smaller footprint of the golf course did not come about due to a lack of available land, as the entire property is over 2,500 hectares,” says Phillips’ design associate Mark Thawley. “We could have pushed for a bigger envelope, but it was important to show restraint in order to create a special experience that fit with our client’s vision.”
The resort sets out a configuration each day, sometimes nine and sometimes twelve holes, but with just twenty lodgings and various other activities on offer, golfers frequently have the course pretty much to themselves. This leaves them free to create their own routing suited to their whim for golf at the time. Match play is encouraged, with winners of the previous hole choosing the next direction to play in, and which green to play to. There is also a full-length practice fairway, a practice bunker and short game area.
Rugged bunkers, used sparingly, complement the landscape and its dramatic setting, with views from the course out to the mountains and Mediterranean Sea.
The design at Murtoli includes preserved native vegetation and existing working agricultural land. With just 30 acres of irrigated and maintained turf, Phillips estimates the course will require less than half the water of an average 18-hole layout. “In keeping with the rest of the property, the course has been designed to sit naturally on the land so that players are negotiating the ground as it has existed for centuries,” says Phillips. “This of course, is how the game of golf began, across the natural linksland in Scotland.”
This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.