Severe storms raged across Italy over seven days in October and November 2018. Strong winds and heavy rain led to flooding and landslides, resulting in the loss of many lives and billions of euros of damage.
Among the many businesses impacted by the storms was Rocco Forte’s Verdura Resort, which is located within 230 hectares of Mediterranean landscape on Sicily’s southern coastline. It opened in 2009 with two Kyle Phillips-designed golf courses, the East and West, which are ranked among the best in the country. The European Tour took its Sicilian Open to the venue three times in the 2010s, playing over a composite of the two courses.
The storms led to a breach of the levee that runs between the site and the Verdura River. Phillips explains: “On coastal sites we normally think of erosion as coming inward from the sea. In this case, the erosion started inland and moved toward the sea. The breach occurred near the new tenth tees, one kilometre from the sea, and quickly moved across 14 holes (seven holes of both the East and West courses) and into sections of the resort buildings.
“The flood was obviously devastating, but we needed to approach it as an opportunity to make the golf experience even better.”
Phillips altered the routing to incorporate all 14 damaged holes, plus four remodelled holes into the new East course configuration. This new configuration more clearly defines the two courses, whilst preserving an equal number of coastal holes on each course.
“The flood created new landforms and dramatic, eroded inlets near the coastline that have been incorporated into the new design.” he says. Phillips has also enhanced the walkability, with generous tightly mown connections from green to tee.
One highlight of the new layout is the par-four sixth, with long views along the Mediterranean coastline. “It is arguably now the prettiest hole on the property,” said Phillips. “The Mediterranean Sea runs the length of the right side and the view down the coastline goes on forever. The approach plays over a saltwater inlet carved out by the flood to a seaside green that sits on the southern tip of the property.”
Playing in the opposite direction, the thirteenth takes advantage of the dramatic mountain and coastline views. With the coastline on the left, this “wee par three” plays down to an undulating green that hugs the water’s edge.
Also inspired by the flood erosion is the addition of a new drainage burn that acts as a strategic element to the par-four third and par-five fourth holes, both of which play towards the sea.
The new par-five eighth and par-four tenth holes now share a massive double green. “Sir Rocco is a keen golfer and appreciates the elements of traditional links golf. As we were walking on site before the reconstruction, I mentioned that I was pondering a double green and he was quite excited about the idea. It has turned out to be one of the more dramatic and interesting on the new course.”
Sir Rocco Forte, the resort’s founder and chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels, said: “I am tremendously excited by the new layout, which will enhance both the playing experience and magnificent views over the spectacular Sicilian coastline.”
The East course is already rising up rankings since its reopening in October. Giacomo Battafarano, the general manager at Verdura, says: “To be rated among the world’s elite golf resorts and Italy’s best is an outstanding achievement for the resort and something that makes us all very proud.
“The global reputation of Verdura for delivering excellence and outstanding service on and off the golf course continues to grow every year and, with the recent reopening of the East course, we’re confident that further exciting times lie ahead in 2022 and beyond.”
This article first appeared in the January 2022 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.