With a growing focus on golf in Italy as the Ryder Cup approaches in 2022, a breathtaking venue nestled in the glorious green heart of the country is also attracting attention.
Having benefited from significant investment, Antognolla Golf is set to become synonymous with the European golf and leisure market. Situated in delightful Umbria, improvements on and off the course have raised the profile of an idyllic venue which boasted increased rounds, revenue, members and guests in 2019.
With plans in place for a luxury five-star hotel and spa and new clubhouse facilities to further enhance their product and services, César Burguière, Golf Director, outlines the rise of Antognolla…
Cesar, how long have you been in your role and what are your key responsibilities?
“I took the position in November 2017 and my role then was to assess the golf course conditioning, financials, facilities, customer service, staff and training needs within the golf operations. I also did a full review of the restaurant operation, which was then outsourced. We prepared a strategy plan in accordance to the level of investment the new ownership provided, including working towards reconditioning the Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed course together with our consultants, Braemar Golf.
“Over the last two years, the course has benefited from the largest investment since it was originally built in 1997. The 6,725-yard course, which sits below the medieval castle of Antognolla and is surrounded by wooded hillsides, is one of the most idyllic in Italy. It features cliff-lined fairways, beautiful water hazards and large, undulating greens. The par-71 course is now part of a re-development of the wider estate which will, in time, become a luxury golf, hotel and spa resort.”
Can you give an insight into the work on the course?
“The work has been significant, notably around drainage and bunkering and a significant upgrade to the total irrigation system.
“We have invested heavily in a new network of drainage pipes and sand slits. The surface water is then recycled to support our irrigation, meaning the course is now fully playable all year and we are more environmentally friendly. Via a new computer-controlled system, we can also target areas of the course to ensure moisture content in the soil is managed.
“The previously existing 66 bunkers have now been reduced to 47 – all were redesigned, some relocated and reshaped with new edge details to reflect the natural contours – and are visually striking. The bunkers use the latest capillary concrete technology to provide a solid lining with excellent drainage performance.
“We have also lengthened the course with several new tees, thus offering new playing experiences. We also introduced fescue grasses to reduce irrigated area and modified the grassing lines to improve the strategy and aesthetics of the course. The cart path was reconstructed utilising polymers to create an incredibly stable surface and obtain a very natural look – the first course in Europe to do so. Finally, we relocated the driving range and rebuilt a stunning new practice facility that caters for all shots and replicates the on-course visuals and experience. Overall, the course is now looking fantastic.”
And an insight into the work off the course?
“We took management of our ‘La Boiola’ restaurant in-house, hiring the complete back of house (chef, cooks, steward) and front of house team (restaurant manager, servers). We have set up new menus and refreshed the restaurant style, featuring seasonal and local products to experience the authenticity of the Umbrian cuisine.
“We also hired a superintendent, greenkeepers, a head teaching professional and outside service attendants, as well as creating a new fully-refurbished golf shop with a wide selection of apparel and equipment. We have invested in a fleet of golf carts as well as having a good supply of quality Cobra hire clubs to meet the needs of travelling golfers. We have also developed a new brand identity, including a new golf website, so we are pleased with our progress.”
Has the investment and work paid dividends to date?
“By running a fully-operational 18-hole course and our driving range and practice facilities, at the end of 2019 we achieved a 64% increase in total rounds compared to 2018, as well as increasing international guests rounds by 90%. We also saw a 32% increase in new members and a 65% increase in overall revenues (again compared to 2018).
“The signs are looking very positive that the investments are paying off and we are confident that this will continue to grow with continued hard work and investment of the day-to-day operations of the course and the business.”
How much do you relish your position?
“Antognolla represents a great challenge and I’m enjoying my position very much. Taking a project on such a journey is highly rewarding, as growth is observable almost daily. The location and surroundings are stunning with Assisi, Gubbio, Perugia, Orvieto and Spoleto close by. It makes for a truly amazing project.”
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Where have you worked previously in golf?
“I started in the industry with Golf USA Retail in Spain from 2005 – 2008, before joining Troon Golf as an Office Manager in Geneva, Switzerland for 18 months, which was an excellent grounding in the management of high-quality facilities. I then went to Greece as Golf Operations Manager at The Dunes Course at Costa Navarino (17 months) before joining Lumine Golf & Beach Club in Spain, where I was Director of Golf from 2012 – 2017.”
What are the key selling points of Antognolla?
“We are lucky to have a number of strengths. Our stunning location in Umbria is one of our major USP’s. The investments have allowed us to deliver some of the best conditions in Italy and, along with our guest service, gastronomy and many cultural activities, we offer a memorable experience both on and off the course. Being in the centre of Italy and easily accessible from both Rome and Florence airports, as well as just 20 minutes from Perugia airport, is a huge benefit as well.”
What other activities are there to explore in the area?
“The area is rich in events, such as jazz and chocolate festivals, historical celebrations and art festivals, while there are various local villages full of history and charm to explore. Umbria is renowned for gastronomy and there are plentiful opportunities to savour food and drink. Horse riding, museums and spa experiences are also popular.”
You speak four languages – English, French, Spanish and Italian. How beneficial is that?
“It’s such a great privilege to be able to speak with guests, vendors and tour operators in their native language. It creates a natural link, which is nice for me. We hosted the PGA Italian Championship in 2019 to build our relationships, while also achieving various agreements with tour operators, online platforms and golfing groups going forward.”
With The Ryder Cup in Italy in 2022, do you hope Antognolla can benefit?
“The Ryder Cup will be a huge boost for Italy as a whole and Antognolla is already benefiting as we already have bookings and enquiries from guests who are coming exclusively to see The Ryder Cup. There is already increased interest from tour operators and media, with fam trips full and scheduled for this year. The exposure will be enormous and it will certainly do a lot for golf in this region, and in Italy, and hopefully leave a legacy after that.”
What does the future hold for Antognolla?
“Antognolla is on the road to becoming one of the best golf countryside resorts in Italy and will have a place in the future among the top European golf resorts, once the project is completed. We have plans in place for a luxury five-star hotel and spa and new clubhouse facilities to further enhance our product and services. Golfers can already enjoy a completely renovated course, an excellent restaurant, very welcoming and friendly staff and an absolutely stunning region.”
For more information on Antognolla, visit www.antognolla.com