Salamander Golf Society

Channel Cup 2017 Lago di Garda

With thanks to Olivier de la Giraudière, François Montenay, Francesco Noseda, and Henry Engelhardt for their support.

With the bittersweet memories in mind of our last trip to Italy in 2008, when we discovered, with a week to go, that the local operator had failed to make the promised reservations, it was with some trepidation that we arrived at the Palazzo Arzaga on the shores of Lake Garda. Happily, fears of mishaps were unfounded - from the moment a helpful hotel porter opened the car door to unload luggage, to waving farewell, our longish weekend lived up to its promise.

As befits a trip to Italy’s largest lake, the prelude on Thursday comprised a walkabout on the Sirmone peninsula, taking in Roman ruins and culminating in a seafood dinner in the Antica Contrada restaurant, washed down by Lugana wine, a local indigenous white grape variety virtually unknown elsewhere, well suited to the risotto.

Despite the late morning start on Friday, the practice ground was filled by early arrivals, and notwithstanding Diego’s skirmish with traffic on his way from the airport (a prophet is without honour in his own country!).  Not long after noon, all 44 golfers enjoined battle with the rather more demanding Gary Player course. As a small compensation, a novelty was introduced into the four ball better ball formula, enabling each pair to choose the better drive of the two, and then proceed to play individually thereafter. Named a “petesome”, this allowed some spectacular Stableford scores, with no less than 46 for a pair emanating from the “auld alliance” of Scots and French, in the persons of Dominique and Angus. As the shadows lengthened, with the haze softening the horizons, drives soaring and puts dropping, one could not help feeling, like John Betjeman, glad to be alive.

During a delicious dinner in the Palazzo, the respective Captains, Hervé & Jean for the Continent and Torquil & William for the Islands, carefully formed their pairings, composing the matches as judiciously as possible, with verbal jousts and references to the Brexit negotiations adding to the general hilarity. The 6.45 am breakfast and the 8am start at a distant course on Saturday proved therefore a challenge. There is something of a disconnect between local street and place names and GPS systems, leading to many more kilometres being recorded than the real distance. However, the Channel Cup got underway on time on the manicured fairways of Garda Golf. This private club is rated no. 1 in Italy, one can only marvel at how the no’s 1 to 3 must be. Twisting, turning, steep downhills, sharp ascents, all amid an immense variety of woodland decked in autumnal colours, and cunningly placed ponds and streams! 

The first match, pitting a ‘78 promo pairing of Jean-François & Jean-Pierre for the Continent against a more youthful James and Tim (A) for the Islands, set the tone for the day, with the Continent succumbing only on the last green. Although Olivier & Jean scored a resounding victory for the Continent in the next match, the island s came back strongly, winning 4 of the next 5 matches, with one tie.

The two last matches went to the Continent, giving a final score of 5 ½  to 3 ½ in the Islanders, now 4 ahead in the series. However, it must be said that the Continent loaned Irina and Freddy to even up the numbers, and dominated the longest drive through Irena & Pierre, as they had the previous day with Sybille & Baudouin. The Islanders seem better on precision; however, Tim (A) winning the closest to the pin, as Liz and David had done the previous day.

Another feature of this year’s meeting was the auto-organisation of the ladies into 3 groups of 3, along broad linguistic lines – cumulating the best Stableford score per hole each threesome scored 36 or more, with the Mediterranean ladies carrying the day.

The match also represented the return of Francesco, who made his first appearance in El Saler, in the 1980’s, not only drawing his match but also facilitating the evening  wine tasting staged by the Zonin company, where the method of producing Amarone and  Ripasso wines in the nearby Veneto region was eloquently described.

Other returners were Barry and Sue, the latter unfortunately unable to golf because of a broken wrist, and Guy & Daniele, whose previous appearance also dates back a decade at least. However, the average age was significantly decreased by another Daniele from the 2012 promo, and his partner Marie, who made her golfing debut on the Sunday.

Despite extensive drowning of Continental sorrows and serious savouring of the Islands’ victory, another 8 am start wrested golfers from their beds on Sunday morning. The scramble teams were in part promotion based, that from ’73 coming in equal 3rd at 1 over, the ‘77s 2 shots off. However Jean led his group around in even par, only to be pipped by Jean-François’ 2 under. So amid the sunshine which had accompanied us since the start, and fortified by a scrumptious lunch in the clubhouse, proceedings drew regretfully to a close.

But a final question – how many followed the example of our Président d’Honneur  Gunther by actually jumping in the Lago di Garda on the way home?


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