The ability of journalists to analyse within moments of an event has never ceased to impress me, but has never been a skill I’ve possessed, so it’s taken me twenty-four hours or so to process the past week at Marco Simone. I hope you’ll bear with me, because this is the end of a nine year project and a lot has happened.
Towards the end of 2014, we were invited to visit Rome by the Federazione Italiana Golf (‘FIG’) to inspect courses for a possible bid for the 2022 Ryder Cup Matches. We looked at a couple of good golf courses that had no space to hold the necessary infrastructure for a Ryder Cup, we looked at a pretty awful course and then there was Marco Simone. My first impression – the course was not nearly long enough and was in need of a complete refurbishment, but it had more than enough space (and space meant ‘potential’) to host the Matches and so, on that basis, Marco Simone became the candidate venue for FIG’s bid.
It was during those initial visits that I met two amazing women – Laura and Lavinia Biagiotti, the owners of Marco Simone. Sadly Laura passed away in 2017 so never got to see the results of her effort, but I have no doubt that she would have been extraordinarily proud of Lavinia for getting through the years of turmoil and challenge. Lavinia’s assistant, Valentina Virgili and right-hand man, Marco Piermattei, also became invaluable colleagues and friends over the years.
Italy won the right to host the 2022 Matches at the end of 2015, almost exactly a year after my first visit. Part of the commitment from FIG and Marco Simone was that the course would be completely redesigned to create a purpose-built venue. It was at that point that the design process was handed to my colleague, Dave Sampson. It was a bit of a gamble, given his relative experience at the time, but I had seen enough of his work in Zavidovo, Jeddah and Switzerland to believe he was more than capable. He didn’t let me down!
The design process, and subsequent construction, was anything but simple. There were high-voltage powerlines to relocate, high-pressure gas pipelines to avoid (which always seemed to be right where we didn’t want them); there was archaeology in several key locations which, at one point, caused a redesign of at least two holes just days before the dozers were due to move in. In order to keep golf open for the members, we had to phase work in nine-hole blocks adding time and logistical hassle. And then there was COVID which, as well as shutting the project down for about four weeks, meant we had to take multiple PCR tests prior to each visit to be allowed on to site which, in effect, became a sterile environment with distance restrictions and the construction teams operating in isolated groups with no contact with anyone outside their group. It also meant that Ryder Cup 2022 became Ryder Cup 2023!
All the construction work finished in 2020 and the first Italian Open was staged in 2021. Since then, two further Opens have been staged, in September 2022 and May of this year, all of which gave valuable feedback to Captain Stenson and his team…until Captain Stenson was no more and Captain Donald took the helm, ably assisted by Eduardo ‘Dodo’ Molinari who seemingly has every golf statistic since the beginning of time at his fingertips.
It wasn’t just the course design that we handled – our colleague Matt Sturt produced all of the on and off-course graphics for Ryder Cup Europe.
And so we come to this past weekend. This was my 76th visit to Marco Simone since 2014 (Dave has done many, many more) and I’d like to think I know the place, but arriving on Thursday morning, I was speechless as the entirety of the Ryder Cup build came into view – what a sight! I knew the course would work; I was a little less sure about the logistics of getting 55,000 spectators, 1800 volunteers, thousands of employees, players and support staff onto, and off, the venue in a timely manner – as it turned out, apart from a few minor setbacks (and, compared to past Ryder Cup matches I have attended, I really do mean minor), it all worked beautifully. That it did so, as with all of the on-course facilities, is the work of many people and so, if you will allow me, I’d like to take a few moments to thank them.
- First, everyone at Marco Simone, led by Lavina Biagiotti, with Valentina, Marco, Riccardo, Massimo, Emilio and the rest of the project team.
Gian-Paolo Montali, Alessandro Mancini and Barbara Monteduro at FIG.
- The guys at SOL Golf, especially Mike O’Leary and Marcus Broeder.
- Tommy Fazio II who assisted with construction management before COVID hit in 2020.
- The amazing team at Ryder Cup Europe: Guy Kinnings, Richard Atkinson, Edward Kitson, James White, Paul Dunstan, Chris Trainor, Ben Bye, Rachel McCulloch, Claire Giacomotto, Graeme MacNiven, Eddie Adams and David Garland, along with past RCE stalwarts Richard Hills and David MacLaren.
- Andy Brown, Gian Domenico Dorigo and Xavier Agusti Muñoz at Toro.
- Course Superintendent, Lara Arias, and her soon-to-be husband, Alejandro Reyes (along with their colleague, Steve Okula) – what you did was nothing less than miraculous! We wish you the best of luck for the future and look forward to meeting the Superintendent for Ryder Cup 2053 soon!
- Finally, Dave – I am almost lost for words. I always knew you could do it, but just hadn’t realised that you would do it with such creativity, vision, professionalism, energy, empathy and, when needed, bloody-mindedness . For all of the temporary, transient nature of an event like the Ryder Cup, there is a single element of permanence and that is the course – the way it handled everything we have talked about for so long , and did it so well, has blown me away. Mere congratulations are not nearly enough!
By Jeremy Slessor.