All roads leading to Rome, it was perhaps inevitable that the Ryder Cup, golf’s most prestigious event, would eventually swing by the Eternal City. But when the biennial event’s 44th edition, the first in Italy, gets going at Rome’s newly redeveloped Marco Simone Golf & Country Club this September, the US and European teams won’t just be competing for continental supremacy. Organizers say they’ll also be playing for the future of Italian golf.
“Golf doesn’t have huge awareness in Italy,” says Guy Kinnings, the DP World Tour’s Ryder Cup director. “It’s the 16th most popular pastime. What’s the legacy we want to leave? We want to improve that.”
It won’t be easy. According to a survey of the world’s golf courses by the R&A, one of the sport’s governing bodies, Italy has just 321 golf courses to entertain its population of 60 million, a sub-par ratio compared to mature golf nations such as England, which has 2,270 courses serving roughly the same number of people.
But according to Gian Paolo Montali, Italy’s director general of the 2023 Ryder Cup project, the plan does not start by building more courses—first, Italy needs more golfers. Montali wants 120,000 registered players by 2027, up from the 87,000 who called themselves golfers in 2015, when Italy did the unlikely and fended off bids from Germany, Austria and Spain to land the coveted event.
Montali also wants more golf tourists in Italy. “A person visiting Rome stays two and a half days,” he says. “When players come here to play golf, they remain here for four and a half days. If the institution understands this and Italy becomes a golf destination, it will have a very significant impact for the country.”
Rome’s climate, history, culture, food and hotels are already a draw (those staying at the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, can visit the city’s first and only Michelin three-star restaurant, La Pergola), but having a Ryder Cup venue just 10 miles from the Spanish Steps should attract golfers from around the world.
They’ll find a stern test of golf, with steep changes in elevation and slick, undulating greens, plus a number of risk-reward holes, such as the drivable par-4 16th, where, statistically, most matches are likely to finish. Ryder Cup courses typically assume pilgrimage status, and Italian golf will be banking on players making the trip to Marco Simone.
Montali says Italy can’t afford to miss the opportunity. “It would be stupid not to take advantage of the Ryder Cup,” he says. “It must be a jumping off point for us.”