Italy golf: Shea Malloy defends Sicilian title

Written by Staff Writer

Editor’s Note — “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is the song playing on my headphones as I sit on a couch in sunny Sicilian port city of Palermo looking out on empty Lake Maggiore. With strong currents a screaming cocktail of sun and dark clouds, it’s hard to imagine that this quiet serenity has been invaded by the USA Touring PGA Tour this week. But over at the Li’l Arolat Golf Club I’m not alone, all 73 bunkers and tees are teeming with dozens of American pros, some even with autograph tables.

“This is still the big leagues,” says Jim Gray, executive director of the Golf Coast for SSA, the company organising the Sicily Tour along with SSA Club Disc. “It’s not Tiger Wood, it’s not Dustin Johnson, it’s not the world tour. This is like a weekly amateur tournament when you’re playing in Albuquerque or California, no one’s expected, but yet it’s the same event that professionals play in.”

1 / 16 – Italy, whether you’re playing or staying, is a joy to behold. Here are our top highlights. Stay on the Lucchese peninsula in the Calabria region and you can splash through the azure waters at the nearby Lighthouse Beach, check out the wonderful style and one-of-a-kind architecture of some of the many hilltop towns and villages, or explore the country’s famed vineyards and olive groves. — courtesy Le Venus Di Parma

The Sicily Tour will be the last stop of the year for club pros and could one day serve as a long-term fixture on the calendar. For now, the event will run three rounds followed by an awards dinner, followed by a working party and lastly a promotional open night to promote amateur golf in the region.

In between the competitors and golf specialists will meet and greet local business people, tourists and members, introducing the latest golf equipment from home and abroad, fuelling the latest golf gadgets as well as taking part in a practice round, while taking part in a round that puts the professional players to the test.

“There’s plenty of fan interaction. It’s fun and the players have fun,” says Nick Hendrix, managing director of golf for SSA. “You can ask about equipment and about what goes on in their lives and, most importantly, they’ll answer you with a smile. ‘How are you training for the PGA Tour?’ We encourage this. They are pros and, obviously, they’re nice, but they’re more than nice.”

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The private events were designed to nurture and promote new talent from a young age. Hoping to send the local crowds home pleased, former world amateur number one Will Claxton was one of the event’s first contestants. The 19-year-old has been part of the Scotland PGA Tour since early 2016, but this was his first tour stop outside of Scotland, where his aim is to become the next professional winner.

“It’s like any rookie coming to the PGA Tour. The way the journey works is you learn a lot, then you win, then you want to try and move up the ladder a little more,” says Claxton. “These were two of the most challenging weeks I’ve ever played in, that’s for sure. If you didn’t know that it was a pro event, I don’t think you’d know what to expect. I didn’t feel over par the whole week. I took it one round at a time, and ended up 16 over par. I feel I am always better the longer the week goes on.”

The month-long competition is one-time fee event and covers round-trip flights, accommodation, plus a three-night stay at the Li’l Arolat. Unlike most pro events, where the courses typically have public access, and are usually associated with a specific golf course in an area with a golf tourism infrastructure, the Li’l Arolat golf course is brand new, opening in 2016. Among the bunkers and tees it’s a brand new course; just 15 yards longer than the course next door.

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