In an Ancient Woodland, One of Italy’s Rare Gated Communities Flourishes

ROME — Name another golf community that shares its heritage with the Etruscans or was once a battlefield for medieval noblemen whose families produced a Who’s Who of popes. But wait, it gets better.

The Olgiata, as this tangle of woodland is called, has been invaded by barbarians. It was traded among families, put up for auction and given as a wedding gift.

Once flax was abundant here, as were barley and oats. In the 20th century, Olgiata was the home of the immortal racehorses Nearco and Ribot.

Three thousand years of history buys a lot of character.

Its latest incarnation? Olgiata not only is home to a world-famous golf course, but it has also introduced a modern twist in one of the oldest of old-world countries: It is one of Italy’s rare gated communities, an oasis of sprawling villas where gardeners toil and the wealthy work out under the watchful eye of surveillance cameras and security guards.

In a country that treasures its rich history, celebrates its culinary gifts and thrives on personal (and often kinetic) interaction, golfing and isolated luxury living have been slow to catch on.

Homegrown duffers and real estate investors here hope that is about to change.

In October, the Olgiata Golf Club will host the 76th Italian Open, a tournament growing in prize money — $7 million — and importance on the European Tour.

“We have the best players’ lounge on the professional tour,” said Barbara Zonchello, director of the tournament’s organizing committee. “We are known for the food and hospitality available to the players.”

This time, however, the organizers are trying to show that they offer more than a charming stop for pro golfers.

The stakes are high, as Italy prepares to host the Ryder Cup for the first time in 2022 at another course in Rome — Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.

Italy was an unconventional — if not risky — choice to host the prestigious biennial competition between the United States and Europe.

In Ireland and Britain, golf is so sacred that people will drive three hours to a course in the middle of nowhere and brave rains and winds for just about any professional tournament.

Spain and Germany also have much more mature golfing infrastructures and devoted participant bases and have produced champions like Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer.

“The feeling toward golf in Italy is changing,” said Franco Chimenti, president of the Italian Golf Federation.

“More people are approaching this sport and leaving behind all prejudice that has stopped its growth in the past. We are constantly working to make golf accessible to everyone: children, women and the disabled.”

The emergence of Francesco Molinari as one of the most talented and recognizable golfers in the world has helped. The Turin native won the British Open last year and became the first Italian ever to hoist the Claret Jug.

He also was a key member of Europe’s victorious 2018 Ryder Cup team, as were last year’s Italian Open champion, Thorbjorn Oleson, and the 2017 victor, Tyrrell Hatton.

In the Ryder Cup, organizers see an opportunity to prove to the world that Italy is a worthy host, as well as to spread the gospel of golf to homegrown weekend golfers and international tourists.

“It is the most important golf event in the country and the peak of our road toward the Ryder Cup,” said its director, Gian Paolo Montali.

“It’s important for our golf tourism.”

Olgiata, this serene stretch of countryside 15 miles north of Rome, is perhaps the perfect showcase for this mission.

Behind 12-foot-high privet hedges, swimming pools reflect tile-roofed estates set back on large and lush lots.

There is a tennis and country club and, in a nod to its recent past, an equestrian center with rows of stables, show and jumping rings as well as a network of riding trails.

It has been a popular enclave for the international set. Embassy personnel, corporate executives and a handful of Lazio footballers and actors have found solace in estates that range from 1.5 million to 8 million euros, or $1.6 million to $8.8 million.

There are spring waters nearby; spas and Pilates instructors seem to outnumber trattorias and taverns.

Conservancy regulations have kept the landscape lush and offered a home to more than 30 different species of birds.

“It is a place for people who seek a healthy, active lifestyle,” said Stella Carnacina, chief executive of Carnacina Immobiliare, a real estate company that specializes in the area. “But they also want space and security and a feeling of being in the country but close enough to Rome.”

But the Olgiata Golf Club, which opened in 1961, is the jewel in this affluent community shaped by rolling woodlands near where Veio, the Etruscans’ richest city, once stood.

For 300 years, it toggled between war and peace with Rome before finally being overrun in 396 B.C. Two of the world’s foremost course designers have laid out a challenging, long course (7,566 yards), with towering trees and umbrella pines and small creeks running through it.

Since history plays a vital role in the perspectives of Italians, as well as golf aficionados, it is worth noting that Olgiata’s original designer was an Englishman named C.K. Cotton who, according to the golf course historian Geoffrey S. Cornish, descends from the design tree of Douglas Rolland, a Scot whose work in the late 19th century is considered among the most influential in the sport.

In 2010, the American course designer Jim Fazio, whose uncle George Fazio is also considered a modern master, gave it a makeover costing more than €1 million as part of Rome’s bid, which it eventually abandoned, to host the 2020 Olympics.

Olgiata is the only Italian entry on Golf Digest’s list of the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Still, Italy is barely a toddler in the world of golf.

In 1968, the golf writer Dan Jenkins came to Olgiata for Sports Illustrated to take the measure of the sport.

Then, Olgiata Golf Club was the host of the World Cup of Golf, an annual competition where two-man teams represent individual countries.

He was struck by an Italian fan who paid “$4.50 for a ticket and thinks it entitles him to stroll out on the greens and chat with the players.”

He wandered the fairways with “Italian royalty, socialites, movie stars, embassy employees and Via Veneto strollers” who stared at pros like Gary Player, Julius Boros and Lee Trevino, and “watched them ponder what is so tricky about the game.”

“All you got to do is grab a bunch of sticks and go thresh around in the trees,” Mr. Jenkins wrote.

Fifty-one years later, Italy now has 398 golf courses.

The Ryder Cup will take place across town at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, which was built in the late 1980s by the fashion designer Laura Biagiotti.

It is perhaps a more telegenic site, with views of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. But the cradle of golf in the Eternal City remains at Olgiata.

“It is the most Italian of golf courses, and grounded into our history,” said Ms. Zonchello, the Italian Open director. “It is a course Italian golf grew up on.”

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