The Hacker: Incredible beauty in Italy but it is hard to slash your handicap

Sometimes it matters neither who won or lost nor even in what manner. There are some places that transcend mere competitiveness; the where the game was played is the point, not the how. For golfers, one such location can be found in the hills above Lake Como. That is perhaps unexpected, because Italy – the current efforts of Edoardo and Francesco Molinari and young Matteo Manassero notwithstanding – is hardly a hotbed of the sport in Europe.

But on a recent trip to Lombardy, I was fortunate enough to visit the Menaggio & Cadenabbia club, the entrancing delights of which can be found on and off the course. Think British tradition and history (it was founded by Englishmen in 1907) overlaid with Italian style, cuisine and cellar, and add a dash of international celebrity.

The shores of Lake Como, which provide that stunning, timeless Italian water's-edge view of cypresses, umbrella pines and flat-roofed geranium-clad villas, have long been the haunt of the rich and/or famous; once it was the Brits who made it their own, nowadays investors are more likely to be Russian.

The drive along the narrow roads on the west side of the lake from the city of Como brings in the classic tourist attractions – Bellagio, the Villa Carlotta, George Clooney's house – but is undeniably tortuous. The schlep, though, is worth it; turn left at the lights in Menaggio village, proceed in a vertical zig-zag for four kilometres and enter quirky golfing heaven.

If asked to name the whereabouts of the world's most precious concentration of books on the sport, you might hazard St Andrews, but you'd be wrong. In the Menaggio clubhouse is a library of more than 1,200 volumes, a gift in 1923 and the envy of golf historians worldwide – including those of the Royal & Ancient. The texts, many of them priceless first editions, include "How to Play Golf" by Henry Vardon (1912), "The Rules of Golf" by Norman Lockyer (1896) and "The Art of Golf" by Sir W G Simpson (1887).

Ancient proudly-hung prints on the walls throughout the clubhouse are more reminders of its links with the mother ship but step outside and you're certainly not in Kansas anymore; the course, 1,500 feet up, clings to the side of a mountain. But any local difficulty with narrow and occasionally precipitous fairways is negated by the grandeur of its views of the lake below and snow-clad Alps above, the charm of its famous casette (carefully-preserved old stone farm buildings) dotted about, and the opportunity for celeb-spotting (Clooney is a member and has been known to rock up with his showbiz mates).

Golf in Italy has a reputation for elitism, one which, particularly in view of the rising profile of the Molinari brothers and Manassero, the authorities are keen to dispel. I am happy to report that at Menaggio all levels are catered for in all departments, although in one particular instance the knowledge was necessarily gained second-hand. In the gents' locker room, the urinals have a handicap rating, although maybe that should not be a surprise in a club whose motto is "Far and Sure".

To the left of the row are directed the single-figure cracks, to the right the 25-plus zappatori, a term which should need no translation. Hackers, with their tendency to spray it about, have the piss taken even when taking one.

Tip of the week

No 50: use your divot to assess problems

A great tool for teaching pros is to be able to see the player's divot (or lack of one) when they strike the ball. The divot gives us a glimpse of what happens to the swing path and clubhead just after impact. If your divot is aiming well left of the target, it shows your swing path has cut across the ball, with a lack of width, from out to in – generally resulting in slice spin or a pull left.

If your divot aims a little left or straight at the target, you have a good path through impact with good rotation and width. If your divot aims well right, you are swinging too much from the inside, with too much width – pushing right and hook spin is a problem. Check to see if the divot is the same width as your club. If not, your clubhead could be opening or closing through impact.

Simon Iliffe, Head Professional, Bramley GC, Surrey. www.theshortgame.co.uk

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