Our hole-by-hole Ryder Cup course guide with Marco Simone Golf and Country Club designer Dave Sampson and Team Europe vice-captain Edoardo Molinari.
It’s been said that you could play the Ryder Cup on a field with flags in it and it would still be thrilling, and there is probably some truth to that. But the course does naturally affect what happens and Marco Simone – one of the best golf courses in Italy – has been conceived and set up to ensure the action will be dramatic and intriguing.
This transformed parkland course 30 minutes from the centre of Rome is a terrific mix of exacting holes that will test the world’s best, and the risk-reward options that get us all on the edge of our seats.
Rory McIlroy compares Marco Simone to previous host courses at Celtic Manor and Gleneagles and is a particularly big fan of the back nine, which he describes as “a wonderful setup for matchplay”.
“I think it’s going to create some really exciting finishes to matches,” said the Northern Irishman ahead of his eight-straight Ryder Cup appearance in Rome.
“You’ve got two drivable par 4s on the back nine, you’ve got a few holes with water, and you’ve got that wonderful closing hole, which could be really exciting. The front nine is like the first couple of chapters of a book. It gets you into the book a little bit and sort of sets the story, but the real juicy bits come on the back nine.”
But while Rory is a great judge of a course, who better than the man who designed it and a man who has played it time and again to guide you through all 18 holes ahead of the biennial clash?
We sat down with designer Dave Sampson and vice-captain Edoardo Molinari to find out what the Ryder Cup players can expect when they step onto every tee of the par 72, 7,293-yard course.
Ryder Cup Course Guide – Front Nine: Par 36 | 3,674 yards
Marco Simone G&CC 1st hole: Par 4 | 445 yards
A mid-length opening hole that dog-legs slightly from right to left and plays gently uphill. A long and deep bunker front left protects the raised putting surface.
Dave Sampson says: The opening tee shot of any Ryder Cup is all about the atmosphere and the pressure. Like many tee shots at Marco Simone, the longer the drive, the narrower the landing area. Hitting the fairway will be one of the keys to scoring well. The ideal line into this undulating green is the right half of the fairway.
Edoardo Molinari says: The first tee shot is always pretty daunting, but it’s not the most difficult hole to start. It’s normally a driver and a short iron. Like most greens at Marco Simone, there are some big slopes and a couple of tiers with a big run-off short right of the green.
Marco Simone G&CC 2nd hole: Par 4 | 495 yards
Veering dramatically downhill from a new, elevated back tee, with one of the best views on the course, the tee shot plays to a wide landing area split by a large central fairway bunker. The approach is into a long and gently undulating green protected by a solitary front-left bunker and a large mound on the right.
Dave Sampson says: A riskier drive down the narrower left-hand portion will leave a full view straight down the length of the green. Drives down the safer right side will be semi-blind, with the green sitting at an angle.
Edoardo Molinari says: There’s a couple of tees they can alternate between, which either bring the bunker in the middle of the fairway into play, splitting it in two, or the two bunkers further on into play.
Marco Simone G&CC 3rd hole: Par 4 | 453 yards
A semi-blind drive on this left-to-right par 4, where the landing area condenses the further the tee shot goes. An uphill second must avoid multiple run-offs which protect one of Marco Simone’s largest greens.
Dave Sampson says: It will be interesting to see how the top players tackle this hole – a tee shot that is laid back gets a better view, but obviously leaves a longer approach, while the player who takes driver and cuts the corner of the dog-leg will have a semi-blind and more uphill second.
Edoardo Molinari says: I think they’ll use the back tee all week. It’s a very tight landing area but if you hit the fairway, you’ve got a wedge in. As a result, this is a hole where you could see a lot of birdies or bogeys, depending on the quality of the tee shot.
A mid-length par 3 playing slightly downhill to a narrow, well-guarded green with insidious bunkers at the front and on the right side.
Marco Simone G&CC 4th hole: Par 3 | 188 yards
A mid-length par 3 playing slightly downhill to a narrow, well-guarded green with insidious bunkers at the front and on the right side.
Dave Sampson says: After a relatively tough opening of three par 4s, the first of the par 3s comes at the 4th and is the start of a slightly easier stretch of holes. The hole is best protected by the undulating green which rises towards the tougher back section.
Edoardo Molinari says: The green is very narrow left to right, but very deep front to back. If you go long, there’s a huge run-off waiting for your ball. Any front pin is pretty easy because you can use the slopes to hit it close. With a back pin, par is a good score.
Marco Simone G&CC 5th hole: Par 4 | 378 yards
A relatively short par 4 that is protected on the drive by a couple of fairway bunkers down the right and a pond that encroaches on the left. The green is also well protected by the pond and a couple of bunkers behind.
Dave Sampson says: Depending on course set-up, this hole has the flexibility to be played as either a lay-up off the tee and a wedge in, or as a drivable par 4. The green, which sits perpendicular to the line of play, is full of steep slopes.
Edoardo Molinari says: The only time I can see the water coming into play is if they move the tee up, like they did a couple of times in the Italian Open, and make the hole reachable. Otherwise, players usually hit a hybrid or 5-iron off the tee, then a wedge into the green. If there’s a front pin close to the water, you can use the slope to your advantage. A back pin is very difficult because there’s a very small landing area with a nasty bunker over the back.
Marco Simone G&CC 6th hole: Par 4 | 381 yards
Another short-to-mid length par 4 that plays uphill to a raised green complex, where the pin position will dictate how much of the flag the player can see. Deep bunkers to the front and right, along with a severe false front, guard this green.
Dave Sampson says: The only hole to play in the same corridor as on the previous course, the fairway is relatively wide but the main challenge is judging both the distance and spin on the approach, especially to a very devilish front pin.
Edoardo Molinari says: This hole is actually pretty straightforward. Holes 4 to 6 are definitely good birdie chances, depending on the pins.
Marco Simone G&CC 7th hole: Par 3 | 222 yards
The longest of the par 3s, it drops downhill to a long, narrow green that falls away from front to back. Two bunkers protect the front portion of the green, with a stream on the left and run-offs to the right.
Dave Sampson says: One of the toughest holes on the course, where 100 percent commitment is required on the tee shot. Bailing out right leaves a difficult chip.
Edoardo Molinari says: Another elevated tee, which plays to a three-tiered green that slopes away from you. The wind is usually into and off the left, which brings the front bunkers and the run-off on the right into play more. The fact there are various tees means we could see it play 160 to 220 yards.
Marco Simone G&CC 8th hole: Par 4 | 525 yards
Ranked as the hardest hole on DP World Tour so far this season, this daunting par 4 gave up just 25 birdies and played to an average of 4.58 across the four rounds of the Italian Open in May. The fairway narrows up at 300 yards off the tee, but the hole’s main defense is the large lake that frames the entire left side on the approach.
Dave Sampson says: The toughest hole on the front nine, where finding the fairway is imperative to reaching the green in two. The green itself is large, inclined and well protected, with the lake left and a bunker front right.
Edoardo Molinari says: This is a brutal par 4. The fairway is about 28 yards wide so if you miss it, there is a severe penalty both left and right. The rough is pretty thick on the right, and then the water is in play off the tee and for the second shot. Members play it as a par 5, but it’s always been a par 4 for the Italian Open. You have to hit two really good shots to make par.
Marco Simone G&CC 9th hole: Par 5 | 587 yards
The only par 5 on the front half, it is reachable in two even though it dog-legs gently from right to left. Numerous bunkers protect the right half of the hole, while a meandering stream down the left doesn’t really come into play. The green is long and falls away to the back left.
Dave Sampson says: A true birdie opportunity. A drive that finds the fairway will be able to get home in two, but any miss in the two deep bunkers protecting the left side of the green will leave a tough up and down.
Edoardo Molinari says: The 9th hole is probably the easiest on the course. If you avoid the two bunkers on the right, you can easily reach it in two off the fairway with a long iron. Most players tend to bail out short right to avoid the bunkers, but the green is actually one of the flattest at Marco Simone.
Ryder Cup Course Guide – Back Nine: Par 36 | 3,619 yards
Marco Simone G&CC 10th hole: Par 4 | 453 yards
A stream lurks down the entire right side on this slight dog leg, which plays uphill to a raised and shallow target. Three greenside bunkers, along with steep run-offs front and left, present further challenges on this demanding start to the back nine.
Dave Sampson says: A strong hole where four is a good score. Taking enough club into the elevated green, normally off a hanging lie, makes it one of the most challenging second shots on the course.
Edoardo Molinari says: This is probably one of the most difficult tee shots. It goes uphill quite a bit and there’s also thick rough on the left. If you’re not on the fairway, it’s almost impossible to keep the ball on the green. You can also look a bit silly because there’s a huge run-off just short of the green which sends your ball 30 or 40 yards back down the fairway.
Marco Simone G&CC 11th hole: Par 4 | 329 yards
The first of two potentially drivable par 4s coming home, the 11th plays uphill from right to left. Trouble lurks all around the fast and steep putting surface, with water, deep bunkers and a significant depression in the ground penalizing an offline approach.
Dave Sampson says: The start of the easiest three-hole stretch, here the player has multiple options off the tee on this short 4. It will be fascinating to see which options are chosen based on match format and match status.
Edoardo Molinari says: The lay-up is pretty generous so I can see most guys doing that. If you try to drive the green and miss it, the up and down is very difficult because there are a lot of slopes and mounds to think about. The bunkers in front are also 10ft below the surface of the green, about 30-40 yards away, which is pretty awkward.
Marco Simone G&CC 12th hole: Par 5 | 545 yards
The easiest hole on the course starts at the most elevated point on the property and offers a wonderful view across a valley to a fairway that climbs up and left.
A cluster of bunkers protects both sides of the landing area. However, any drive that finds the fairway will be in range to hit an undulating green that pitches back towards the player.
Dave Sampson says: The players need to decide which of three diagonal bunkers on the left of the landing area they want to take on. Players should be dealing in birdies and eagles on this risk-reward hole.
Edoardo Molinari says: The tee shot is pretty generous and once you’re on the fairway, there’s not too much to think about with the second. The green feeds in from both sides so if you hit a decent shot, there’s definitely potential for an eagle.
Marco Simone G&CC 13th hole: Par 3 | 149 yards
Framed by two mature umbrella pines and an old Roman farmhouse, Marco Simone’s shortest hole has
a solitary bunker front left, protecting a green with multiple and varied pin positions.
Dave Sampson says: Although short on the card, and even with just a wedge in hand, any pins located on the back half of the green are much tougher to access than the hole length suggests.
Edoardo says: The green has two tiers and there are severe slopes between them. Pitching it long is awful because
it can easily go out of bounds. This is another hole where you could see a few birdies. Find the wrong tier, though, and you could see some three putts too.
Marco Simone G&CC 14th hole: Par 4 | 508 yards
A long par 4 that swings right to left, with fairway bunkers protecting the inside of the dog-leg. The second shot plays downhill to a green protected by some of the deepest and most severe bunkers and run-offs on the course.
Dave Sampson says: Following the easiest stretch of holes come two of the toughest. Finding the fairway is imperative and drives that hug the fairway bunkers should get a generous kick off the diagonal ridge and add up to
Edoardo Molinari says: This is a challenging tee shot because the fairway narrows quite a bit after the bunkers, so I’d imagine you’ll see most guys playing right of the bunkers, which then brings the thick rough into play. The green has a run-off just short and then it slopes away from you. Especially to a front pin, it’s difficult to get it close.
Marco Simone G&CC 15th hole: Par 4 | 479 yards
From an elevated tee that plays downhill to the landing area, the par-4 15th then sweeps uphill from left to right. Three bunkers guard the inside of the drive zone, while a cluster of front right traps protects a large, elevated green.
Dave Sampson says: The shorter approaches will be easier coming into this raised green – but that means taking on the course’s narrowest landing zone.
Edoardo says: The tee shot is all about avoiding the bunkers on the right side. The fairway narrows at about 290 yards, so if you want to hit driver you need to be pretty accurate. Like most greens at Marco Simone, it’s elevated and has a tier that divides it left to right.
Marco Simone G&CC 16th hole: Par 4 | 322 yards
With views towards St Peter’s Basilica in the distance, this risk-reward hole plays significantly downhill. A lay-up brings a central and right bunker into play, while the more aggressive players will need to take on a large lake and three bunkers to reach a green that sits perpendicular to the line of play.
Dave Sampson says: In contrast to the driveable 11th and coming at a vital stage in the matches, this short par 4 ideally suits a drive shaped from left to right. Most players will be tempted to take this green on, though there are some pin locations that are just better suited to being attacked with a wedge.
Edoardo Molinari says: This is my favorite hole and it comes at a great point because most matches will at least come down 16. There’s a big bank on the left where thousands of people will be watching. They have the option to make it anything from 260 to 310 yards.
The wind is usually in and off the left, but it plays downhill at least 20 yards. There is the option to lay up with a mid to long iron, leaving a 70-80-yard wedge shot, but I think you’ll see people trying to run a drive up. Between the bunkers, it’s probably no more than 12 yards wide. Then, if you miss it right, the bunker will save you from the water. It’s the hole where you’ll see the greatest variability in scoring.
Marco Simone G&CC 17th hole: Par 3 | 206 yards
A mid-length par 3 played into a long green with multiple levels. Two bunkers protect the front, while a steep run-off feeds towards a stream that encroaches back left.
Dave Sampson says: Another tee shot that requires full commitment, where a miss left is much better than one right.
Edoardo Molinari says: This is a very narrow green, sloping left-to-right, with a small tier at the back. If they put a pin at the back, it’s very difficult to stop the ball there. You have to be precise with your distance as there’s some thick rough on the right with a run-off on the left.
Marco Simone G&CC 18th hole: Par 5 | 628 yards
The longest hole on the course, where the elevated tee on this downhill par 5 offers one final view over Rome. Strategically placed bunkers line both sides
of a fairway that falls away to an undulating green guarded by another pond to its left.
Dave Sampson says: Bunkers both left and right guard the tee shot, and any tee shot that splits these will be in prime position to get home in two.
Edoardo Molinari says: We built a new tee here for this year’s Italian Open. It’s a much better hole than when we first played it. From the back tee, no one could go for it. Now you have the option to reach it in two with a 3-wood, 5-wood or hybrid. The green slopes severely from right to left, so if you bail out right to avoid the water, the chip shot can be quite tricky depending on where the flag is. I think it is going to be really exciting.
About the Authors
Chris was born and brought up in Dumfriesshire and has been a sports journalist since 1996, initially as a junior writer with National Club Golfer magazine.
Chris then spent four years writing about football and rugby union for the Press Association but returned to be Editor and then Publisher of NCG before joining Golf World and Today’s Golfer as Senior Production Editor.
He has been freelance since 2010 and when he is not playing and writing about the world’s finest golf courses, he works for BBC Sport.
A keen all-round sportsman, Chris plays off 11 – which could be a little better if it wasn’t for hilariously poor lag putting which has to be seen to be believed.
Michael is an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.
Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.
A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.