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Europe's Robert MacIntyre plays from a green-side bunker on the 16th hole during practice ahead of the 44th Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

Rome: On a clear day St. Peter’s Basilica can be seen from the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club that provides the stage for three days of golfing theatre that only the Ryder Cup can conjure.

And for the 24 players representing Europe and the United States in the 44th edition of the biennial tussle, just east of Rome, a little divine intervention might be required.

Built on farmland in the late 1980s, the course was completely remodelled by European Golf Design as part of Rome’s bid and work was completed in 2021.

Successful staging in Paris

The result has been spectacular with a course befitting the Ryder Cup’s first foray into Italy, following a hugely successful staging in Paris in 2018.

As many as 50,000 fans are expected to watch the action unfold on each of the three days at a venue designed to provide a ‘stadium golf’ experience.

The hilly terrain means fans stomping the grounds will have plenty of amphitheatre-like vantage points while huge grandstands dot the course — the one on the first tee featuring 5,000 Azzurri blue seats.

While those lucky enough to have tickets will revel in the setting, the golfing gladiators trying to deliver points for their teams could be excused a mild sense of trepidation mixed with the excitement of the battle ahead.

Test of endurance

Physically, the par-71 lay-out will be a test of endurance while those ready to take it on will do so at their own risk.

“The rough’s thick, it’s pretty penal,” Europe’s Tommy Fleetwood told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not going to give you many favours and it’s not going to give you much luck.

“It’s just a demanding tee-to-green course, it really is.”

While the match is on European soil, the turf itself has a very American flavour with the seeds provided by partner companies Pure Seed and Atlas Turf International, who were responsible for the pitches at the football World Cup in Qatar.

Course to Europe's choice

“The architect really has to have the turf in mind as he starts to design the course,” John Holmes, President of Atlas Turf International, told Reuters.

A heat-tolerant variety of seed named Pure Distinction has been used for the greens, Pure Dynasty on the dark green TV-friendly fairways and for the dreaded rough a Pure Links Fescue Blend, which Holmes promises will be penal.

Despite the North American origins of the turf, Europe’s captain Luke Donald will have set the course up to his choice, as is customary for the home skipper.

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Team Europe's Tyrell Hatton during a practice round ahead of the Ryder Cup. Image Credit: Reuters

Challenge to both teams

Five years ago in Paris the Americans struggled on the slower-paced greens and lean fairways, but Donald’s counterpart Zach Johnson played down talk that his players will be at a disadvantage as they seek to retain the trophy and win in Europe for the first time in 30 years.

“I think it presents a challenge to both teams. I think the beauty of Marco Simone is that it already has a canvas that is really, really good, and so whatever Luke and his team decide to do to it, probably only enhances that,” Johnson told reporters.

“The rough is penal. It’s very difficult. But we’ve experienced that before. It’s going to present a challenge and you’ll need your entire arsenal working.” The 7,181-yard course is not overly long but it features the kind of high-risk temptations made for match play. There are three drivable par-fours, several par-fives reachable in two and numerous eagle opportunities down the last eight holes.

Local knowledge to come handy

But with nine semi-blind approach shots to elevated and undulating greens, liberties will be taken at owner’s risk.

Local knowledge will come in handy and in rookies Robert MacIntyre and Nicolai Hojgaard, Europe have two players who won the Italian Open on the same course in 2021 and 2022.

For the Americans it will be a step into the unknown.

“It’s definitely the best course I’ve ever played in Italy, hands down,” said debutant Patrick Cantlay, before admitting it is the only course he has experienced in Italy.

“We’ve just got to get comfortable, learn the golf course and we should be good to go.”