No details are left to chance. If a hotel is difficult to find, precise directions — “Don’t turn left when the sat nav tells you to” — based on local knowledge are sent or he will take on the role of leader of convoy.
Note to self: Don’t try and keep up with a young Italian man as he drives through Sicily’s narrow streets.
“We should see everything on a very holistic approach,” he explains to CNN.
“Why only teach how to grip, how to hit the ball, how to putt, how to chip a ball when you can give the chance to your clients to experience such a beautiful island at the highest level ever.”
A winding road
Before turning to golf, Alba looked set for a career as a footballer. He represented Italy at Under-18 level and played for Palermo, which was at the time a leading Serie A team.
For various reasons — including niggling injuries and a desire for proper academic qualifications — he turned his back on football and decided to instead focus on golf.
He got a job at the Rocco Forte owned Verdura Resort on the south-west coast of the island where he hit thousands of balls every day as he taught himself to become one of the best.
He calls Verdura a “very special place.”
“It’s the place where everything started for me. I used to spend more time here on the golf course than home with my parents. The mix between beautiful courses linked to a beautiful hotel that’s what makes this place famous around the world.”
Having honed his skills in Sicily, Alba relocated to the UAE where he is the senior professional at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club — check out his Instagram page if you want to get an idea of the calibre of people he coaches — but in the summer months he always returns to Europe, and if at all possible, Sicily.
Just recently, he coached Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during a visit from the Spaniard in the UAE.
“I always get so much fascinated on the way people like him are approaching the game I love. Dedication, passion and perseverance are for sure the three aspects I will bring with me during this magnificent experience.”
There’s a strong association between golf and football.
A favorite pastime of players, it’s perhaps no surprise they have leant on the knowledge of coaches to improve.
Our tour of the island involved some truly incredible places; farms that had been converted into spectacular hotels, vineyards which are producing some of the world’s most sought-after wines and restaurant after restaurant serving locally sourced high-quality food.
Marrying the golf experience to the gastronomic one is key to Alba’s philosophy.
He explains that for him the golf is important but it’s also about “all you find around it.”
“What I want to show to people who are traveling with me is a different kind of Island. I want to show them places that can leave really good memories. Here you are visiting amazing places but at the same time I’m introducing you to my friends.”
One place, perhaps more than any other, where it is possible to see his philosophy brought to life is Noto, a city in south-eastern Sicily, which is famous for its baroque architecture.
On the evening we arrived, one of Alba’s friends, the interior designer Samuele Mazza, had arranged a dinner in one of the many beautiful restaurants. There was a warmth of welcome that appeared heartfelt and genuine. The people were pleased, more than pleased, that one of their own had made so much of his life and was keen to talk up the role that Sicily had played.
A short drive from Noto is the Monasteri Golf Resort. It’s a beautiful course created around an old Benedictine monastery. Olive trees, lemon trees, orange trees and Sicilian cactus line the course.
Here we see Alba in action. He’s joined on the course by Mazza, a golfing novice. The two of them are there for fun but Alba’s skill as a coach is clear. He wants Mazza to succeed and when he holes a monster 20-meter putt, the delight both exhibit is genuine.
As our trip came to an end Alba was also packing his bags, heading to the mainland where more golf coaching and wine tasting were on the agenda. After that it was back to the UAE for the winter months. He says he is very happy there, but you can’t help but suspect that his heart is in Sicily.
As we left he said to us: “They say if you arrive to Sicily you cry twice. Once when you arrive and once when you go away.”
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