ROME — Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna’s “green dream” is turning into reality.
The 2022 Ryder Cup is three years away, but preparations for the international golf event are in full swing — no pun intended — at Biagiotti Cigna’s Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Guidonia, outside Rome. This is the first time the Ryder Cup will be played in Italy, following England, Scotland, Spain, Ireland, Wales and France as European nations to host the biennial contest between Europe and the U.S.
“The whole area is named Marco Simone after a philosopher and a doctor to the pope in the second half of the 1400s — a pretty fascinating character,” explained the designer during a tour, passing through rows of olive trees. “In the late 1970s, my parents bought this estate with the idea of living and working in the same place, establishing the headquarters here, and actually, as you can see, our logo has the shape of the castle’s tower, so there’s this identification with and love for this area, which I think is a very Italian characteristic – I can think of other fantastic colleagues such as Brunello Cucinelli, who have strongly rooted their companies in the territory, supporting it and supporting the arts.”
Her late parents, Laura Biagiotti and Gianni Cigna, at the end of the Eighties decided to build a golf course, taking advantage of the sprawling grounds, covering 150 hectares, and designed by the famed golf course architect Jim Fazio. “Sustainability and legacy were already key for my parents back then,” she said.
The 18-hole course, which hosted the Open d’Italia in 1994 and in 2016 became part of the prestigious European Tour Destination selection of clubs, is being renovated and modeled after a design by the European Golf Design and Fazio’s son, Tom, also a renowned specialist architect.
Biagiotti Cigna touted the sustainability of the operation and the “sophisticated and advanced irrigation system to respect the environment as much as possible, and we have a purifier nearby so we will be able to re-use the water,” she said.
The works began in September last year and the first phase is completed. The first big event, the Italian Open, will be held in 2021. “The true challenge was to keep the course operative throughout,” said Biagiotti Cigna in her sunny way, pointing to a group of players. “We liked the motto ‘playing the future,’ as each day we see the changes on the course. It’s like making a dress, but it takes more time and you deal with nature and if it rains…One must be more patient than with fashion, you have a more zen approach to life.”
The works are expected to span over two years and the goal is to also renovate the clubhouse, which is the biggest in Europe, covering 75,600 square feet.
“My parents were not golf players and when they imagined this course, they were visionary entrepreneurs — as they were undaunted by showing in China,” Biagiotti Cigna said of her mother’s fashion show in that country in 1988, the first for an Italian brand. “They wanted to offer a big international structure to Rome, where there are many beautiful golf courses, such as the storied Acquasanta or the Olgiata, but nobody had this kind of space and the capability to host a big event. So they were avant-garde because in the Nineties, this was even too big for what the golf business was in the region at that time.”
The designer also underscored their love for Rome and the restoration of such landmarks as the sloping road designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti on the Capitoline Hill or the fountains on Piazza Farnese through Laura Biagiotti Parfums’ Roma and Roma Uomo scents.
After her father’s death in 1996, Biagiotti Cigna joined the company at 18, flanking her mother and focusing on the core fashion business, and the Marco Simone estate remained a side business, “a declaration of love for the territory,” she said, as it is open to the public. Five years ago, the designer decided to change strategy, involving families, women, international champions, while the brand’s strong fragrance business, Laura Biagiotti Parfums, sponsored champions such as Francesco Molinari, “a hero,” she said, the first Italian to win a British Open last year.
“It’s been an enormous satisfaction for us, I guess it was the right moment to believe in golf,” Biagiotti Cigna said with a laugh.
The designer started to think that she could bridge fashion and golf, which were previously entirely separated from one another, and she began to see many young players at Marco Simone. “I am so proud to see so many young Italian champions in different golf categories. This means that our kids, our teams have worked well, they have grown. Leaving a legacy to the new generations is the real objective of all this because I have been privileged as a child to grow in this context and so what I am doing here is to leave a legacy to the territory but also to many kids. Many are from this area, they had never played golf, they came here and became champions.
“This I believe is perhaps the most beautiful thing I learned from fashion, from my mother Laura to invest in the future. This is what happens in fashion, looking at the next generations. I think of Franca Sozzani and what she has done for young designers, for example. In golfing, this was not done enough or at least we had not done this enough.” The Ryder Cup is an added incentive to be more engaged, she said.
The upgrade of the course is to make it more challenging and to accommodate 1 million visitors expected over one week, while also respecting the land and the “natural amphitheaters” in the countryside. “The last Ryder Cup in Paris drew 60,000 to 70,000 people per day plus all the teams and staff,” said Biagiotti Cigna, who, while not committing to a potential fashion collection associated with the Ryder Cup, conceded it was a possibility.
Biagiotti Cigna, who with her mother over the years asked several sports champions to walk on the brand’s runways, said she will “never forget when we got the call on Dec. 14, 2015, with the news that Marco Simone would host the cup, after two years as a candidate, beating Germany, Austria and Spain. Germany is a super-strong country that has 600,000 golf players and Italy has 90,000. Spain has 350,000 players, so Italy was considered the Cinderella candidate and everyone told me I was wasting my time. But I thought it would be an experience that would allow to bring management and staff to the next level and that it was the right thing to do. Also this is a project for the country and we are working with CONI [the Italian Olympic Committee], the Italian Golf Federation, local institutions and the mayor of Guidonia. My dream was to transform Marco Simone into what it was born for.”