Time for tee on the Ponte Vecchio

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - Top golfers are used to pursuing their handsome living in all parts of the globe but the International Approach Championship provides an unusual setting even for these hardened travelers.

File photo shows Swedish golfer Robert Karlsson following the flight of his tee shot during the Ponte Vecchio Golf Challenge at Florence, Dec. 6, 2003. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Set in Florence, the event had an elite field of players from 16 countries contesting a relatively meager first prize of $25,000 in a form of target golf from surely the sport’s most outlandish tee location -- the ancient Ponte Vecchio.

Built in 1345 and used for centuries by a wide variety of traders, the bridge now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to the historic Italian city every year.

According to local tradition, the concept of bankruptcy originated on the Ponte Vecchio.

Traders who could no longer pay their taxes had the table on which they sold their wares (il banco) broken (rotto) -- hence banco-rotto (bankrupt) -- so they could trade no more.

Led by twice U.S. Masters champion Bernhard Langer, the purveyors of golfing skills on view for the International Approach Championship of 2007 in December, were in no danger of having their staples of business broken by anyone -- except themselves, perhaps, from frustration.

The tournament was conceived by Romano Boretti, who runs the Conte of Florence clothing company and wanted do something spectacular for Florence from the new millennium.

He thought of playing golf shots off the battlements of the old bridge and over seven years the event grew in popularity to become the international attraction it is now.


The rules of the tournament were simple but provided a fiendishly awkward golfing challenge which attracted a field also including 2002 U.S. PGA champion Rich Beem to chilly Florence while the rest of their counterparts were roasting chestnuts by a roaring fire or soaking up the sun somewhere.

The players were challenged with hitting 20-ft-square greens a distance of 50 to 140 meters on the River Arno from the famous old bridge.

Difficult enough and not assisted by the hundreds of pre-Christmas sightseers who often failed to observe traditional golf etiquette of silence while the ball was struck.

Indeed many of the spectators even allowed their camera flashes to go off during the golfers’ back-swing, a crime usually punished by a frogmarch off the course during a more routine tournament.

Langer and his opponents barely turned a hair. The German is the epitome of concentration and even a pre-event carriage ride which went awry when the horse bolted a short distance failed to upset his equilibrium.

He progressed to the semi-finals but took defeat there in his stride.

“The family and me are taking a skiing holiday in Italy before spending Christmas in Germany and we thought it would be nice to stop off in Florence first. You always want to do well, though, in anything you do,” he told Reuters.

Briton David Lynn and Swiss Andre Bossert reached the final in temperatures of minus-three Celsius where the latter’s decision to wear three layers of clothes paid dividends with eventual victory.

“I guess you can call me a bridge specialist now,” Bossert told Reuters.

Editing by Jon Bramley