Warts and all: Sicilian star of golf opens courses to the public

The actor Gianni Nunnari is credited with bringing the game of golf to the masses, but Federico Alba prefers a quieter existence in Sicily, where he teaches aspiring golfers and tells stories of the…

Warts and all: Sicilian star of golf opens courses to the public

The actor Gianni Nunnari is credited with bringing the game of golf to the masses, but Federico Alba prefers a quieter existence in Sicily, where he teaches aspiring golfers and tells stories of the island’s great golf courses to ordinary people.

By day, Alba teaches at a series of public courses in southern Sicily. By night, he’s “accidentally” offering an “important cultural service” by telling stories and conversing with ordinary people.

A photo posted by Federico Alba (@algamage) on Oct 5, 2017 at 7:38am PDT

Alba, 64, is one of the biggest stars in modern golf but says he was badly treated by his wealthy employer, the Italian director Gianni Nunnari, who released him from contract 10 years ago.

“His attitude is that of someone without a conscience,” he told AFP. “As a millionaire you are not the lord of the manor. You have to let others prosper.”

Alba was born in Verona in the now-dead Veneto. He was only 21 when Nunnari released him from contract to pay off debts and cover expenses, such as the financing of his cell phone and sponsorship costs for the Italian golfing association. Nunnari now runs a leading international agency representing golfers including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

So in 1995, the former corporate communications specialist took up a job as sales director at a golf course in northwest Sicily. That was when his life changed. Since then, he has opened 12 other golf courses across the island.

Alba has never forgotten his roots and believes in playing a role in his family’s profession. “Golf has enriched my family; we have had eight generations who have all played this sport and learned from their parents how to play,” he said.

Golf’s global appeal is part of its appeal. But Alba himself wasn’t always at the top of his game. It took seven years before he was actually called up to the Italian golf federation, where, upon his arrival, he was told he needed to get weight off his waist. “I was ridiculed. They asked me: ‘Are you a sheep or a calf?’ But I wanted to give lessons to children and teach them things about their God-given abilities,” he said.

Alba said that when Nunnari, a representative of a vast chain of cinemas, came to Sicily he offered the golfer an opportunity for movie-making. “I was invited to speak about golf and he decided that he needed an actor to play a player. He told me that golf had become so popular in Italy. It had been silent for some time but now people were starting to golf. So I should be seen as a golfer,” he said.

Gianni Nunnari. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

He was the right man. His movie, Golfero, starring Alba, opened in Italy in 2000. The film became a hit. In 2004, another Nunnari movie, The Padre Padre, opened in the US and grossed $10m in its first week.

But it was Nunnari who jettisoned Alba from his golf course franchise after 10 years of working together. Nunnari pulled a levy from the earnings of the golf courses they owned and, he says, Alba refused to pay.

The US car billionaire and philanthropist John DeLorean hosted Alba at his mansion in the hills outside Carpinteria, Sicily, and even hosted Alba for a radio interview in 1984, calling him “one of the best golfers in the world”.

“I would have given him 20 times what I got out of my association with him if the whole story had never surfaced. But what did I care? Life is a dish; you can taste what’s left of the thing before it’s eaten.”

• This article was amended on 15 October 2017 to add a statement from Federico Alba and a photo caption.

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