What in heaven’s name is gorging on pizza at a golf course?

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Hundreds of golfers – men and women – say the island paradise is the only place on earth to play the sport

Lunchtimes are usually a lighthearted time. In modern society they are spent loudly picking at a forkful of pasta or munching on a slice of cheese and tomato pizza, but golf is different.

Somewhere at a golf course, the Irish are changing the course

Rather than people eating and drinking to excess, lunch is spent speaking and joking with fellow amateurs. The Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) estimates around 10% of the people who play golf in the US are gay.

You don’t need to be a dashing golf star to make it in this popular sport, as golfers from different ages and physical shapes show.

A 75-year-old nun takes a practice swing. Photograph: Domenico Stinellis/AP

Senior citizens are particularly popular at links courses, with more than a million older golfers playing the game, compared with around 65,000 under 30.

Golfers eat lunch near a sand trap at Lake Sophia golf course. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

More than 1,500 courses have been built in the United States over the past 30 years.

Golfers take a lunch break while playing golf at Lake Sophia golf course. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Curry and matchstick pizza have never been better. Photograph: Jan Lopatka/EPA

The Australian chef John Hartley-Martin oversees the restaurant at Canale Golf Club, near Palermo, Sicily, which opened in the 1960s. It employs seven men and four women and now gets around 2,000 people eating lunch and playing golf a day.

A famous golf course in Sicily. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Water hazards are rarely just water hazards. They are usually include a dizzying array of obstacles such as sand traps, boulders, walls, trees, slopes, pumpkins, golf balls, even statues.

Golfers huddle around a water hazard. Photograph: Jan Lopatka/EPA

Even ordinary dinner tables and bonfires that once provided shelter in the hot summer sun are part of the traditional ambience.

The course’s co-founder, Roberto Pagliuca, said he wanted to create a backdrop for golf’s top players, “and to go in a different direction by introducing a kind of surprise and an air of adventure”.

Crowds of football fans on the streets of Sicily Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

Lake Sophia, the course’s main hub, is the place to be seen for livelier outings, such as diving with whale sharks or strolling through ancient Palermo. The course is the only one in Sicily to be charged by VAT.

“When you think about it, all golf courses are perfect,” says Pagliuca. “Lake Sophia is an example of perfection.”

A million-dollar course, a Mediterranean sunset and a spectacular sunset. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

There is also a gorgeous view of the mountains from the water near the Lake Sophia complex. It is a setting which does little to banish doubt.

Like many courses, Lake Sophia was restored after a brutal war fought between Italy and France between 1456 and 1500. It was destroyed by the French in their defeat at the Battle of Vesuvius in 1482. The land was then handed over to the Corsican King Quintin Cristiani.

Commuters walking along the rail tracks at Canale Golf Club. Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

This is how history repeats itself, says Buccisi. “This is exactly how it started.”

After the war, the region was occupied by the Germans. In 1962 Buccisi’s father, Franco, was in Germany when he received the “the call”.

Italian coastguards used his father’s boat to rescue around 200,000 refugees, many of them black Africans fleeing the north African desert.

Two tourists take their dinner table overlooking Lake Sophia. Photograph: Antonio Peruzzi/EPA

After a few years of perfecting his golf, Buccisi wanted to build a course in Italy but was told by the authorities there was no demand for it.

Now Buccisi’s Lake Sophia is one of the best in Europe – and has come back to life.

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