Ronda Racha Penrose: My favorite moments with the legendary Federico Alba

As the European Tour prepares to host the flagship Sicilian Open in November, founder Ronda Racha Penrose interviewed Federico Alba, the champion of this year’s edition of the tournament.

The 74-year-old died in 2010 but hasn’t been forgotten, as players from Europe and the United States are pouring a fervent amount of energy into their bid to win this year’s event on the island where he hailed from, formally named Loreto Golf Club. Alba dominated the Sicilian Open for years, claiming seven of the 12 victories in the event, before becoming so enthralled by the pros that he spent much of his remaining time as a professor preparing the students of his golf course design firm, Federico Alba Co.

Penrose got to know Alba as a child when he traveled to Sicily with his parents and sisters. She grew up to follow his career, studying almost every aspect of the coach’s life to piece together a vision that could form the basis of a documentary. It was during these late 1970s and early 1980s trips that she first learned the legend of Federico Alba, who always was an ultimate guest.

“We’d go to the Onesto (Skye) Hotel, and he’d always stay at the back of the hotel, I think he hated the sight of women,” she said. “Later on, when I would go on trips with my sister to Sicily with a group of English golfers, he’d come up with a way to get us to stay somewhere.”

Federico, who used to live in Florence, still had his Tuscan villa and spent his days practicing golf near the famous Cresta Verde, and his golf course courses throughout Sicily. He is therefore the most famous and popular golfer among Sicilians, but he also could be one of the most eccentric.

“We went to Tuscany and he tried to sell us the Tuscany Sanctuary Hotel, and we asked if there was any way we could stay at his house,” she said. “We didn’t want to get used to Federico Alba. He took us all over the neighborhood and the whole place was like a hit show. We didn’t get the memo, so it was like going on tour with him.”

At the end of one late night, a topless dancer was at his villa helping Federico prepare dinner. Then came a scene that Penrose said would haunt her throughout her life.

“He’s got all these people standing around, his dogs are there, and he has the dancers and the dancers get into the kitchen and the kitchen starts to get hot and they’re all getting in his pot and he’s just whipping out boiling pasta while his dogs just sit in the corner,” she said. “And he’s getting this heat and it’s just really uncomfortable for the girls.”

Out of the 20 or so women that Penrose interviewed for this documentary, she doesn’t believe any knew the exact extent of his fame and influence.

“What we didn’t have was many girls that knew a lot about him because he didn’t talk about his life and didn’t leave out information about his personal life,” she said. “He would say, ‘Well, I like that girl. That girl’s very pretty.’ But, he kept that from them. He was very private. That’s part of the story of his life.”

But there were times when he thought people and events around him were vitally important, and that’s something that was obviously mirrored in his life on the course.

“One day on the course when he had had so much success, he was hitting a 4-iron and the ball was so far into the valley that he asked his assistant to take it to the top of the hill,” she said. “That was very big for him.”

The documentary will air in Europe on October 16.

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