Bienvenidos – Golfing in Buenos Aires – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Bienvenidos – Golfing in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina

For most American golfers, the idea of playing golf in a foreign land may not have much appeal these days. After all, don’t we have some of the finest golf courses in the world, private and public, right in our own back yard? And in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy, are we taking unnecessary risks?

Of course, travel to the Old Course at Saint Andrews may be an exception. But that’s different since that can be likened more to a “pilgrimage” instead of a “golf trip.” But in one respect, Scotland is a foreign country too, since they don’t even speak “English” there, either! I remember it all too well. I might have broken 90 at the venerable course if I had only understood half of what my caddie was telling me to do. I fared better communicating in elementary Spanish with the caddies in Argentina during a trip to Buenos Aires in September, 2004.

If you’re planning a golf trip abroad in the near future, seriously consider Buenos Aires as a viable, inexpensive, and safe destination. With over 50 different venues to choose from, it is considered the “golf capital” of South America. It’s said that when the British came to Argentina during the early 1900’s to build a railway network, they also built golf courses at practically every train station on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

At the top of the list, you’ll find Olivos Golf Club, Jockey Golf Club, Pilar Golf Club and Martindale Country Club. None of these exclusive courses cost over $50 USD for a round during the weekday. During the weekend, a visitor must be accompanied by a club member. Spend an additional $10 USD and you get a caddie; another couple of bucks will buy you a tasty ham sandwich and a beverage at the 19th hole.

I am not a sports journalist by profession and so, I have included a few venue photos to complement the meager narrative in this article. But enough said. Allow the pictures to tell you the real story instead. Judge each for yourself, for a picture as the Chinese say is “worth a thousand words.”

Olivos Golf Club

The Argentine flag waved proudly when my golf buddies and I arrived at Olivos that sunny morning last September. It was late Spring in Buenos Aires and as the seasons there are opposite ours in North America, the local flora was already in full bloom. Located approximately 25 miles north of Buenos Aires, Olivos has 3 “canchas”: Blanca (white), Colorada (red) and Azul (blue), playing 3379, 3330 and 3038 yards respectively from the back tees.

Los Olivos Golf Club
Los Olivos Golf Club
Founded in 1926, the Olivos Golf Club revealed all of the classic features and course design of a bygone era. The fairways are narrow and lined with mature trees. Still, Olivos with its traditional setting, conveys that universal greeting which seems to transcend even time, geography, politics, religion and race. To those who have a passion for golf, it simply says: “enjoy the game, for you are a guest and a friend.”

As a young boy during the 1950’s, I recall watching at the neighborhood theatre old “movietone” newsreels of President Eisenhower and Bing Crosby playing golf in Argentina. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Olivos Golf Club and the Jockey Golf Club were frequented by these famous gentlemen who were also known to be avid golfers. The great Argentine golfer, Roberto de Vicenzo, must have also enjoyed innumerable rounds of golf here, not to mention his country men and contemporary PGA members: Vicente Fernandez, Jose Coceres and Angel Cabrera.

Jockey Club Golf

The prestigious Jockey Club Golf in San Isidro, site of the 1970 World Cup, also harkens back to a bygone era. Designed by Alister Mackenzie on a flat piece of land a mere 20 minutes from Buenos Aires, this historical venue has 2 courses: the Red at 6,635 yards, par 72 and Blue at 6,229 yards, par 72. Incidentally, Mackenzie, one of the golfing world’s all-time classic designers, also designed Augusta National, Royal Melbourne and Crystal Downs.

Like Olivos, mature trees line practically every fairway at the Jockey Club compelling players to hit straight shots and shaping them at others, reflecting the popular course design and layout of that period. Considered to be a must-play for golfers visiting the area, the Jockey Club has hosted many notables, past and present, of the game including: Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson and young Sergio Garcia.

Pilar Golf Club

Pilar Golf Club
Pilar Golf Club
A truly memorable playing experience, the relatively new Pilar Golf Club is markedly different from Olivos and the Jockey Club in both layout and design. American golfers in particular, can feel right at home with its manicured greens, huge man-made ponds, and wide open fairways with swales lurking front and back at every turn. It was like playing at courses in Hawaii without the palm trees and the trade winds blowing the Pacific.

It has three different 9 hole “canchas”, namely: Azul (blue), Blanca (white), and Colorada (red). Cancha Colorada is the longest at 3,748 yards from the professional tees. Cancha Blanca is not as long as the Colorada at 3, 587 yards, but makes up for its shorter yardage with water at several holes.

Martindale Golf Club

Martindale Golf Club
Martindale Golf Club
The name itself doesn’t exactly conjure up images of Spain’s historical link to this land that is better known for its Tango and “gauchos”, Argentine cowboys. Still, Martindale can be a very tough course to play, featuring 27 holes dotted by a series of ponds and bunkers. Just ask former President George Bush Sr. who has played twice at Martindale according to Sebastian, our host and a local resident. Built in 1989, Martindale is a relatively popular venue in Buenos Aires and like Pilar, it is also about a hour’s drive from the city.

As we traversed from one hole to another, the fairways appeared longer in distance as well measuring 6,915 yards from the back tees. Events really took a turn for the worst as we approached the par 5, 529 yards, 17th water hole on the way back to the clubhouse. Fortunately, all our shots made it across safe and dry with a couple even landing on the green. It was a nice finish to a challenging but enjoyable round of golf at Martindale. We gave our caddies generous tips, treated them to lunch and thanked our gracious hosts for their hospitality.

And there you have it, a short account of what a visiting golfer can expect in Buenos Aires. Sure, you can engage yourself in other worthwhile activities. You can spend practically all day viewing the architecture of the Colon Opera house and other ornate buildings along the grand 9 Julio Avenue. These massive structures were built with money from cattle and grain that fed most of Europe during the two World Wars of the last century.

There is also the Tango. Its revival is the reason for the recent flux of tourist to Buenos Aires, fueled by the low exchange rate of the Argentine peso vis-a-vis the US dollar and the Euro. Tourists to Argentina now get more “bang” for their buck allowing them to dine well and make quality purchases at bargain prices.

For instance, I bought two excellent leather jackets for just $200 USD; the same jackets would have cost $600 USD in San Francisco. World famous Argentine beef is second to none in quality and price. Steak houses or “asadors” serve “bife de chorizo”, a huge boneless New York cut for less than $10 USD as pork, lamb, and goat is vertically roasted using long skewers in open fire pits inside large window displays, inviting pedestrians to feast. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Alas, if you’re not a serious golfer, nothing I say can persuade you to pack those clubs and haul them with you to Buenos Aires. But if you are a devoted patron of the game, no further explanation is necessary. If you are not, no explanation is possible.

Saludos y viva Argentina!

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