Argentina Golf Tour, October 2006
My name is Bob North, I’m a 67 years old English writer and live most of the year both in London and Cape Town (chasing the warm). I decided go on a tour to the Southern hemisphere golf writing a comparison between golf in the different Southern Continents.
I am arriving to Argentina and planning to write about the highlights of my trip visiting wich are said to be the most important golf destinations here…. Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, Patagonia and Ushuaia…
Buenos Aires, Argentina
After the excitements of Rio I was going to play golf in Argentina, and most of its golf destinations, wondering what will Buenos Aires have in store? Evita? Maradona? The famous nightlife? The best steaks in the world? I am excited!!
The view from the air was limited but I could see the enormous Buenos Aires city lying to the west of the River Plate. It was flat but with interesting developments near the river. It would be long before I was there and exploring!
Agustin – one of 4 partners of Discover Golf, who arranged my trip, met me. It was apparent from the start that the whole trip was organised to the last detail but there was still room for flexibility.
That was evidenced but the impromptu city tour we went on. Agustin and his colleague Sebastian are young scratch golfers and not tour guides but they took me on a tour that was amusing as well as informative. We first went to the artist area of Caminito with its street restaurants, bars, pavement tango dancers and vibrantly painted corrugated iron houses Caminito. We toured the different architectural city areas; we saw the government pink house and congress and we even went on the subway – surely one of the most old fashioned in the world.
The waterfront I had seen from the air is a heaving development of bars, restaurants and shops with some stunning looking girls and very fashionable men – plus inevitable a fairly large gay community. Not for me on either the gay or the fashion front! As we toured we ‘got on’, we went for a few beers and then I was invited to join Sebastian’s family Sunday evening dinner –the family meet in the same Buenos Aires restaurant every Sunday at about 9pm and whoever is available just turns up. This night there were 13 family and 3 of us – ‘friends’ who were treated as family. Two grandmothers, father and mother, one aunt, four cousins, two brothers and two girlfriends and the ‘friends’ sat down to an amazing meal with chorizo and cheese starters, the best steak I could have tasted and a special apple tart with ice cream all washed down with copious quantities of red wine.
Father turned out to be one of the best golfers ever from Argentina. He had represented the country for 16 years and was a six time amateur champion. His biggest regret was that he missed the cut for The Open at St Georges in 1978 when he was one shot off qualifying at Littlestone. We had a lot to talk about and Miguel spoke enough English for us to talk golf for ages! What a fantastic golf welcome to Buenos Aires.
A little golf in Buenos Aires
Monday is a day that most golf courses shut for maintenance so we set off to La Orquidia Golf about an hours drive North of the centre of Buenos Aires. It is a course set in the middle of an Estancia – originally designed for the private use of the owner. And he did not skimp on some of the design aspects. There are 24 greens – five holes with alternative green options and one ‘spare’ hole; one par three that can also be a par 4 and vice versa. It has flexibility! Although it is not the best condition course I have ever played it is an enjoyable golfing experience Except for one particular hole where the owner’s refusal to cut down any trees at all means that the second shot on the 14th has to be carried 200 yards over a 50’ high stand of trees! Not my ideal second and of course I ended up in the forest and with a six! The finish of the next four holes made up for that – particularly the 17th and 18th – great holes anywhere. The changing, bar and food facilities were limited and my girl would have been totally disappointed by the limited pro- shop. But there were so few people on the course and the only audible sounds were of the birds and nature so it turned out to be a great place to start – and I halved with Sebastian Prado the 2006 Buenos Aires Golf Club champion!!
Tuesday is almost as quiet as Monday except the courses are open so I was able to play at the serious courses – and they were. San Andres Golf Club – St Andrews – is a 40 minute drive from the centre still in the outskirts of the city. It is a tree lined course with 3 – 6 “ rough. You have to hit it straight! There are some great long par 4’s, it was in very good condition and the greens were fast and true. The club is 99 years old and the changing and bar facilities looked original, the pro-shop virtually non-existent but the course was a very good test – a bit like Stellenbosch and George in South Africa.
For lunch we went to the Buenos Aires Golf Club and then played 9 of the 27 holes in the afternoon. This is totally different again – it is a modern style course with two massive lakes and water on 14 holes. It was the course for the World Cup of golf in 2000, won by Tiger Woods and David Duval. Accordingly it looked really tough of the back tees but was a fair test off our tees and the rough was not so penal. If you miss the water you make a good score. What a very pleasant afternoon.
Tango Night in Buenos Aires!
After the debacle of the Rio samba show I was a little concerned about La Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango Dinner Show but how different it was….. Firstly it seemed that there were mainly Argentineans present, all seemed devotees. Secondly the 3-course meal was excellent (T-bone steak included). Thirdly the red wine was plentiful and free! Fourthly the show was so professional and excellent. I just happened to have a front row table and had the company of two gays and a ‘fag-hag’ from Sao Paulo who were great fun. Of course we discussed the economic situation and politics in Brazil! I was mesmerised for 90 minutes. How on earth can you dance like that? It must take years of practise. 9.5 out of ten for Buenos Aires compared with the 0.5 for Rio!!!
Disaster strikes – I am shot!
The next morning I was up early and taken to Pilar Golf Club. Pillar golf is holding the Argentine open in four weeks time and this was one of the last opportunities to play before it was shut for final preparation. Gonzalo, my 5 handicap golf guide, took me and we were looking forward to a tight match. Unfortunately after my first drive I felt as if I had been shot in the calf and was left writhing on the ground. Ice was packed on to no avail and we had to abandon the golf and could only tour the course in a buggy – which made it even worse as it looked a fantastic course with some real testing holes, particularly alongside the water.
Lunch had been organised at an Estancia Carabassa (Pilar) and I had images of a rather touristy macho gaucho affair. It couldn’t have been further than the reality. Gonzalo had organised a private lunch at a friend’s own Estancia. See the photos. It was amazing with such a selection of Hors’ Douvres and the seven different meats plus Argentine black pudding and three types of sausage! All followed by a red fruit ice cream and strawberries dipped in chocolate!
The only sounds were the birds and the occasional hoof beat of the neighbouring Argentine polo HQ. Really special. I was then whisked off to see Buenos Aires leading Orthopaedic doctor to look at the shot calf. Apparently I am one of 30% of the population who still have a tiny muscle attached to the Achilles tendon and this has ruptured. We are more related to Neanderthals than Homo Sapiens. (At least I think that is what he said!) One cortisone injection, a bandage and some new anti-inflamatories and I was on my way and I have to admit it is a little better as I write. Thank you Dr. Valls and to Gonzalo for getting me there.
The People and the Life in Argentina
The people of Argentina have really impressed me as always trying to be friendly. For some reason they seem to work out that I am English speaking – even if I have only said ‘gracias’, – they then try their little bit of English and are interested to know where I am from, what I am doing etc.. If they can speak a bit more they all want to know if I like Argentina. – And is it better than Brazil? I certainly tell them I do really appreciate Argentina and that it is very difficult to compare it with Brazil because they are from the Portuguese! That seems to amuse them! There is not a lot of love lost between the two!
The only exception was the guide from ‘Tiempo Libre’ – Mariano – in Ushuaia who tried to be a ‘con artist’. He got away with charging P$160 for the 6km transfer to the golf and back and tried it on with other excursions and a rival fishing trip. He didn’t catch me twice! Avoid ‘Tiempo Libre’!
Argentina has been amazing. Buenos Aires is a buzzy capital with a European feel to much of the architecture. It has all that you would expect of a modern capital city in terms of shopping restaurants and entertainment. Dinner does not even start until 9.00 pm. I am told that there are clubs that cater for all tastes and the nightlife goes on. You can dance, eat or watch a show until about 4am. The discos start at about 2 am and don’t finish until 8 am.
Mar del Plata may finish slightly earlier but it is a seaside holiday city with a massive choice of restaurants, bars and a Casino. Bariloche was quieter but it is up-market specially in the winter when it caters for the skiing set. In summer its’ clientele is much more of the walker, climber, cyclist and water sport enthusiast etc. but there is apparently some of the best fishing in South America and there are hundreds of brochures and booklets on the fly fishing rivers of Patagonia. It also seems to be an artistic centre with exhibitions of local paintings of all styles.
Ushuaia was ugly but there was so much to do you would need a week there to see it all. I was sorry that the winds meant that the flight over the Beagle Channel was cancelled and I couldn’t see the glaciers from the air.
A little history!
Argentina was first colonised in the 1600s and only gained independence in 1816 – less than 200 years ago. We were talking of the Roman invasion of Britain and somehow that seemed to serve to emphasise how young this country is. The early settlers wiped out most of the indigenous Indians and they say that there are only fifty left today.
Argentina was also one of the top five economies in the world in the 30s and 40s but it is now regarded as one of the classic cases of disintegration. The government overspent. Peron oversaw the deterioration of the economy with huge ‘bribes’ to the poor electorate and eventually the Peso nosedived. There were some ten years of stability in the 90s when the Peso was tied to the US $ but the policy of ‘one Peso for one $’ was unable to last and it resulted in massive devaluation with the Peso deteriorating to 4 Peso to the $. It is now at 3 per $ or 6 Peso to the £ – which is one of the reasons why local goods and services are so cheap for us visitors.
A few Argentinean quirks are
- No plugs in the bathrooms.
- They eat a lot of salt but try getting pepper!
- Argentinean time is not prompt.
- The flush to WC is hidden in the side of cistern.
- Their favourite group is the Rolling Stones.
- They are very serious about Maradona – he is the greatest – there is no room for debate.
- There are no learner drivers.
- Dinner doe not even start until 9 pm.
- They drink Fernet Ughh!
Special mentions have to go to.
- Miguel Angel Prado and his family for welcoming me to the family supper and for his continuing interest in my travels.
- Gonzalo’s father for his hospitality and to sister Carolina for the superb desert. And I have to mention Sebastian’s homemade pasta. Even I thought it was superb!
- Gonzalo for organising the private Estancia Carabaza lunch – and to Maria who served us.
- Dr Jose for the miracle cure to the ‘shot’ leg.
- The Brazilian gays for the banter at the tango show.
- Christopher Hope for his insights into the recent economic situation, his company and his talents as a golf partner.
- Neco for the meal at ‘Viento en Popa’.
- Jose Luis for the time to tell me all the Jack Niclaus’ stories during the making of Chapelco Golf Resort.
- Ignacio at Los Pioneeros for the best steak in Argentina.
- Silvina for the upgrade on the Bariloche flight.
- Guillermo Gomez the pro at Ushuaia for his welcome.
- Micky for the fishing and especially the ‘asado’.
- ‘The boys’ Nico, Gonzalo, Agustin & Sebastian for their wonderful organisation and hospitality.
- Maria at Estancia Carabaza.
The Golf Organisation
I would like to pay tribute to the organisation provided by Discover Golf.
I have never experienced golf organisation anywhere in the world like the service provided by Discover Golf. It has been exceptionally good. It seems to me that the clubs are not really organised to take visitors and I am so glad I found Discover Golf to get me through the maze of booking at the individual golf clubs, finding my way there and then getting on to the tee! I tried using the Internet and totally failed. The clubs don’t seem to quite know what they are doing, never mind the complication of getting caddies or finding a changing room. The guys at Discover Golf did everything from the transfer from my hotel to getting me in to the club, on to the tee (with caddy or cart included), though halfway, in to the bar, out of the restaurant and home again. They provide clubs (free of charge) if you need them, will play with you at no cost and help with restaurants, show bookings etc. The 4 principals of the business that I met all went out of their way to make sure that everything happened to give me the best possible experience.
I could not fault them at all and cannot recommend them too highly.
I am obviously not the only one. Look at their excellent web site and their guest book
Bob North, London, UK