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|The No. 7 hole at Itapua Golf Club is by far the best the course has to offer (GolfPublisher.com)|
SALVADOR DA BAHIA, Brazil - Walking off the course at Itapua Golf Club at the Sofitel Hotel in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, Sao Paulo residents Alexandre Rui Chammas and Andre Helmeister looked hot and bemused.
"It's better having a course here than not having it," said Helmeister, trying to justify his time on the course.
"No, it's not," Rui Chammas said. Such is the experience at Itapua - sure it's a place to hit some golf balls, but there are just better things to do in Salvador.
While the popularity of golf is on a slow but steady upswing in Brazil, apparently no one told the folks at Itapua. Terrible conditions and an unimaginative layout dominate this nine-hole course, which is connected to the Hotel Sofitel Salvador. That makes for an interesting paradox.
While the golf course is lousy in every imaginable judging criterion, the connected hotel is top-class, as one would expect from an Accor-owned establishment. In fact, the quality of the hotel makes the golf course's lack of quality stand out all that much more.
The course itself is nine holes, though it's marked so that you can play twice around for a full 18. Basically, you're just playing the same exact nine holes again, as there are no alternate tee placements for a second nine.
You'll be walking your round, as there are no carts available, but instead caddies. While the caddies are pleasant, knowledgeable about the game, and make an effort to speak English, the fact that the temperatures in Salvador are generally in the high-90s during the summer makes the walk a tough one, even with someone carrying your bag.
There's water on the course, but it rarely comes into play, making the layout that much more dull. Homes are placed near the course sporadically, particularly annoying on the No. 3 hole, which was shortened to a par 3, with the new "tee box" placed in the middle of the fairway.
"They were complaining of balls hitting their houses, so we had to change the hole," caddie Enivaldo Souza Santos said sheepishly.
That such a chain as Accor would have this course on their grounds falls into the category of perplexing. The conditioning of the course is nightmarishly bad, as fairways feature uneven grass, some areas burned, some areas three or four inches high. The greens are virtually unplayable.
The clubhouse is a snack bar. The little equipment they have to rent or sell is out-of-date. A bag of six tees will run you $3 (U.S.). Even the hotel management understands there are big problems.
"We are aware the golf course needs many upgrades," Sofitel's Marcos Palmeiras said. "We are looking to do them soon." If you need an outdoor activity, head to the beach less than 10 minutes away, and use the green fees of around $40 (U.S.) to buy souvenirs for everyone in your family. Or if you really want to play golf, you'll need to head about 40 miles away to play at Costa do Sauípe, which gets raves from local golfers. But by all means, avoid Itapua.
The Hotel Sofitel Salvador is a remarkably nice hotel, with a strong resort feel. They have an excellent pool area, a sprawling workout room, restaurants, several bars and a dutiful staff. Rooms will run from $100-$200 (U.S.) with plush suites available. Located conveniently near the beach and Salvador's many tourist areas, it's a very solid choice for a home base for a Bahia vacation.
Down the street is the Catussaba Resort Hotel, which is the only hotel in Salvador with full beach access. Four interconnected pools are the main hangout for guests, with the Atlantic Ocean perhaps a 30-second walk from there. While it doesn't quite measure up to Sofitel as a hotel, the beach access and scenic qualities Catussaba offers make it an outstanding place to stay, for roughly the same price of $100-$200 (U.S.) a night.
The Hotel Sofitel Salvador is located a short drive from the main downtown Salvador area, making its many restaurants and scenic areas easily accessible. As a beach city, Salvador is seafood lover's paradise.
Nearby places to dine at include Mistura Fina and Yemanja. Both specialize in seafood, and are short trips from the resort. Try the mocequa - a large stew made with onions, tomatoes and coconut milk that will be combined with huge portions of crab, shrimp or lobster. It's a true Brazilian dish that easily transfers to international taste buds.
Another Salvador favorite is called acaraje. Made from deep-fried black-eyed peas, it's a slightly spicy snack that you can get stuffed with shrimp. Acaraje da Cera has two locations in town, and that's where the locals go to fill up on their favorite snack.
If you're visiting Salvador, one must take a side trip down Avendia Octavio Mangabeira, which runs parallel to the ocean. Finding a driver to take you on a tour and point out historical locations is usually easy and cheap enough.
The trip should take you down past the famous lighthouse and to Mercado Modelo, a great flea market where you can buy whatever souvenirs you are after, as its one of the largest markets for handcrafts in Brazil. There are also areas for food and live music throughout the day.
If you like the nightlife, Salvador is flat out heaven. It's Carnival all year in Salvador it seems, culminating in a massive blowout for the real Carnival in February.
If you're looking for a great place to hit the club scene, try Aeroclube Plaza Show - a former airport turned into an entertainment mall, with several dance clubs, and where you'll never be more than a few feet from being able to purchase your favorite libation.
While golf is still a fledgling sport in Brazil, the Brazilian government has created a "Department of Golf" to help rectify that problem.
March 10, 2006
William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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