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|The Comandatuba Ocean Course is a Dan Blankenship design that blends the exotic landscape with solid play. (Courtesy Comandatuba)|
SALVADOR DA BAHIA, Brazil - Brazil is dedicated to golf. So dedicated, they actually have created a Department of Golf within its tourism department. Still, while golf is promoted, finding good places to play golf outside of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo can be difficult.
And while Salvador is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Brazil, golfers will be largely disappointed, with Itapua Golf Club the only course in town, a nine-holer that just isn't worth the effort.
But for those willing to take a drive or a flight, they'll find not only two of the best golf courses in the state, but two of the top in all of Brazil.
Costa do Sauipe Golf Links is one of those courses. Approximately a 60-minute drive north of Salvador in the city of Mata de Sao Joao, Costa do Sauipe Golf Links is a Brian Costello design that fully takes advantage of its glorious location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
"Most golfers that visit will want to play Costa do Sauipe," Salvador caddie Enivaldo Souza Santos said.
At nearly 7,000 yards from the tips, Costa do Sauipe is a championship course that played host to the 2005 Brazilian Open. Always in pristine condition, Costa Do Sauipe's reputation is gold throughout the country and features carts, driving range and a quality clubhouse with all the amenities.
"It's really one of the best courses in all of Brazil," said Sao Paulo resident and avid golfer Alexandre Rui Chammas. "They even have carts, which is rare for Brazil."
It will run you approximately $130 (U.S.) for a round-trip taxi ride to Costa do Sauipe, and if you aren't familiar with the roads of Bahia, having a driver is the best way to go. Also, you may be able to talk the fare down some.
Green fees will run anywhere from $100-$150 (U.S.), depending on the size of your group, time of year, and exchange rate. Plus, if you stay at one of the many hotels or resorts nearby, a deal can usually be had to play 18.
For those willing to go further, the Comandatuba Ocean Course was named the best course in Brazil in 2003 by Golf Digest and is located on Comandatuba Island.
From Salvador, Comandatuba is just a 30-minute flight, then just a 10-minute drive from the airport, which is privately owned by the Transamerica Hotel that dominates the island. The course is as much an ecological excursion as it is a golf experience, as monkeys, foxes, anteaters and a wide range of birds will be on full display.
Like Costa do Sauipe, the golf at Comandatuba will remind you of home, as the course was designed by American course designer Dan Blankenship. The setting may be wildly exotic, but the golf will be familiar. An 18-hole championship course that plays at nearly 7,000 yards from the tips, Comandatuba will challenge you with a respectable 72.9 rating.
It will usually run between $200-$250 (U.S.) for a round-trip flight from Salvador to Comandatuba, and then in the neighborhood of $150 to spend the night, which is advisable. Again, many factors come into play for the rates, so make sure to check well ahead of time and get a price set if you're looking to enjoy some of the best golf Brazil has to offer.
If you're going to golf in Costa Do Sauipe, you have nearly a dozen options for lodgings, from major, multi-national corporate resorts like Marriott, Renaissance and Breezes Super Club to smaller "pousadas" (bed and breakfast-type establishments). And if you plan on flying to Comandatuba Island, a night's stay at the TransAmerica Hotel will be well worth it.
For those basing their trips in Salvador, 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.
As a beach city, Salvador is seafood lover's paradise. Places to dine in Salvador include Mistura Fina and Yemanja. Both specialize in seafood, and are short trips from most major resorts. 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 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.
Brazil's Alexandre Rocha plays on the European Tour, the only Brazilian on one of golf's major tours.
March 31, 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.
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