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On the road in Argentina: MacKenzie's Jockey Club timeless must-play classic

David R. HollandBy David R. Holland,
Senior Writer

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- On a late summer day on the world-acclaimed Jockey Club's Cancha Colorada (Red Course), a diminutive Argentine club pro agonizes over a three-putt on the par-4 second.

It's a contoured green that features humps, bumps, swales and many tales since this classic opened in 1930.

The club pro speaks little English, but you know what he's thinking. He looks up sheepishly and mutters, "MacKenzie." His eyes roll over the terrain, recording each dip and roll, registering them in his mind. Next time, he hopes, he'll be better prepared to match the fabled architect's challenge.

MacKenzie, of course, is Alister MacKenzie, one of the world's all-time classic designers, author of Cypress Point, Pasatiempo, Augusta National, Royal Melbourne and Crystal Downs.

Here, on a flat piece of land 20 minutes from downtown Buenos Aires, he sculpted Argentina's most talked about historical courses -- the Red (6,635 yards, par 72) and Blue (6,229 yards, par 72) in San Isidro. And in an era where everyone retools and remodels, some think these two courses have kept the spirit of MacKenzie's design thoughts alive.

The Jockey Club was built in an era virtually void of dirt-moving equipment. So, how did MacKenzie create two golf courses on flat land with so much undulation and those aggravating false fronts? Jokingly, he said it was easy. Just hire the biggest fool in town and tell him to create flat greens.

Anchored by its classic old-style English clubhouse, the Jockey Club is not the only reason to visit Argentina, but it is a must-play. It has hosted many greats of the game -- Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Jimmy Demaret, Henry Cotton, Paul Runyan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O'Meara, Tom Watson and even youngster Sergio Garcia has teed it up here.

Like the majority of the courses in this huge South American country, it's a private club, but stay at the downtown Four Seasons and doors will open for golf and at an amazingly affordable price that can even include a caddy. Many older courses don't even have golf carts.

The flavor of Argentina

Argentina is a bountiful land -- the Andes, jungles of the Misiones rain forests on the border with Paraguay, the Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, the world-renown Iguazu Falls next door to Brazil, the mountainous beauty of Patagonia and Bariloche and the end-of-the-world ruggedness of Tierra del Fuego.

The majority of its population lives in Buenos Aires, one of the largest cities in the world (11 million), where you can stroll the widest boulevard on the planet -- Avenida 9 de Julio in a capital city that has been called the Paris of South America.

And everything here is on sale -- since the December 2001 devaluation of the peso, Argentina has become a bargain. Once equal to the dollar, the peso is now a third of its former value.

Today you can fly from Miami on American Airlines, non-stop, and discover a land that blends the cultures of Europe and Latin America. Enjoy an affordable steak dinner or the local favorite asado -- char-broiled beef even a Texan couldn't sneer at.

Take in a tango hall or shop for $30 leather shoes in the ritzy Recoleta area where Evita's tomb draws thousands of tourists each year.

And by all means play golf. Celebrate Eduardo Romero's 50th birthday, and remember the other pros of Argentina -- British Open champ Roberto de Vicenzo, Angel Cabrera and Vicente Fernandez.

Here's a capsule look at some other golf options in Argentina:

Olivos Golf Club in Pilar

Olivos Golf Club, like many older courses in the Buenos Aires area, was born from Englishmen, who came to Argentina to build the railroads in the 1920's. Designed originally as 36 holes by Luther Koontz, today's 27-hole layout is a regular host on the Argentine Open rotation and actually outranks the Jockey Club on Golf Digest's ranking of Argentina golf courses.

This traditional tree-lined layout also includes water hazards and testy putting surfaces. De Vicenzo owns the course record at 63 and it has also hosted Ben Crenshaw, George Archer, Jack Nicklaus, Bernhard Langer, Lee Trevino, Vijay Singh, Payne Stewart, Paul Azinger and Nick Price.

Buenos Aires Golf Club in Bella Vista

Designed by the Houston-based firm of Robert von Hagge, with Kelly Blake Moran as lead architect, Buenos Aires Golf Club was host for the 2000 EMC World Cup won by the United States team of Tiger Woods and David Duval. It's a 30-minute cab ride from the downtown Four Seasons to the golf course.

BAGC is ranked No. 1 in Argentina by Golf Digest, and has hosted the Argentina Open won by Mark O'Meara. This 27-hole modern course is built around a huge system of connected lakes and wetlands, including some that are adjacent to elevated fairways. The fairways are sloped and excess rain funnels to the lakes and wetlands.

This is such an Americanized course, they even have golf carts, you might think you are in North Dallas. But it is also the most expensive course -- $100 including cart on weekdays.

Llao-Llao Hotel & Resort in Bariloche

How often can you relax in one of the "Leading Hotels of the World" and play golf within the borders of a national park? Llao Llao, just three hours south of Buenos Aires by air, has it all -- the Patagonia, Andean, Río Negro Province scenery includes the Nahuel Huapi National Park, Lake Moreno and Mount Lopez.

The golf course is a short, but tricky 5,856-yard par-71. Precise tee-shot placement is imperative or you will be firing over, under or around cypress or larch trees all day. No. 18, a 220-yard par-3, will also get your heart racing with a forced carry over a huge inlet of Lake Nahuel Huapi.

Arelauquen Golf & Country Club in Bariloche

One of the newest golf courses in the country, Arelauquen was designed by Vicente Fernandez and Carlos Ordoné only minutes from the brand-new Bariloche International Airport.

Views include Lake Gutierrez and Cerro Cathedral, the oldest ski mountain in South America. Lengas and Douglas-firs frame shots with snow-capped mountains in the distance on this 6,693-yard par-72 test that includes countless water hazards, bunkers and dramatic, narrow back-nine forced carries. The meadows front nine can provoke you with waterfalls, ponds and target shots.

The Arelauquen Lodge is brand new and features 23 rooms right next to the clubhouse. It includes spa, heated pool, restaurant and business center.

Bring your fishing gear to Bariloche -- many believe this pristine country has the best trout ecosystem in the world.

Ushuaia Golf Club in Tierra del Fuego

If you are making a check list of the most unusual places you have played golf, Ushuaia Golf Club should be at the top. You will even receive a certificate for playing the southernmost golf course in the world.

With views of the Chilean Andes, Mount Martial and Mount Susana, this golf journey takes you along the Río Pipo, where trout are plentiful, past stands of ñire, lenga, and coihue trees on tight fairways leading to tiny, top-hat putting surfaces. If you lived here you could play golf for about $18 a month.

You are only minutes from Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) National Park, where hearty adventurers, bird watchers and hikers come to explore this vast wilderness only 500 miles from Antarctica. Opened in 1992, the golf course is playable from September to April, and in summer months it might stay light for 20 hours a day.

Here, at the "end of the world" near the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn, the Pan-American Highway nears its end in Chile -- some 17,848 kilometers from its beginning in Alaska.

Talk about a trip of a lifetime. That's a trip to Argentina.

Where to play:

Jockey Club
Avenue Marquez 1702
San Isidro, Buenos Aires

Olivos Golf Club
Ruta Panamericana Km. 32,4
Pablo Nougues, Pilar, Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Golf Club
Mayor Irusta 3777
(1661) Bella Vista, Buenos Aires

Llao Llao Hotel & Resort, Golf, Spa
Av. Ezequiel Bustillo km. 25
Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina

Arelauquen Golf & Country Club
Ruta 82 frente al lago Gutierrez
Bariloche, Argentina

Ushuaia Golf Club
Ruta 3 Camino a Lapataia,
(9410) Ushuaia, Argentina

Golf Digest's Argentina Rankings

1. Buenos Aires G.C., Bella Vista
2. Olivos G.C., Pilar, Buenos Aires
3. Jockey Club, San Isidro, Buenos Aires
4. Pilar G.C., Pilar, Buenos Aires
5. Mar del Plata G.C., Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires

Where to stay

Four Seasons, Buenos Aires, fourseasons.com
Los Hayas Resort Hotel, Ushuaia, lashayas.com.ar
Llao Llao Hotel & Resort, Bariloche, llaollao.com

Where to dine

Restaurante Tomo 1, Buenos Aires
Patagonia Mia, Ushuaia
Restaurante Kaupé, Ushuaia
La Vizcacha, Restaurante Parrilla, Bariloche
Campo de Golf Restaurante, Hotel Llao Llao, Bariloche
Restaurante del Hotel Los Alámos, El Calafate

Helpful web sites

Argentina Tourism, English version, turismo.gov.ar/eng/menu.htm
Tierra del Fuego, tierradelfuego.org.ar
Train to the End of the World, Ushuaia, trendelfindelmundo.com.ar
Moreno Glacier excursions, glaciaressur.com.ar
Bariloche, bariloche.com.ar
El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Patagonia, elcalafate.gov.ar

How to get here

Starting November 1, 2003, American Airlines will launch non-stop southbound flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Buenos Aires on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Non-stop flights also originate out of Miami. Log on to aa.com for more information.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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