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Argentina mixes culture with impressive golf scene from Buenos Aires to Tierra del Fuego

By Shawn Nicholls,
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Mar del Plata Golf Club
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Mar del Plata Golf Club is one of the region's oldest and most historic courses. (Courtesy photo)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Angel Cabrera grew up working as a caddie in Cordoba, Argentina with Eduardo Romero. It was Romero who convinced him to pick up the game himself at the age of 15. And he came to the rescue yet again several years later when he gave Cabrera enough financial backing to pursue a career on the European Tour.

And after years of persistence and a slew of runner-up finishes and close calls, everything came full circle for Cabrera in 2001 as he finally broke through with a win on the European Tour, capturing the Argentina Open in the first year that it was sponsored by the tour (a move that was orchestrated by none other than Romero).

Cabrera and Romero now stand as two of the more charismatic personalities on the European Tour. And while they have claimed international acclaim with their quality play in the United States, the two still remain firmly planted in their native land of Argentina.

And with good reason, as the culturally rich country is home to more than its fair share of fantastic golf courses and resorts.

The second largest country in South America is turkey leg-shaped land mass tucked in between Chile and Uruguay, with a mammoth South Atlantic Ocean coastline in the east.

Mar del Plata Golf Club

One of the more popular coastal cities is Mar del Plata, home to one of the region's oldest and most historic courses, the Mar del Plata Golf Club. The original 18 holes opened on January 17, 1900, while the second track, located eight kilometers away, opened half a century later. Both Dwight Eisenhower and George Bush have visited the course, and it annually hosts one of the more prestigious tournaments in Argentina.

The links-style course was built on a seaside area previously inhabited by sands dune, resulting in severely sloped fairways bordered by treacherous rough. At just under 6,000 yards, the par 70 is not going to punish you with its length, but the combination of deep bunkers and swirling winds from the sea demand precise shot selection. Like the fairways, undulations are common on the greens, yielding to adventurous two putts and agonizing three putts.

Despite being relatively short, the course's three par-5s are hefty challenges. The third hole is straight away, but at 563 yards it requires a lay-up, followed by a target third shot to a well-protected green. The seventh, by comparison, features six bunkers around the green. The final par 5 is a 570-yard monster that doglegs slightly to the left, and once again, features a bunker-protected green.

The Jockey Club in Salta

Argentina's Jockey Club, located just outside the capital city Buenos Aires, features two courses designed by world-renowned architect Alister Mackenzie. Both the Rafaela and the Salta Courses feature many staples of Mackenzie's style -- massive greens, large bunkers, and pine tree-lined fairways.

Like Mar del Plata, the Jockey Club has been internationally recognized since its inception, and has been the home to Argentina's national championship on several occasions, including the year that Cabrera captured the crown, and even hosted the World Cup in 1970.

Olivos Golf Club in Buenos Aires

And perhaps one of the most prestigious clubs in the country, located just 30 minutes from downtown Buenos Aires is Olivos Golf Club. Home to 27 beautiful holes (comprised of the Red Course, White Course and Blue Course), ground was first broken in 1950 by Luther Koontz.

It is a well bunkered course with plenty of water, out of bounds and menacing trees to keep you honest. Professional golfers from all over the world have made the journey to Olivos, and the course has hosted several national tournaments as well as a few international ones as well.

Where to stay

The usual suspects of big name hotels are scattered in and around Buenos Aires.

The Hilton and Marriott Plaza are the two most recognizable American brands, while the Claridge is located smack dab in the middle of busy downtown.

And if you are looking for a place a small trek from the hustle and bustle of city life, the Llao Llao Hotel and Resort may just be the ticket. Located on a small hill between two lakes at the foot of the Andes, the Canadian-style architecture is one of a kind.

Golf at the Llao Llao club is top notch, while skiing in the winter and a slew of available outdoor activities for the summer, make the trip to the all encompassing resort well worth the time.

Off the beaten path: Ushuaia Golf Club

Just a short trip away from the Tierra del Fuego National Park, but a long journey from central Argentina, sits the Ushuaia Golf Club. A relatively straightforward track, few holes are protected by one body of water, but it is dangerous trees and tricky winds that pose the most problems. Visually, spectacular mountain ranges are visible in the background.

The course, which opened in 1992, is playable from about September to April, and for several months, it stays daylight until close to midnight, making an after-dinner round of golf a definite possibility.

What makes this course so noteworthy is that if you somehow have managed to find the time to make it all the way down to Argentina and cross the famous Magellan Strait to visit Ushuaia, you officially have run out of land because this track is the southernmost course in the world.

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