Anyone who knows me knows I love playing golf. Before setting off on our trip I was considering taking my clubs along for the ride, with the hope of playing as many golf courses as possible in South America. That plan didn’t materialise and probably for the best. Nevertheless, I jumped at the opportunity to play a round at La Paz Golf Club. Read on to find out how I got on playing the highest championship golf course in the world at a whopping 3,342 metres above sea level. If you don’t like golf then this is your chance to leave!
“Do you want to hit another off the tee as practice or go to the drop zone?” asked my caddie Manuel.
I had just sliced my 4 iron on the 2nd hole (218 yards par 3) into the water guarding the green. My ego said hit another from the tee. My head said go to the drop zone.
I now only had 7 golf balls left – a selection of scuffed Callaways and Titliests. From the drop zone I had a tricky 40 yard pitch off a tight lie. I took two practice swings. On both occasions I failed to make that crisp contact with the turf that fills you with confidence ahead of the real shot.
Is the ball too far back in my stance? Are my hands too far forward? Just hit the damm thing!
And I thinned it straight onto the rocks surrounding the lake. It bounced up high and for a moment I thought I had played one of the great trick shots until it came down with a splash.
“Muy malo” said Manuel.
Back to the drop zone I went – in fact I hadn’t left it – trying to calculate in my head what number shot I was about to hit.
6 balls left. At this rate…..
I dropped another ball and chunked this 5th shot onto the front edge of the green. Two putts later I walked to the 3rd tee having started double bogey, triple bogey.
Who was this Englishman who had turned up at La Paz Golf Club, wearing a pair of grey zip off shorts, a hastily bought green polo shirt and a Patagonia branded trucker hat, claiming he played off a handicap of 7?
La Paz Golf Club was founded in 1912 by a group of British railway workers. The original 9-hole layout in El Alto – nowadays an ever-growing satellite city above La Paz – was displaced when work began on the international airport so it was relocated to the wealthy southern suburb of Mallasilla in the 1940s and turned into 18 holes.
The club, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012, is an alarming contrast to the rest of the de-facto capital city: a lush green oasis in an otherwise dry and barren metropolis; peacefulness away from the cacophony of hooting minibuses and taxis; extravagant Mediterranean-style villas with manicured lawns instead of the high density red brick buildings clinging to every available bit of space. But perhaps most noticeable were the designer labels and expensive haircuts being sported by the members – they certainly didn’t look like most of the paceños I’d seen. Here was where the privilege and money was to be found in La Paz, in a small pocket of a large city that is, in many neighbourhoods, blighted by extreme poverty.
My caddie for the day was 60-year-old Manuel, although 28 years carrying clubs up and down the fairways had somewhat aged him. He wore a pair of retro black and white Adidas shoes, grey suit trousers, a red polo shirt and cap, as well as a white bib with the lettering ‘Mercantil Santa Cruz’ on the back. One of the joys of playing golf is chatting away to your playing partners, or in my case, your caddie. “Are there many golf courses in the UK?” enquired Manuel as we strolled down the middle of the 6th fairway. “Thousands” I replied. Manuel was astonished but that’s not surprising given there are only a handful of golf courses throughout Bolivia.
The 7,013 yards Par 71 course has many classic British design features with narrow undulating fairways and small greens. Whilst not a woodland course there are plenty of tall and shady eucalyptus and pine trees to catch out any stray shots – I seemed to spend a lot of my round chipping out sideways! Snowcapped Mount Illimani (6,438m) watches over the course to make sure all golfers behave themselves and the signature hole is no doubt the 12th, a tricky 185 yard par 3, known as the “Moon Hole,” due to the labyrinth of canyons, stalagmites and crevices which you have to hit over.
I had a wonderful afternoon in the company of Manuel playing this unique course in this unique city. Scoring wise, it was a tough day at the office and I finished 35 shots off the course record. As I recalled all the moments of bad luck to Milla afterwards in the bar (two balls in the water on the 2nd, a shank from the middle of the 11th fairway, three-putts on the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th), I could hear my old man saying:
“If my bike had a motor, Charlie”.