South America and Tour Golf

Munoz and Niemann in Two Straight Victories for South America

We can argue all we want over who invented the game of golf, or the game that eventually became golf. For the modern world, however, it is Britain, more specifically Scotland. This being a given, the game arriving on Canadian and U.S. shores is a natural progression. The same goes for the former British Empire that spread through much of the world a century or so ago. But what about South America? Is the game appreciated there, and do they have anyone who plays it really well?

South America is not a monolithic continent. For decades, Argentina has provided PGA champions, and three of the biggest golf names there are Roberto de Vicenzo, Angel Cabrerra, and Andres Romero, among others. Argentina has 300 golf courses for a game introduced by, you guessed it, the British in a bygone century. However, two other countries in South America have made an interesting statement this month. Chilean golfer Joaquin Niemann won at Greenbrier, more specifically A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier.  In the next week, Colombian Sebastian Munoz won the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi. South American golfers have won on tour before, but not on consecutive weeks.

We saw Niemann coming, sort of. Born in 1998, he wanted to attend school in Florida, but fell short in his English score. Oh well, never mind. He became the number one ranked amateur in 2017 and 2018, and received special tour status after a 6th place finish in the Valero Texas Open. his Greenbrier victory made him the youngest international player to do it since 1923. No college degree, perhaps, but score one for South America anyway. Munoz, born in 1993, went through the program at the University of North Texas, turning pro in 2015. One year later, he won the Cup Colombia Championship before taking the Sanderson last week in a playoff with Sungjae Im.

So, we now know that Chile, Colombia, and Argentina have golfers. Anybody else? the nations of South America are all different, but there are continental trends. First of all comes a widespread love of soccer, European football. Several southern countries excel at the sport. Second, there are pockets of poverty in which golf only highlights the wealth gap between economic classes, if it can exist at all. Some have produced notable women who are tour members, such as Paraguay’s Julieta Granada, but few of us would recognize any male golfers from that country.

The large nation of Brazil must have a lot of golf going on, and indeed, 100 golf resorts are spread around the country. Whether the game is popular among the general population is another question. These folks are insane when it comes to football. Seasons are a problem in Brazil, as the nation contains four or five distinct climates.

Sebastian Munoz, of Colombia, hits from the third tee during the final round of the Sanderson Farms Championship golf tournament in Jackson, Miss., Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Honduras, at the northern end of South America, has a Pete Dye course  on the island of Roatan, in Pristine Bay. What a great name, but even better is the course name, Black Pearl. I can just hear Pirates of the Caribbean fans running for their golf clubs. A second along the northern coast is the Gary Player-designed Indura Beach, in which native grass and sand is beautifully blended into the otherwise green landscape and water.

Bolivia has a few courses, such as the Federacion Boliviana de Golf, but the best course is generally taken to be the La Paz Golf Club. The only difficulty is an elevation of 10,000 feet. Your ball will go fifty yards farther, but you had best bring portable oxygen.

Uruguay sports a population under four million, and is football crazy. An 11th course is under construction, but no tour stars have appeared on the horizon yet. In Quito, the Ecuadorian capital of the ancient empire of the Incas, only one private course exists, the Quito Tenis y Golf Club. One public course is said to sit somewhere in the countryside.

On the continent’s west coast, Peru is avid about its football, surfing and sailing. There’s a lot of that possible in South America, and Peru is said to do well in several such sports. There isn’t much impetus to take on the PGA or LPGA coming from the area, but their one golf course, a 9-hole extravaganza called Lo Oroya, lies at 12,000 feet. For distance, you couldn’t do much better on the moon, but bring even more oxygen.

Success among the professionals of South America is, as expected, directly related to the game’s development back home. Just as Mexico produced Lorena Ochoa, the southern continent is on track to contribute in the coming years. Argentina, Chile, and Colombia first, the others a few years after. It is hard to know when. Thailand’s participation in the game ignited almost overnight. But then, they are not quite as nuts about soccer…and have plenty of oxygen.


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