Last year, the US Masters, perhaps the largest and most prestigious golfing competition on the PGA tour and even the world over, came to a dramatic head. A two-way tie sent both players to a sudden death play-off on the field. It was more than just a clash of golfing skill, it was a clash of nations too. Adam Scott, a young Australian, faced up to the much-loved gaucho of world golf, the Argentinian Ángel Cabrera.
Although Cabrera lost in 2013 in a tense putting match with the Australian, his place at the forefront of golf has long been a reality, and a telling one at that. Known fondly as ‘El Pato’ by his fellow countrymen (an epithet that translates to ‘The Duck’ in English) for his curious waddle-like walk, Ángel Cabrera is now an iconic symbol of Argentinian golfing, an indicator of the sport’s perhaps surprising popularity right across the country.
Recently, Argentina has been named as the finest golfing destination in the whole of Latin America and today the country is home to more than 240 registered courses, has its own official and nation-wide sport association for the regulation and control of golf, competes regularly on the international stage and is home to just under 45,000 registered players. It’s a surprising set of statistics for a country which only came into the golfing fold late in the 19th century.
Like in most countries, the first impulse to play came from English expats and travellers who had come to Argentina to settle or explore. At first just a few crude courses were set up near San Martin, in the central region of the country, in the heart of the Andean foothills, but by the end of the 19th century, popularity of the sport had grown so considerably that there were several individual private courses right up and down Argentina. In fact the growth of golf here proved unprecedented, and from the embryo of just five unconnected and entirely private courses, more and more resorts began to spring up en masse.
By 1929 the Argentine government saw the need for a central regulatory body, and that year the Asociación Argentina de Golf (the Argentinian Golfing Association, AAG) was established to govern championships and courses, players and public relations in the country. Today, the AAG has more than 200 public, private, par 3 and full-bodied courses on its books, along with an international reputation as one of the fastest growing golfing holiday destinations in both Latin America and the world.
With such a varied geography from north to south in Argentina it’s not surprising that the courses here also vary dramatically depending on location. Many of the most iconic courses are now in the south and Patagonia, where eye-grabbing landscapes act as welcome backdrops for high-altitude parkland courses in the hills. Perhaps the most remarkable of these is found in the Pipo River Valley near the ‘City at the End of the World’, Ushuaia. This magnificent par-70 is a rugged and dramatic course that lies in the shadow of snow-capped peaks.
In the middle of the country, near the founding spot of Argentinian golf as a whole, the Chapelco Golf Resort is one of the finest and most prestigious courses on offer here. It was designed under the auspices of the totemic Jack Nicklaus name, one of the most revered in all of world golf, and is the first of its kind in all of South America. The course itself is a predictably challenging 72-par that wind its way into the valleys of the San Martin foothills.
If you’re looking for a links course in this heavily coastal country, then it’s not too hard to find something that actually resembles the traditional dune courses of Scotland or the UK. Head to the seaside resort of Mar del Plata where the golf course has been running for more than 100 years. With beautiful panoramas over the seafront the game here is challenging and differs greatly with the weather. It’s also been played by some of the country’s presidents and both George Bush and President Eisenhower.
Back inland, the professional course at Cordoba is the breeding ground for Argentinian greats. Both of the two largely recognised major global players from the country found their feet here, Andrés Romero and Masters winner, Ángel Cabrera. The course has undergone a big makeover in the last decade to help bring it in line with international championship standards, but there’s still a pervading traditionalism that harks back the ‘days gone by’ of Argentinian golf, and it is visible every year during the nation’s Center Open Championship.