Argentina: The Europe of South America
By Peter Hellman
I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Argentina, I say whirlwind because in ten days I saw and experienced as much of Argentina as possible and visited and played as many courses as my body could handle. What I saw and experienced is too great to keep to myself and so, let me share some of my impressions of this large and magnificent country with you.
The first thing you should know is that Argentina is a bargain. Fine hotels, quality golf, restaurants, shopping (leather is a steal) are easy on our American pocketbooks. The peso is one of the few world currencies that is weaker today than last year. For example, the best courses cost $75 to $100 per round. Compare that to Carnoustie in Scotland at $300 and Old Head in Ireland at $325. A fabulous steak dinner in one of Buenos Aires'fanciest restaurant drew only $25 out my pocket.
Another plus to Argentina is that it is in the southern hemisphere. Not only does the toilet flush clockwise (opposite from what it does in the U.S.), the seasons are opposite as well. I flew from a Fall of naked trees, dead flowers and winter's first frost to a Spring of lush green, blooming colors and hints of summer's soft breezes.
This is not Mexico, Columbia or Guatemala or like any other Spanish speaking country south of the U.S. border. More like the United States, Argentina was settled by Europeans. Italians make up the largest colonizing group followed by the Spanish, English, Germans and French. It is not unusual to find ethnic settlements such as the Welsh community of Trelew where the language is still taught and customs practiced even today. Buenos Aires is a sterling example of these European roots. This city of 4 million is sophisticated and has the look and feel of the great European cities of Paris, Rome and Madrid.
Buenos Aires is ringed by excellent private golf courses. There are older courses such as Olivos, Jockey Club, Ranelagh, Martindale and San Andres. Each has roots in English designs and tradition with local differences like plants and animals you will never find in Scotland. Newer courses such as Pilar and Buenos Aires Golf Club mirror the best of many fine private country clubs in the U.S.
Most of the indigenous peoples of Argentina were killed by the original settlers who recruited heavily in Europe in a successful attempt to colonize the country with their own kind. Slavery was limited due to the type of agriculture and the traditions of the colonists. The few slaves that lived in the country were killed in the war of liberation from Spain. San Martin, Argentina's George Washington, offered slaves who joined the cause their freedom. Unfortunately, these brave soldiers manned the front lines and most were killed before they could enjoy their new status.
Mendoza lies 1 hour and 30 minutes southwest of Buenos Aires. It is the largest wine producing region of the country. Though golf is limited to one excellent course (Campo de Golf Mendoza) and a few nine- hole courses, the area has many outdoor attractions. The nearby Andes Mountains are high, snow covered and calls to the adventurous climber, hiker, skier and rafter. Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in all the Americas, towers above the 1,000 vineyards of the valley. Of these 70 vineyards are open to visitor. They range from large well known vineyards that import to the U.S. to charming small boutique vineyards that produce some of the world's finest wines. Malbec, a lush red wine originally from France, is Mendoza's most popular export followed by Torrentes Riojano a popular dry white wine that came originally from Spain. The Ruta de los Vinos or Route of the Vineyards is a must and guide and driver is the way to experience it.
There are two important golf areas in Patagonia. Close to Bariloche, the region's main city and a 1 hour 45 minute flight from Buenos Aires, lie Llao Llao and Arelauquen Resorts. My simple vocabulary fails to describe the incredible beauty of Llao Llao's setting. The photograph above does a better job. In such a location, you can imagine what the golf must be like. The back nine is dramatic not just for the views but for trees of a size and grandeur I have never seen before. The Arelauquen, a smaller resort nearby boasts a sophisticated mountain lodge and has an impressive and hillier course. (I loved this place.) The second golf region in Patagonia is called San Martin de los Andes. It is worth the three hour drive from Bariloche if you go via the Seven Lakes road. Just outside the town, which strikes me as similar to an American ski town, lies the Chapelco Resort. With a 5-Star hotel that opened in December 2007 and an American styled Jack Nicklaus course, Chapelco has declared itself ready for international visitors including you.