Pure paradise: Argentina

Birthplace of the tango, a boisterous cosmopolitan capital that never sleeps, steely-eyed gauchos roaming an endless pampas, superb beef and massive glaciers — all this you already knew about Argentina.

The surprise is the southernmost country in the Americas has more than 300 golf courses, a veritable smorgasbord for discerning golfers.

A diamond-shaped land with widely diverse climates, Argentina stretches more than 2,000 miles from northern, lush jungles to the roaring melt of the Perito Moreno Glacier Southern Ice Field, where each of the country’s 23 provinces has something unique to offer.

Meander meadowland fairways under a canopy of multi-colored butterflies near the imposing Horseshoe Falls of Iguazu. Take dead aim at Antarctica. Soar like the Andean condor beneath Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. Whatever the choice, one of the world’s most exotic destinations is just an overnight flight away and it doesn’t hurt that the strong dollar-to-peso exchange rate makes the experience wallet-friendly.

The graceful Latin-American compliment, “my house, your house,” is the welcome one would expect from a nation where manners derive from European culture and pastimes such as soccer, cricket, rugby and golf were introduced in the 19th century by the British. To which Argentines add their own Latin joy de vivre, where almost every day concludes with rich wine and steak barbecue dinners.

Golf is played all year in the sub-tropical pampas zone, stretching 500 miles north, south and west of Buenos Aires. Just remember that winters in the far south are mostly for skiing, so for visitors who might want to play the southernmost golf course in the world, Ushuaia Golf Club in Tierra del Fuego, be sure to choose summertime, which is November through March.

Visitors flying into Buenos Aires gasp as they glide across the silvery River Plate Delta, awed by a vast metropolis fanning out over 40 square miles. Golfers smile, aware that many of these large green suburban areas are golf courses, easily accessible within half an hour’s drive from the city center. There are at least 70 courses within easy reach of the capital, including a dozen of Argentina’s finest.

The national flagship is the Jockey Club, San Isidro, located in the city’s northern outskirts. Designed by Alister Mackenzie and completed in 1930, this two-course complex is still as challenging and drop-dead gorgeous as Mackenzie’s other more famous masterpiece, Augusta National in Georgia.

Mackenzie magically transformed a fl at piece of property into two tantalizing puzzles, the Red Course that has been host to many national championships, and the Blue, a shorter but devilishly deceptive test of ball control. Ample fairways and plateau-style greens hallmark the Red, where each hole offers a variety of shot-making solutions. The conclusion, a scenic par-3 with a narrow, angular green and a nearly-drivable finishing hole with a deep valley of sin reminiscent of St. Andrews Old Course, completes a round where first reaction is an instant desire to play it again.

Fifteen minutes north is Olivos Golf Club, a plush parkland designed by Luther H. Koontz, Mackenzie’s right-hand man during construction of the Jockey Club. Home of the Argentine Masters and host to more than 20 Argentine Opens, Olivos scores 10 points on golf’s Richter scale. With large fl owing greens that confuse and delight, the 27-hole complex fully deserves its top-100 world ranking. The par-5 15th, one signature hole among many, has a sweeping downhill approach across a lake that remains entrancingly vivid long after the day is done.

Two courses close to the city that are highly recommended are the Buenos Aires Golf Club, site of the 2010 World Amateur Team Championships (together with Olivos GC) and the Jack Nicklaus Nordelta Golf Club, constructed in 2007 on the edge of the River Plate estuary. Both layouts challenge every player’s limit, where accuracy is at a high premium.

Smart pre-planning will maximize golf opportunities throughout “the interior” — as Buenos Aires residents refer to the rest of their country. The metropolitan airport, 10 minutes from downtown, is the central hub for domestic flights. Trips to the Patagonian south, the western Andes wine-growing area of Mendoza and north to the Iguazu Falls take between one and two hours by plane. Plenty of early morning flights permit visitors to squeeze golf and local sightseeing into a series of excursions.

Argentina has few links courses, but the Mar Del Plata Golf Club (240 miles south of the capital) is an unforgettable experience. Perched on a long sliver of sandy coastline overlooking the harbor in this classic South Atlantic beach-vacation city, by modern standards the holes seem short, but when breezes blow off the ocean it is easy to recall this 110-year-old design came directly from Scotland. Gravity-defying cantilever greens add to the challenge. Complete the test in your handicap and be mighty proud — because not many will. Head a few miles south for scenic Miramar Golf Club, an interesting links layout with numerous holes edging the ocean, then ease north to Cariló Golf Club and enjoy an impeccable pineland course.

A visit to Argentina is not complete without including Patagonia. The southern Alps-style towns of Bariloche and Junin de los Andes not only offer international-level wintertime skiing, but two wonderful and entirely diverse mountain-golf experiences.

The Llao Llao Hotel and Resort, south Bariloche, may be the closest you will come to playing golf inside a picture postcard. Undulating bright green fairways wind around the majestic aquamarine Lake Nahuel Huapi, with lofty snow-capped mountains as a stunning backdrop. Anticipate taking as many photographs as swings. Eighty miles north, in Junin de los Andes, the Nicklaus-designed Chapelco Resort course also offers splendid vistas and a critical examination of skills.

The fifth largest wine producer in the world, it is often said the best of each year’s production never leaves the country. Most top-end viticulture is in west Argentina’s Mendoza Province, near the Chilean border. Two excellent courses, the Andino Golf Club (Mendoza city) and Club de Campo Mendoza in nearby Guaymallen are recommended. Imagine, morning golf in the Andes, wine tasting afternoons and steak barbecue evenings in cool mountain air. A perfect day.


How well should you play?

From the USGA website,

Does it seem to you that you play a few strokes over your Course Handicap most of the time? Well, that’s normal under the USGA Handicap System.

Why? The USGA Handicap System is based upon the potential ability of a player rather than the average of all his scores. The USGA’s Handicap Research Team tells us that the average player is expected to play to his Course Handicap or better only about 25 percent of the time, average three strokes higher than his Course Handicap, and have a best score in 20, which is only two strokes better than his Course Handicap.

A few words and a little arithmetic may explain. A player’s Handicap Index reflects his potential because it is based upon his best scores posted for a given number of rounds, ideally the best 10 of his last 20 rounds. Since the USGA has his worst 10 scores tossed out, his Handicap Index reflects his best days.

The arithmetic comes in when the golf club calculates a player’s Differential for each score he posts. The Differential is the difference between a player’s adjusted gross score and the USGA Course Rating of the course on which the score was made, multiplied by 113, and then the total is divided by the USGA Slope Rating from the tees played rounded off to one decimal place.

For example, if you post an 80 on a course with a Course Rating of 68.7 and a Slope Rating of 105, your Handicap Differential is 12.2. The next step entails averaging your best Handicap Differentials, which your golf club or association then will multiply by a 96-percent "bonus for excellence" factor that slightly favors the lower-handicap player. The next step is to delete all numbers after the first decimal digit, with no rounding off to the nearest tenth. Your club Handicap Committee then reviews your record, modifies it, if necessary and then issues your USGA Handicap Index.

If you have a USGA Handicap Index of 11.6, for instance, it translates into a Course Handicap of 14 when you play from the middle tees one day at a course with a Course Rating of 72.1, with a Slope Rating of 135. So a little addition (72.1 + 14) leads you to think that you will consistently shoot around 86. In reality, your score average is normally three more strokes than that, or an 89. The USGA Handicap Research Team has determined that your best score in 20 is normally only two strokes better than your Course Handicap, or an 84; the probability of your recording an 83 twice in 20 rounds is only one in 50.

A good way to think of the range of scores upon which your USGA Handicap Index is based is the old bell curve that school teachers refer to when discussing the range of scores on an exam. The scores of most players, when plotted out, are distributed on a bell curve from the high to low end of the scale. Thus, when you drop out the worst half of your scores, the average of the remaining 10 scores on the upper part of the bell curve reflect your potential ability.

Now, once in a while you will hear about someone shooting an incredible tournament score, such as a net score of 59. What are the odds of shooting a score like that? These tables from the USGA’s Handicap Research Team have figured the odds of one exceptional tournament score up to ten strokes better than the Course Handicap.

For example, the odds of our example player with a Course Handicap of 14 beating it by eight strokes (-8 net) once is 1,138 to one. Put another way, the average player posts 21 scores a year. That means that to score this well, assuming the Handicap Index is correct, would take 54 years of golf to do it once. The odds of a player beating his Course Handicap by eight strokes twice is only 14,912 to one. That’s 710 years of golf for the average player — odds far beyond the realm of reasonableness.

Since the USGA Handicap System is designed to promote fairness during competitions, what happens if a player’s scores contradict the odds and he consistently plays better than his Handicap Index when some crystal or trophies are at stake? The USGA has created a Formula – we’ll spare you all the complicated arithmetic – that is outlined in the USGA Handicap System manual under Section 10-3, "Reduction of a USGA Handicap Index Based on Exceptional Tournament Scores." A player’s USGA Handicap Index will be automatically reduced when he records at least two tournament scores in a calendar year or in his latest 20 rounds that are a minimum of three strokes better than his USGA Handicap Index. The better the scores, the greater the reduction.

The end result is you’ve got your USGA Handicap Index for better or for worse. Don’t worry if you never seem to play to it on a given day. All golfers are in the same boat because USGA Handicap Indexes are based on a player’s potential ability rather than the average of his scores. You can do your part to make the USGA Handicap System work best by making sure all "great" tournament scores by all players get posted with a "T" so that they are reviewed and used under Section 10-3.


The importance of overseeding in the desert

By Brian Whitlark, USGA Southwest Green Section agronomist

Why do golf courses close for overseeding in the desert southwest, while courses in Florida do not? Furthermore, is there a way to avoid closing the golf course for overseeding in the southwest?

In the desert southwest, bermudagrass will go dormant for 6-10 weeks, typically from mid-December through the end of February, although this year many courses saw the color of their bermuda decline around Thanksgiving. During the dormancy period, bermudagrass growth ceases and the plant loses its green color.

Golf courses often seed ryegrass, which is a cool season grass into the bermudagrass canopy in October, prior to the dormancy period.

In order to successfully grow an entirely new grass through the winter and spring months, courses in the southwest must close to have the opportunity to slow the growth of the bermuda, open the grass canopy to better accept seed, apply relatively heavy ryegrass seed rates and water frequently to expedite seed germination and survival.

In Florida, temperatures in most years do not dip low enough for the bermudagrass to enter the dormancy stage. As a guideline, bermudagrass loses its chlorophyll (green color) as night time temperatures remain below 50° F. Courses either don’t overseed or apply seed at low rates to enhance winter color.

In this environment, course closure is unnecessary because they do not need to slow the bermuda growth and prepare a seed bed, in fact, they want to enhance bermuda growth and color for improved winter playing conditions and aesthetics.

The response to the second question is a resounding yes! Late fall fertilization with nitrogen and iron will maintain bermudagrass color later into the winter and will expedite green up in the spring. Furthermore, painting greens, tees and even fairways is gaining momentum in the southwest and serves as an excellent strategy to offer green color. Turf paints also raise surface temperatures, which shortens the dormancy period.

Although it may take years for the golfing public to change their perception of the non-overseeded golf course, this practice is far more sustainable than growing in a new seed crop each fall. In addition, non-overseeding is more environmentally friendly and golfers will appreciate longer drives from the roll!


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