A Tale of Two Colom­bian Cities

A visit to Bo­gotá and Cartagena, two cities that char­ac­ter­ize Colom­bia

Golf Vacations - - Golf Vacations - by Rosanne Zin­niger

As one of the largest South Amer­i­can coun­tries con­sist­ing of multi-cli­mate re­gions, bio-di­verse ter­rains, in­clud­ing RAMSAR de­clared wet­lands, a host of UNESCO parks and re­serves con­tain­ing a large va­ri­ety of wildlife, there is fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for spec­tac­u­lar golf cour­ses flanked by those back­drops. First pop­u­lar­ized in 2001 when lo­cal hero Camilo Vil­le­gas won the Colom­bian Open as an am­a­teur, golf has be­come more pop­u­lar in a coun­try more ac­cus­tomed to foot­balling ex­ploits.

As one of the largest South Amer­i­can coun­tries con­sist­ing of multi-cli­mate re­gions, bio­di­verse ter­rains, in­clud­ing RAMSAR de­clared wet­lands, a host of UNESCO parks and re­serves con­tain­ing a large va­ri­ety of wildlife, there is fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for spec­tac­u­lar golf cour­ses flanked by those back­drops.

First pop­u­lar­ized in 2001 when lo­cal hero Camilo Vil­le­gas won the Colom­bian Open as an am­a­teur, golf has be­come more pop­u­lar in a coun­try more ac­cus­tomed to foot­balling ex­ploits.

Pre­dom­i­nantly Span­ish-speak­ing, Colom­bia’s pros­per­ity is de­rived from tourism, man­u­fac­tur­ing, tex­tiles, and agri-busi­ness. And out of the lot, two pop­u­lar re­gional cities - Bo­gotá and Cartagena, of the Cen­tral An­des and the Caribbean Coast re­spec­tively, stand out.

CAP­I­TAL CITY BO­GOTÁ

At first, Bo­gotá, which is also the District Cap­i­tal City of Colom­bia, ap­pears to be one of the busiest cities in South Amer­ica and with a pop­u­la­tion of over 8 mil­lion, it can be hard to find a quiet spot in this high alti­tude city 8,675 feet above sea level.

Vis­i­tors should ac­cli­ma­tize them­selves to the thin air be­fore in­dulging in stren­u­ous ac­tiv­i­ties to avoid high alti­tude sick­ness and faint­ing spells so I spent some time rest­ing at the lux­u­ri­ous J.W. Mar­riott ho­tel, lo­cated in the his­toric cen­tre of the city and just some 20-min­utes from the air­port.

Later in the af­ter­noon, I walk around and grad­u­ally be­come warmly ac­quainted with the an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture of the houses, the build­ings of the La Can­de­laria neigh­bor­hood nearby, the grid for­ma­tion of stone streets, and mu­se­ums with art de­pict­ing the strug­gles of yes­ter­year,

es­pe­cially the ac­claimed Fer­nando Botero col­lec­tion.

Known for the ro­bust pro­por­tions of his char­ac­ters, many of Botero’s paint­ings tell the story of coloni­sa­tion by the Spa­niards from AD 1538 to 1539. The Botero Mu­seum, lo­cated next to the old­est mu­seum in South Amer­ica, the Na­tional Mu­seum of 1823, also dis­plays col­lec­tions of paint­ings and sculp­tures by Pablo Pi­casso and other fa­mous artists.

Af­ter vis­it­ing both, I de­cided that this is a good day to walk and from there, trekked to one of the old­est sanc­tu­ar­ies atop Mon­ser­rate Moun­tain. There is a fu­nic­u­lar, or ca­ble car as it is more com­monly known, built in 1928 and in­stalled in 1955, and I get in, tak­ing in the glo­ri­ous sights from up high, in­clud­ing the 17th Cen­tury San­tu­ario de Mon­ser­rate and the pil­grims strolling in and out in search of mir­a­cles and heal­ing. De­cid­ing I needed one, es­pe­cially with the golf loom­ing ahead, I walk in as well.

The sur­round­ing grounds are adorned with many re­li­gious sculp­tures im­ported from Italy and a beau­ti­ful wooden sculpted piece called the Señor Caido (Fallen Lord) that over­looks the land be­low.

This is where most make a pit stop to en­joy lunch at the San Isidro Restau­rant, housed in the Santa Clara House that is built in the 1900’s, and try the tra­di­tional Colom­bian ap­pe­tiser, Abor­ra­jado, a deep-fried plan­tain filled with cheese, washed down with a cup of some of the best cof­fee I’ve ever tasted.

Colom­bia’s top ex­port, as I would dis­cover, is cof­fee and there are few that would ri­val the va­ri­ety at San Al­berto Cof­fee es­tate. Lo­cated in the Ar­me­nia re­gion, San Al­berto’s five-step se­lec­tion process in­volves pick­ing cherry beans at their ripest, fol­lowed by a thresh­ing process with another sift­ing be­fore the fi­nal roast.

San Al­berto Cof­fee is avail­able for pur­chase at their kiosk in the Gold Mu­seum in Bo­gotá, where the largest col­lec­tion of gold in the world re­sides, and the most af­ford­able San Al­berto Cof­fee can be im­bibed.

From there, I feel about warmed up and ready for my first round of golf.

SAN AN­DRÉS COUN­TRY CLUB

San An­drés Coun­try Club is a pri­vate club on the out­skirts of Bo­gotá, about 20 min­utes to the com­mu­nity of Funza. One of the old­est 18-hole golf cour­ses in the area, the 72-Par, 7,145 yard course was built on rich agri­cul­tural land in 1945 by ar­chi­tects Stan­ley Thomp­son and Robert Trent Jones.

Since the golf club open­ing in 1947, the orig­i­nal course de­sign has de­vi­ated slightly due to dam­age to trees and flood­ing from un­pre­dictable weather. De­spite th­ese chal­lenges, the grounds are im­pec­ca­bly main­tained by greenskeeper, Camilo.

While on a tour of the course, he said, “The land the course was built on was one of the largest pro­duc­ers of pota­toes in the area. Our 67-year-old colo­nial club­house was es­tab­lished by the English and is the orig­i­nal build­ing.”

One of Camilo’s fa­vorite hole is the Par 3, 6th, stat­ing that, “it is a beau­ti­ful hole with wa­ter to the front, and sneaky bunkers on the back side.”

But some of the most scenic holes are on the back nine, es­pe­cially Hole 11, a Par 4 where the fair­way runs along an ir­ri­ga­tion canal that is home to beau­ti­ful wa­ter fowl and the blue-naped Chloro­pho­nia, a brightly coloured blue, green, yel­low bird lo­cal to the re­gion.

ZIPAQUIRÁ, THE SALT TOWN

A free af­ter­noon is per­fect for a coun­try­side drive to the town of Zipaquirá. Visit the mys­ti­cal and an­cient salt mine lo­cated within the hills by de­scend­ing more than 180 me­tres be­low the sur­face to the rev­er­ent Salt Cathe­dral.

The easy stroll down­ward will lead to cen­turies old mys­ti­cal salt carv­ings, in­clud­ing a jaw-drop­ping ma­jes­tic hand-carved 16-foot-high cross lo­cated be­hind the main al­tar of an un­der­ground Ro­man Catholic church. Ven­ture through tun­nels that lead to more salt filled cav­erns con­tain­ing more crosses carved of salt and sculp­tures of Ital­ian mar­ble.

LOS LAGARTOS GOLF CLUB

Fully ac­cli­ma­tised to the cli­mate and cul­ture, Los Lagartos Golf Club in Cun­d­i­na­marca is next. This sprawl­ing prop­erty that re­cently cel­e­brated its 80th an­niver­sary con­tains two 18-hole, par 72 golf cour­ses, named David Gu­tier­rez Course and oddly, Korea Course.

The cham­pi­onship Gu­tier­rez lay­out was re­designed by Scott Miller in 2012 and is con­sid­ered the most scenic course in Bo­gotá. Rolling hills and changes in el­e­va­tion chal­lenges from the first to the 13th, with scenic views of beau­ti­ful flora, trick­ling creeks, wa­ter­falls and duck-filled ponds along the way.

While there are many doglegs through­out this course, the par 5, 13th has a uniquely shaped fair­way named the “Foot of the Duck”. Tee off to a nar­row fair­way that jogs left and right – the heel of the foot - and then straight­ens to the pin with trou­ble to the left and back.

Greens on this course are groomed fast and fairways are seeded with Kiku grass that grabs the ball when wet for even greater pre­ci­sion play.

CITY OF CARTAGENA

From there, an hour and half flight takes me to Colom­bia’s north­ern city of Cartagena. Heat and hu­mid­ity jux­ta­poses the high-alti­tude dry­ness and cold of Bo­gotá here along the coasts of Caribbean Sea.

Known as Cartagena De In­dias, the city was founded in 1533 by Pe­dro de Here­dia. There is a charm to this lively city con­tained by a 20-me­tre-thick lime­stone wall that stands as a re­minder of pi­rate at­tacks and bat­tles of cen­turies gone by.

While strolling through the Plaza Trinidad Get­se­maní, I over­hear a lo­cal tour guide ex­plain­ing to a group of tourists, “The port, Castillo de San Felipe fortress, and group of mon­u­ments were de­clared a World Her­itage Site by UNESCO in 1984, and the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment has deemed th­ese sites, Cul­tural Her­itage of the Na­tion sta­tus.”

Per­haps see­ing that I am a lady, he di­rects me to the ren­o­vated 23-vault mil­i­tary bar­racks turned shop­ping area called the Las Bovedas. I hap­pily lapped the stereo­type in and weave through arch-lined rows and hear­ing shop own­ers fol­low shout­ing of­fers for sou­venir arts, crafts and ar­ti­sanal jew­el­ery, stylish hats, color­ful cloth­ing and unique sculp­tures.

This is where most make a pit stop to en­joy lunch at the an Isidro es­tau­rant, housed in the anta Clara House that is built in the 1900’s, and try the tra­di­tional Colom­bian ap­pe­tiser, Abor­ra­jado, a deep-fried plan­tain filled with cheese, washed down with a cup of some of the best cof­fee I’ve ever tasted.”

Re­tail ther­apy done, I scoot over to the world fa­mous resto-bar fran­chise Café del Mar to catch an early sun­set and en­joy their fa­mous co­conut lemon­ade, made fresh. Their eclec­tic beats rifts through the air while I take in the view of “Lit­tle Mi­ami” and the Caribbean off in the dis­tance from my van­tage point atop the city wall.

Then as dark­ness sets in, the charm of a horse drawn car­riage beck­ons to ride in a mag­i­cal jour­ney across the streets watch­ing lo­cals play­ing Zy­deco mu­sic and ven­dors sell­ing hot a tra­di­tional Colom­bian corn flour cake called “Arepas”.

Tourists and lo­cals alike fill the plazas - some danc­ing to the mu­sic while oth­ers sim­ply strolling along with con­tented smiles on their faces. But as soon as I draw near to my cosy bou­tique stay, the Movich Ho­tel, I de­cided to call it a night, know­ing that more golf await the next day.

At night, I dream of strangers danc­ing along a never-end­ing street of reverie and won­der if I should ever wake up.

THE KARIBANA TPC CARTAGENA

But I do, of course and gladly so as I dis­cover one of the most ex­hil­a­rat­ing golf cour­ses in the world here in Cartagena. The Karibana TPC Cartagena cham­pi­onship golf course is set next to the Caribbean Sea and is the first TPC prop­erty in South Amer­ica. Also on prop­erty is the new Hil­ton Con­rad Ho­tel with lux­ury con­dos and a beach club.

Camilo Vil­le­gas and his brother Manny en­joy this Jack Nick­laus de­sign and hosted the 2016 Karibana Skins Game, a first in Colom­bia, here.

“Colom­bia is a great coun­try and I miss it a lot. It’s one thing to read about it, it’s another to visit. There is an en­ergy here in Colom­bia that all should ex­pe­ri­ence,” en­thused the four-time PGA Tour win­ner.

The Skins Game on that Satur­day of De­cem­ber 17 be­tween Vil­le­gas, An­gel Cabrera, Ernie Els, and Bo­gotá na­tive Se­bas­tian Juan Munoz. While it was a close bat­tle, the host, per­haps due to his in­tu­itive un­der­stand­ing of his home course, man­aged to edge out friend and ri­val Els in the end.

While on a brief tour of the golf course, I ask director of golf Juan Felipe Raigoza what makes this golf course so unique. He pointed to the va­ri­ety on ev­ery hole: “The front nine are sur­rounded by a spec­tac­u­lar nat­u­ral for­est with six man-made lakes, and the back nine runs along sen­sa­tional ocean front.”

While all th­ese beau­ti­ful cour­ses are lim­ited to priv­i­leged few, for­eign vis­i­tors are be able to get a tee­time via a rep­utable tour agent who can also ar­range for trans­porta­tion. Jaime En­rique Acosta of Voy­age Colom­bia Golf is one such op­er­a­tor.

“Why not golf one day, and take an ex­cur­sion the next to a cof­fee bean plan­ta­tion? We can even ar­range for cook­ing lessons and ad­di­tional tours to nearby re­gions,” of­fered the jovial Acosta, whose ad­vise I duly con­cede to be well taken.

hile there are many doglegs through­out this course, the par 5, 13th has a uniquely shaped fair­way named the “Foot of the Duck”. Tee off to a nar­row fair­way that jogs left and right – the heel of the foot - and then straight­ens to the pin with trou­ble to the left and back.”

LEFT PAGE - CLOCK­WISE FROM

TOP LEFT: Botero Sculp­ture; Bo­gotá streets of the his­toric area; Señor Caido (Fallen Lord).

RIGHT PAGE - CLOCK­WISE FROM

TOP: San­tu­ario de Mon­ser­rate; Meat Stuffed Em­panadas; Chichar­rón; San Al­berto Cof­fee Ex­pert brew­ing cof­fee.

TPC Cartagena at Karibana a look back to­ward 12.

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