By: Evan Harmeling
I was very fortunate to play on PGA Tour Latinoamérica for 5 years, 3 of which for the entire year. It’s no exaggeration to say that it completely changed my life. As I write to you here, I am in Rio de Janeiro with my wife, a Brazilian who I met while on tour in Sao Paulo, and our 2 year-old daughter. In 2018 I was riding high after a 4th place finish at Sao Paulo Golf Club, so my buddies and I hopped in an Uber and went to a gringo bar to watch some American football. Ariel sat down at the table next to us, on a date with “poor little Pedro,” the guy who asked her out and delivered her right to me that night. I swooped in, and here with are with a daughter, spending the offseason in the motherland down in Brazil.
It's a different world down here, with different values, people, and vibe. I’ve always gotten the feeling that despite less material wealth in Latin America, on balance, people seem to be happier than they are in the states. There's a huge appreciation and connection with nature and a strong sense of family and community down here. Of course, lumping all the places in Latin America into one is ridiculous, as each area appealed to me in different ways. With that in mind, I’d like to count down my top 10 favorite stops during my years on the Latino Tour, and why.
10- Cordoba, Argentina. Cordoba is awesome, the course we played was where Angel Cabrera grew up playing and caddying. It's narrow, nuanced, and a real player's course. You cannot fake it around Cordoba Golf Club, I love that track. Additionally, the best steak I’ve ever had was in Cordoba… and it’s not even close. You walk to the end of the hallway at the mall, and through this little corridor is a steakhouse. The empanadas, cheese, wine, but most importantly, the steak, was out of control good. I would order the flank steak. Strange, I know, but the cut down there is significantly different than a flank steak in the US. The fat on this steak is something I’ll never forget. Absolutely melt in your mouth, incredible stuff. The girls in Cordoba are also a main attraction. I always tell guys that if they’re on a cold streak or having trouble finding love, go out on a limb, fly to Cordoba, and see what happens…
9- Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic. This golf course, right on the water, is amazing. Pretty much everyone stays right there on the property. We jammed about 8 guys into our house and had an awesome time. Every house has a golf cart or 2, which you can zip around the massive resort and see the scene. Almost everyone got sick, for me it was the chicken salad that looked like it’d been sitting out all day, but it didn’t take away too much from the experience. The “Teeth of the Dog” is an incredible course with a ton of knee knocking shots over the ocean, with wind howling. An awesome, awesome place.
8- San Martin de Los Andes, Argentina. The natural beauty here in SW Argentina is breathtaking. This golf course was a little bit cookie-cutter, but I didn’t care at all. Walking around that place and exploring the town and surrounding area was pure excitement and fun. The town itself was very well maintained and nice. There's a lot of money around, and therefore the infrastructure is complete and beautiful. Couple that with incredible mountains, rivers, and any outdoor activity you can dream of… this place is stunning. The old director of the Tour told me, “this is one place I’d come back to on vacation.” High praise from a guy that travels all the time and just wants some down time at home when not working. Bariloche is right nearby, described to me by a local as “la ciudad mas linda que linda…” The most beautiful of beautiful cities. Es la verdad.
7- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Campo Olimpico. The Olympic Golf Course is really amazing, and one of my favorite courses of all time. It has special meaning to me, because once I met my wife, I came to live in Rio, and I practiced and played out of this course for the 2019 off-season. The course itself is unique in that there are more half-pars than any other course I’ve ever played. 100 yard par 3s.. drivable par 4s, insanely difficult par 4s, easy par 5s and beastly par 5s. Moreover, with two main wind directions, the course changes accordingly in such a fair and interesting way. With both winds, the ratio of “hard” to “easy” holes is maintained, and holes you didn’t think twice about before, all of a sudden seem impossible. There’s a seamlessness to which the course handles the wind change which I find to be a real testament to the course design. Also, there are hugely different tee boxes at Campo Olimpico. This is not the 1-2-3-4 in a row, stacked tee boxes you see elsewhere. Depending on the tee, the hole can change dramatically, you can visually see different parts of the hole, and have a different wind direction. From the course you can see Pedra de Gavea, one of the most dramatic rock/mountains I’ve ever seen, coming 4,000 ft vertically out of the ocean. The mountains in and around Rio are wild and gnarly. It seems the Brazilian people, and certainly the Cariocas from Rio, take on the personality of the landscape… there is never a dull moment.
6- Mazatlan, Mexico. This course and resort are right on the beach, and I really loved this place. It was my second Latin American event playing here, and I finished 5th, which aided the enjoyment. The waves were always huge when we were there, and the whole vibe of the place was fun. It made you want to drink Tecate, lay on the beach and have a good time. We also met this 400 lb guy that drove us from the airport. Immediately I knew he was the one, and I asked him to take us to his favorite street taco joint. They were pressing the tortillas fresh right in front of us, and these tacos were the best I’ve ever had. They also tasted a little better with the excitement of being in uncharted waters, unsure of our safety, but just thankful that we were with a local, we kept our heads down and kept eating.
5- Los Lagartos, Bogota, Colombia. This was the first Latin American Tour event that I played, in 2015 and it did not disappoint. The suspense of coming down to South America for the first time, and even driving around in Bogota gets your blood pumping. Motorcycles recklessly drive in between cars, turning 3 lanes into 5 routinely, setting the tone of the dense city. The golf course has tons of elevation change, and despite missing the cut and only playing 2 tournament rounds, it is remarkably memorable. You have to climb a mountain to get to the 18th tee, and once you get there you can look off the back side and see most of the city of Bogota. This course, but also the city itself is one of my favorites. I love the country of Colombia. The food is awesome, Colombians are great people and in the words of my friend Andy Hess, who missed qualifying at the Monday said “I’m not going home just yet.. I like Bogota.”
4-Club Campestre de Medellin, Colombia. I never actually went into the city of Medellin, as the airport is on the outskirts, near the golf course. You need to go over the mountains to get into the city, and as a gringo, I was content staying put. The countryside however was awesome. I feel a different sort of peace driving around Colombia, when I’m outside of the cities, than I do anywhere else. It’s hard to describe, especially given the Americanized reputation, but Colombia and its people are very chill, peaceful and kind from my experience. I also love this course because I made an ace on the 4th hole. A 7 iron from 220, slam dunk on the fly. Located at elevation, this course, and even more so, Bogota, present a whole slew of challenges with shot-making. You really have to be aware of your trajectory and hitting the center of the club face. Mishits are magnified, as they’ll fall straight out of the air, and solid shots can seem like they’ll never come down. The outskirts of Medellin and this course are very cool, and someday I’d love to check out the city itself.
3-Los Leones, Santiago, Chile. Santiago is an awesome city, and Chile a very put together country. The city is clean and there’s a sense of security and safety. This golf course is fun to play, and I’ll always remember the great snack-shack at the turn and a drive-able par 4 10th hole, a great combination. This combo practically defines for the player, not the game.! Take out driver, rip it up near the green, and then head to the snack-shack, while all the short knockers hit iron and meddle around in the fairway. Then you have a bag drop guy give you a ride up to the green with a couple of beers and a sandwich (didn’t do this but I wanted to). Then you take a little stroll over to the 11th tee where you have enormous mountains as a back-drop and you hit straight downhill to this little par 3. Thinking about this little exchange makes me want to go to Chile and have a day.
2-Los Inkas, Lima, Peru. Lima is worth a trip. The food in Peru is absolutely incredible, and I don’t even like ceviche. I’ll never forget I went to this dive restaurant at a mall that didn’t look very good, but I could tell for sure I was ordering a club sandwich, so I went for it. It was a chicken bacon egg and cheese with 3 slices of bread. He laid the bread onto the griddle.. and at first I cringed, I’m not into the 3 slices. Before I could say anything, he took a cup and cored out the middle of one slice, and cracked an egg into the middle. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The middle slice of bread was essentially a fried egg with the bread crust around it. This was a top notch sandwich, and that just scratches the surface of the meals that I’ve had in Peru (stuffed avocado, local potatoes…). Los Inkas Golf Club is located smack dab in the middle of the city, basically jammed-in. Ordinarily I’m not a fan of the packed-in course, where you can easily spray it into another fairway. This course however has profound character. There are Incan ruins on the course, one of the tiniest and most well-equipped snack-shacks I’ve ever seen on the 7th tee (great timing for a snack-shack), and elevated greens with run-offs everywhere to protect this relatively short course.
1-La Reunion Resort in Guatemala. This place is/was an absolute paradise. Located on the side of the active volcano “Fuego,” it was an incredible resort with insanely dramatic views and an equally insane golf course. Designed by the late Perry Dye, son of Pete and Alice, it was a true feat that they constructed a course through the jungle on that slope. There was 1400 ft of elevation change on the course, from the 7th tee down to 13. I say “was,” because just a few months after the Tour stopped there in 2018, the massive “once every 100 year eruption” occurred and the results were devastating. Thousands in the area died, and the golf course was covered in lava and ash, and still hasn’t returned to be operational. This resort however, is nothing short of unbelievable. I never liked drinking coffee until I went there in 2015.. got to the resort and sat and had a cup of coffee on the patio. The coffee itself for sure was amazing, but you are also sitting on a patio which is perched up on the side of a volcano, looking out with 4 other volcanos in your panorama view. These enormous mountains are incredibly vivid and describing them in words can’t even begin to capture the beauty. It is breathtaking how the steepness of the mountain increases slowly and consistently, purely exponential from the flat plains to the near vertical peak. If you stayed at the resort, the bungalow rooms were idyllic and private. If you stayed in town, Antigua was one of the coolest backpacking, eclectic and fun “cities” I’ve ever been to. A lot of players described the golf course as “goofy.” To me it was incredible. I can’t imagine having more fun playing a course. The views, the need to consider what is happening to the ball on the ground, and the difference from the mundane flat straight courses that we so often play, made it awesome. The people of Guatemala are incredible as well and really made the experience personal. My friend Alfredo, who worked at the resort, taught me how to make Alfredo sauce one year! He took us to a grocery store, and in return, whenever we’d make our meals, he’d take a little break from work and come eat with us. He insisted one time we make Alfredo sauce, but we forgot the ingredients. He said some things as he was leaving, which I didn’t understand, but sure enough, an hour later he showed up with a bag of cream, garlic and a bunch of parmesan cheese. He came right in, fired up the stove, and showed me how it was done.
Writing about these areas really makes me thankful to have travelled everywhere that I have, and grateful to the Latin American Tour for making it all possible. It has opened my eyes to the rest of the world outside of the US and the bubble that we live in. These were some of the best times of my life and I highly encourage Americans to let go of the stigma and stereotype. You don’t even need to bring your sticks, but if you do there are some awesome tracks and experiences to be had.