Another week in Bolivia, however this one has been very eventful and has given me a lot of hope for the Fairways junior program.
It's the wet season at the moment, so with torrential rains across the weekend (six people drowned in Santa Cruz), I postponed my planned visit to Samaipata, where there are some ancient Inca ruins. Even on Tuesday, as I headed to the golf course, I could see a lot of excess water around.
At the course, Edwin and I worked with the juniors on grip, and then got in the bunkers for lots of practice in the sand. Every day we work on a different component of the game and I am impressed with the improvement since I have been here.
The next day, I did have some good news for Edwin as Caddie Magazine (a new Australian magazine about Golf and Travel), want to write about what we are doing here and about golf in Bolivia. I told him when we were driving to the course and he yelled his delight out the window.
I asked Edwin if he knew a photographer in Santa Cruz. The magazine had advised me that while they had a contact in La Paz, it was too expensive to fly them to Santa Cruz for an afternoon. They, like me with Fairways, are self-funding their publishing dream. Edwin said he knew Lucia Rivas, who is one of the photographers for Golf Bolivia magazine.
At the club, we split into two teams and played a best ball scramble. If the children make a mistake, like mis-hitting the ball completely, I explain the rules and we pick up their ball. While perhaps a little harsh, they need to learn the rules of golf while we are out playing together.
Edwin and Roger spoke with the parents of one of our juniors, Ale, as he has hopes of becoming a professional golfer. He has talent. He has only been playing for a year and is a very good golfer. I sent videos of Ale to Dave Bowlan, my golf guru in Canada, and Dave was, “very impressed” with Ale’s natural ability. His parents are considering changing Ale’s school, so he can study at night while doing English lessons in the mornings and golf all afternoon.
On Thursday morning, I waited at my apartment for Edwin. We were going to visit the Federación Boliviana De Golf (which you can read about in detail HERE). When he arrived he told me about an invitation he'd received for that afternoon to a new golf store with an indoor fitting centre and driving range. Lucia, the photographer, had sent him the information that morning and our appointment was for 5 PM.
At our meeting with the Federación, we succeeded in securing invitations for three of our kids to a junior golf tournament starting the next day at Las Palmas Country Club. They would registered to represent Fairways and play under the Federación's umbrella.
We headed to El Dorado to tell the juniors about the tournament and the surprise visit to the golf store. While the majority of the kids practiced with Roger, El Dorado's pro, Edwin and I headed out to play a few holes and talk rules with Ale and Elias. They were two of the juniors we wanted to participate in the Las Palmas event.
At 4 PM we headed into the city. I walked to the truck and was surprised to see eight children sitting in the tray at the very back. I hadn’t realised we were all going on an outing. Edwin told me it was the first trip into the city for some of them.
Edwin, Roger, Ale and I were in the truck cabin. I was driving and there was still lots of water on the road. I intentionally drove through some big puddles, and we could do nothing but laugh at the delighted squeals coming from the back of the truck. The kids were so excited.
When we got to the store, Edwin explained they were now representing Fairways and El Dorado, so they needed to act accordingly. Everyone lined up outside and as we entered the store, the kids were in awe of everything. From the racks of new clothes to the shoes and all the other golfing paraphernalia. After a tour, everyone sat took turns to hit balls on the indoor range. Again, I am so impressed with their improvement after three weeks.
Early on Friday morning at Las Palmas, I met Edwin, Ale, Elias, Roger and Neot (nicknamed Chingi), the third junior competing in the tournament. While the older boys were nervous at being in such a luxuriously-appointed club, eight-year-old Elias was excited. He was in awe of the sumptuous pools, golf course and the clubhouse.
As none of the boys own new golf balls, I gave them each a sleeve of balls (donated by Snell Golf Canada) for the tournament. They were overjoyed. When Ale was packing his golf bag, I noticed it was falling apart, and not wanting him to feel any more out of place, I lent him my bag. He was very happy as we switched all his stuff into my bag. One less thing to worry about for his first tournament.
I was supposed to be Ale's caddie, but we found out that only the younger juniors like Elias could have one. So I watched all three tee off (Edwin was caddieing for Elias), then spent time with Fabiola and her brother Carlos, who are also part of Fairways junior program but were not playing. We chatted in my poor Spanish and I showed them Duolingo, the app I am using to help learn their language.
I watched Elias come in on the 9th. While he struggled to get out of the greenside bunker (he had 6 or 7 shots in it,) I was impressed to see his scorecard had a par and a bogey in his first ever round of golf! Why not play your first round in a tournament...?
While Elias was playing 9 holes, the older boys were playing 18. Chingi played a fair round, but Ale was sitting in equal first place, shooting 88 in what was his first tournament too!
Ale and I had previously discussed the mental game, whether or not someone has the head for competition play, and it seems he's got it. We had chatted about someone being a fantastic golfer and yet not being able to handle tournament pressure, so to see Ale shoot so well was awesome.
When I popped in to check out the action the next afternoon, Elias came running up to give me a hug and take me on a tour of the clubhouse. From upstairs, he loved the views over the golf course and swimming pools. He had shot 10 strokes better than yesterday. It may have helped that while he waited for the other boys to finish, he spent three hours practicing.
I also met David Siles, who works with underprivileged juniors at Cochabamba, and Pablo Cuellar, the pro from Tarija. We agreed to work together to make golf more accessible to children in Bolivia.
As we were chatting, Elias ran past, stopping briefly to ask where he could get a basket of balls. As he disappeared, another gentleman who had been practicing on the range said Elias was getting all the leftover balls from other people's baskets and hitting away. He also charmed someone into giving him 10 Bolivianos (about US $1.50) for his own basket of balls.
Elias strutted past proudly and I followed him to the range. He grabbed his little driver and lined up his first shot. I was very impressed to see it bounce past the 100 yard marker and took a few videos of him and tweeted one.
On Sunday, I arrived at 12 PM. Once again, as soon as Elias saw me he came running for a hug and we went and looked at his score. He shot 58. I couldn’t believe it. He has only been playing golf for 3 weeks and shot 58 in his first tournament! I smiled and shared in his happiness.
While we waited for Ale and Chingi to finish, I chatted with parents and pros from all over Bolivia who I had gotten to know the last few days. Albeit in my broken Spanish.
The last two days were very windy with bursts of rain so the conditions were not perfect – but that's golf. Ale finished in fourth place and while he was disappointed I was very impressed. Chingi ended up midfield and while Elias ended up at the bottom of his group after his big score on the first day, I think he charmed everyone he met. Another junior player had given Elias an old pair of golf shoes and another boy gave him a glove.
I met with Alberto Landivar (President of the Federación Boliviana De Golf) and the dignitaries from Las Palmas after the presentations. Alberto said he had already talked to Las Palmas about hosting a Fairways fundraiser later this year. I have sent him an email with some proposed dates for when I could return to Santa Cruz..
I'll be playing golf with Alberto very soon and I look forward working together to grow junior golf in Bolivia. Can you help? Maybe you could become a sponsor, or at the very least please share our story.