Santa Cruzing


fairways_bolivia_tiffany_chaisson

This morning I decided to run around Las Palmas Golf Club which is very close to where I live in Santa Cruz. I can’t quite see the course from my balcony, but it becomes visible as soon as I step out of the gate from my building.

I explored the streets and looked at the wealthy homes surrounding the course. Lots of marble and tiles and quite different to the brick and concrete homes that are common in poorer areas.

One side of the course runs by the local food markets and I have no idea what the street vendors thought of this crazy white lady running past while they earned their living. I said hello to many as they plied their trade, delivering food from their barrows to nearby cars. They certainly don’t need to run for their exercise.

I have spent four days this week at El Dorado golf course working with Edwin, Roger and the juniors. There are nearly 20 juniors in the program, all of differing ages and levels of golf.

Two of the kids, Ale and Chingi are both very good players, and I was very impressed to learn Ale has only been playing for a year.

The children always start with warm up. They are usually still doing it when I arrive and one or two of them come running at me for a hug. We then practice our stance, grip and ball position on the range.

Putting or chipping practice follows and we then practice for the competition that is held on Fridays. Edwin, Roger and I walk amongst the children giving instruction and helping them with their swing.

I have my phone with me translating the words I need to use but mostly I bumble along in my Spanglish and demonstrate what I would like them to do. It is satisfying to both myself and the child when they make the adjustments I suggest and they hit balls better immediately.

I have to thank Dave Bowlan, my golf guru in Canada, for the multiple lessons he has given me so that I can see what is happening, from a closed club face to an incorrect ball position. I may not be able to train a tour player but I can certainly teach the fundamentals. Playing each day with the children has also improved my golf. It has been a while since I could play five times a week. 

As I drive to work during the week, I've noticed there aren't many other women driving. I see maybe four or five women behind the wheel, out of hundreds of cars. I asked Edwin and he confirmed that it's why I get a lot of strange looks and double-takes. Today is Saturday, and I did notice today that there were a few more women driving – perhaps it is a weekend thing as they pick up groceries. 

I also happen to be an aggressive driver - you really have to be in Santa Cruz - pushing my way in, getting where I need to go. Never before has the old adage, “He who hesitates, is lost.” been more apt than in Bolivian traffic.

I've been planning a road trip and have nutted-out a 2,000km loop of Bolivia. We will be stopping in Cochabamba and La Paz, not only for golf but to do some touristic things. I really want to see Lake Titicaca and Tiuanaca. Also my friends, Damien, Elissa and Brian have bought me a cycle tour down the Death Road. In 60 kilometres, the road drops from 4000 to 1000 feet above sea level.

The plan includes seeing the golf courses in Cochabamba and La Paz and also playing mountain golf in Potosi. I believe there is no grass at Potosi, so that will be interesting. We are also going to see the salt flats which I have been told is like no place on earth although I have seen salt flats in Australia so I assume it might be similar. Edwin has never been so it will be new for him too.

Next week my days at the golf course will start at 2 PM as school is back and we will be at the course for five or so hours in the afternoons. Teaching until the sun sets and then using the gym for physical training.

Edwin and Roger want to show the villages where these children come from that golf improves your life. The kids revere the two of them and are delighted to have the opportunity to play golf.

I have emailed John Norris from the PGA TOUR to see if he can help me with getting the clubs we have in Calgary shipped here for the children to use. They have a few sets that are shared between the kids and Carlito owns a set that is a US Kids Golf set that he shares with the smallest children.

It would be great to get some small sets but I only have adult clubs that have been donated. Lucky I spent time with David Havens from Spare for Change and watched him cut club after club down for children as young as two. Between us (if I am still here when the clubs arrive), I am sure we can get some smaller sets together.

Yesterday I played 9 holes in the morning with Ale, Chingi and another junior called Carlito. It was the Friday competition at El Dorado (Ale won). As we played, I got chatting to a gentleman and his caddy who were also out golfing. He was the first golfer, besides our program group, that I have seen out there.

He asked how I knew about the course as he had lived in the area for 12 years and only heard about it this week. I told him I was here to help the children and help Edwin and Roger set up a golf program. He asked for my contact details as I told him about Fairways and said he would be in touch when I gave him a card.

Following our round I headed home for an hour until Edwin came by and we headed off for another round, this time at Urubo Golf Club. I had  been chatting with the Urubo golf pro, Teofilo, on Facebook, and he has been testing my Spanish. He doesn't speak English, so Spanish is the only language we communicate in. It was good to finally meet him. He too is loving me being in Bolivia, talking all things golf and promoting the game.

Like El Dorado, Urubo is a 9 hole course and Roger, Ale and Chingi played from the blue tees while Edwin and I played from the whites. I started like a pro, splitting the fairway with my drive then nailing my three wood on the green about 20 feet from the pin. A little short on the birdie putt but a par to start is fantastic for me.

At the 5th Teofilo joined our group and played the remaining holes with us. I was surprised to see the golfer I'd met earlier that day at El Dorado in a group behind too. I waved and smiled at him as Ale asked me if that was the man from today. It sure was.

My next task for Fairways is to head off to El Dorado to discuss the pricing and scale for an ongoing junior program with Edwin and Roger. The cost of golf in Bolivia is extremely high in comparison to other countries. My only wish is that we had enough funding to support the whole program, as I don't think we can pay for more than one or two juniors under the current structure.

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