Golf in Colombia for Children: A dream come true
(Pittsburgh (USA) and Bucaramanga (COL))
After 20 years of running corporate golf events from my home base in Pittsburgh, I am now living in Bucaramanga, Colombia building what would be the first public Golf Course for children from low income communities, with my wife Sandra and her 11 year-old daughter, Catalina.
Golf has been a passion of mine all of my life, and my new surroundings do not change that. In fact, I have a new-found passion that I hope you will share with me.
Bucaramanga, Colombia and its neighboring cities of Floridablanca and Piedecuesta have a population of approximately 1.5 million people. The area has two private golf clubs within the city limits but no public facility, no driving ranges, and one very small, paltry miniature golf facility.
Golf has been called “A Game For Life” and I am grateful to have been brought up in the game by my father. I am saddened by the fact that economic conditions have not allowed golf to prosper in this area.
To underestimate the potential draw of golf in Colombia would be to ignore global golf statistics, even in soccer-crazed countries. Golf is flourishing and will continue to grow globally. In some instances, it needs nurturing and cared for. Colombia is one of those instances.
Many of you know that Colombia has a player on The PGA Tour, Camilo Villegas. Camilo has burst onto the scene in the last 2 years, and his stellar play earned him a Top 30 in earnings in 2007. His “Spider Man” style of reading greens, his trends in clothing, and his swashbuckling style of play have gained him huge popularity worldwide. He is a sporting hero in Colombia, in a country dominated by soccer, baseball, and basketball.
As many of you might not know, Colombia produced a National Amateur champion in Maria Jose Uribe. Maria Jose won the 2007 Women’s US Amateur, beating the best collegiate play in the finals. She also happens to be from Bucaramanga. Maria Jose learned the game at one of the private clubs in town. We are all wishing Maria Jose the very best as she enters her first year of college at UCLA.
The average income in this area is approximately $350 per month. It is unrealistic that a “family-style” facility that we are proposing could make enough money to recoup the costs associated with building the course.
My initial belief was that land would be cheap and easy to come by. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Colombia is growing its infrastructure and also its image in world opinion. In a country not long ago plagued by security issues, Colombia is now fueled by six years of progress, not only in personal security, but global commerce as well.
Bucaramanga is the country’s 5th largest city and has never been afflicted with the past issues of notorious cities like Bogota, Cali, or Medellin, even though these cities have shed their past images to find themselves reborn into the great cultural cities they once were. Bucaramanga carries the moniker, “the Pretty City” and is known for its many city parks.
Construction is everywhere down here and therefore land here is at a premium. The area is also very mountainous and flat land is also scarce.
We have purchased a piece of land on the edge of Piedecuesta, approximately 15 miles from the center of Bucaramanga, and only 2 miles from the center of Piedecuesta, a bustling town of laborers and merchants. The land is approximately 12 acres in dimension and has a lovely little stream surrounding 60% of its oval shape.
What we plan on building on this land is:
• A 6-hole Par 3 Course
• A (night time only) driving range
• A Pitch & Putt - FREE for children under 12
• A Miniature golf course
The facility will bear the name, Green Tree Golf named after my home suburb in Pittsburgh.
Sandra and I will be building our house on the land as well so we will be intimately involved with the day to day operations. We have spent nearly all of our lives savings on buying the 12 acres and budgeting for our new house.
Our initial budget to BUILD THE COURSES and CLUBHOUSE is $150,000. We cannot afford to do this alone. We are looking for friends and partners to help. The sport that we love and take for granted is out of reach for the common citizen due to land costs and average income. Help us build a place for the children and familes of Colombia and give hope to those who never dreamed that they had “The Right To Play”.
Tony Ciabattoni & Sandra Gonzalez