Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Golf in Western Visayas

I started playing golf several years ago primarily to socialize and meet people. Golf, then and now, was seen as an excellent venue to establish links, discuss confidential matters and close business deals with important people. But as time goes by, I find myself more and more preferring the solitude of golf rather than the company it provides. I enjoy playing alone more than playing with a group mainly because it gives me an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and free from the distractions of everyday life.

Before proceeding, let me point out three things. First, I am not an expert golfer. Far from it, my handicap is 30 plus-plus and will probably remain that way forever because my game has stopped improving. Second, I am no expert when it comes to golf courses. I have played in only one (Sta. Barbara Golf Club) out of the five golf courses in Western Visayas. Last, I am not rich and most often cannot afford to play golf every weekend. My equipment are all second-hand and I only play whenever I have extra money, just like any hobbyist who would spend their extra money on their hobby. Much of what I write here is second-hand knowledge (mostly from books, magazines and stories heard from golfer-friends) and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt.

Golf has never become a popular sport in Western Visayas mainly because of the “stigma” attached to it as a rich man’s game. Ilonggos see it as a game exclusively for hacienderos and politicians. But the irony is that all the exceptional golfers I know are not rich. They are caddies and struggling professionals who just have a natural knack for the game. Frankie Miñoza and Jennifer Rosales, two Filipino golfers making a name in the international golf circuit, are both of humble origins. Miñoza in fact started as a caddy in Davao.

Aside from being viewed as a “rich man’s game”, golf is also seen as an “old man’s game.” Most young people find the sport too sedate and dull. Unlike basketball, football or badminton, golf lacks physicality - it does not involve running, jumping, shouting, shadowing, faking, etc. The goal of golf is not to defeat your opponent but to conquer yourself. In golf, you are your own worst enemy: you win not by making your opponent commit mistakes but by not committing any. That, to me, is the beauty of the game.

So with that aside, here is how I rate the golf courses in Western Visayas.

There are currently five golf courses in Western Visayas. Undoubtedly, the best and most beautiful of the lot is the Fairways and Bluewater Golf Club in Boracay. Fairways and Bluewater offers first-class golfing facilities which are comparable to the best golf courses in Manila. It also offers a breathtaking view of the sea. Sadly, it is inaccessible to ordinary Ilonggos. I had the chance to play in Fairways during a family reunion in Boracay last January but decided not to play because their green fee was too expensive. Between spending money on golf or food, I chose the latter.

The golf course inside the Victorias Milling Company (VMC) in Negros Occidental is second. Despite the fact that I grew up inside the VMC Compound, I never got the chance to play there, having started in golf rather late. I have been meaning to go back and try it out but somehow circumstances always prevent me from playing there. The fairways and greens there are well-maintained and the course is just about right in length for me. Probably I am just biased because the place brings back childhood memories inside the community.

There are three other golf courses in the region: the Iloilo Golf and Country Club (popularly called Sta. Barbara) located in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo, Bacolod Golf and Country Club located in Murcia, Bacolod City and Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club (popularly known as Marapara) in Bata Subdivision, Bacolod City. What is notable about the three golf courses in Negros Occidental is that since it is located in the middle of sugarcane fields, you will smell the distinct odor of urea and fertilizers. If you are a long-hitter like Tiger Woods, you will love Marapara and Murcia because of its long and straight fairways.

The Iloilo Golf Club in Sta. Barbara is the oldest golf club in the Philippines and one of the oldest in Asia. It was constructed in 1907 by English (or Scottish?) engineers who built the railroad linking Iloilo City to Capiz for the sugar barons of Panay. The golf course features majestic, century-old acacia and fire trees. The downside is the golf course is surrounded by a thickly-populated community whose residents regularly use the fairways as a short-cut. So always be on the look-out when you hit your drive because you might hit a kid on his way home from school. Also, do not play there during summertime (from March to May) because the grass is brown. Through the years, the club management has made various improvements in the golf course. It now features a nice clubhouse, a charming locker and shower room, and smoother greens.

Because of the hard times, golfing in the Philippines today is in a slump. The once lively fairways and club houses are now hushed and gloomy. Nowadays, it is the Korean students who are taking over the greens.


HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger2 said...

Hah, so you are a golfing fan too... So am I and the whole family. I played in one of the clubs in Boracay some 6 or 7 years ago but can't remember which one anymore. All I remember is the unfinished resort place we stayed in courtesy of a friend.

I bought a small condo unit in front of wack-wack to be sure that whenever we are in Manila, we would be able to play but nothing doing... never got around to play there coz it was either raining or we got invited to play elsewhere when we visited.

The last time we went to Palawan, we were invited to play on the 9-hole course over at the PAF base. I wonder whether they're finished doing it up - wasn't completely finished then but boy, the place was gorgeous (not the fairway but the surroundings - I loved the huge trees with red leaves standing right in the middle of the course. Magnificent sight!

HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger2 said...

Oh yeah, and don't worry about the handicap thinggy - have never gone any better than my 30s either but I play - who cares. And know what? I also have second hand sets - only second hand sets! It's the kiddies who have new sets and the hubby. Couldn't care less if mine are second hand...what matters is that I get to whack a fair hit and am happy when I do 150 meters with them!

Congratulattions by the way on your website! Just lovely!

Iloilo City Boy said...

Thank you for your comments. I played in Wack Wack only once (after the course was renovated) and it was really beautiful. It truly deserves its reputation as one of the best(and also most expensive)golf courses in the Philippines.

The tree with red flowers that you referred to in Palawan is probably a "Fire Tree". We also have lots of it here in Iloilo golf. Fire tress are green throughout the year and only turn red during summer.

HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger2 said...

Oh yes, that's right! Fire Tree... I've never seen one green (or perhaps I have but didn't know) but it really is ONE of the most beautiful trees I've ever seen.

How I would like to have one here right in my tiny garden!

And it would do the golf course here a lot of enhancing if there were Fire Trees on the course too!

Mike said...

I will be traveling to Iloilo for a couple of weeks. Is the country club there open to the public? If so, do you know what the greens fees are?

Oliver M. Mendoza said...

The Iloilo Golf and Country Club (more popularly known as Sta Barbara) is the only golf course in Iloilo. It's open to the public and be prepared to spend around P1,500 (green fee plus caddy's fee).