A golf trip to Uruguay offers unrivaled tastes of exclusivity and a rare opportunity to play an untouched, historic course. I block my drive to the right on the eighth hole at the Garzón Tajamares Golf Club and watch as my ball sails over a small cluster of palm-fronded butia trees. When I arrive on the other side of the butias, a white Titleist quickly comes into view, sitting up in the rough. After assessing the ball’s position and determining the best angle to hit my approach shot, I select a club. That I never stop to first determine if the ball is mine is unusual. Under normal circumstances, such behavior would exemplify a lack of proper golf etiquette.
But these aren’t normal circumstances. And that realization is slowly sinking in as I finish the front nine.
Set in southeastern Uruguay on the edge of the country’s thriving new wine region and less than 15 miles from the coast, Garzón Tajamares is a private golf course – so private, in fact, that less than 20 rounds of golf are typically played on it each year. Because of that, my three playing partners and I are the only golfers on the course today. As I’m later told, we may be the only golfers to play the course for weeks, maybe even months. With that in mind, I’ve learned that after hitting an errant shot, I can safely assume that any ball that turns up in the general location of the misfire is mine. The logic is simple: There’s no one else on the course who could’ve hit it.
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Club de Golf del Uruguay is set in downtown Montevideo / ©Bankston Images
Access to Garzón Tajamares is offered through membership in The Garzón Club, an exclusive wine and social society that carries $200,000 initiation fees and $10,000 annual dues. Both were created by Alejandro Bulgheroni, but the golf course was initially built to be his own private backyard oasis, a sanctuary that made it easier for the billionaire entrepreneur to occasionally play at least a few holes. Eventually, two-time major champion Angel Cabrera was brought in to subtly tweak the routing, lengthen the course and improve its drainage and playability. Aside from that, much of the course remains as Bulgheroni first envisioned it – an assemblage of holes that bound over and trundle down gentle hillsides, with beautifully maintained water hazards in play and more than 50 bunkers certain to test a golfer’s mettle in the sand.
A Garzón Club membership is not the only way to gain access to the course, however. Garzón Tajamares is designated as a PGA Tour Preferred Golf Course, which means it’s affiliated with the TPC Network, and as such, it can be played by members of any of the 30 TPC golf clubs around the world.
It is not the only course in Uruguay, either. A dozen exist, most of which are private, although all welcome public play on Mondays (Garzón Tajamares being the lone exception). Arguably, Uruguay’s most historic course, Club de Golf del Uruguay, offers a striking counterbalance to the playing experience at Garzón Tajamares.
The course, which is set in downtown Montevideo, boasts a well-preserved layout designed by Alister MacKenzie. Built in 1930 during golf’s golden age in the Americas, Club de Golf del Uruguay plays at least 500 yards shorter than Bulgheroni’s contemporary layout. With its tight, tree-lined fairways, fast greens and precipitous bunkers, it offers an experience illustrative of how golf was played almost a century ago.
“You’ll find some of his signature designs here,” Carlos Crispo, the club’s captain, says of MacKenzie’s revered architectural work.
“We don’t want to lose the MacKenzie design,” he adds, explaining that the club has invested resources to preserve the layout as it originally existed. “It’s very interesting and important to us. We want to preserve that.”
Club de Golf del Uruguay offers a striking counterbalance to Garzón Tajamares / ©Bankston Images