“Seis” my caddie says to me as he pulls an 6 iron out of the bag flung over his shoulders as we stand at the tee-box of the world’s highest golf course. I look across the dusty valley lined with tall pillars of gray sandstone rock, and think to myself “185 yards and he’s handing me an 6 Iron?”
Trustingly I take the club while wondering if he has mistaken me for the hulk, and I would normally pull a 4 iron from this distance. I look meekly down at my white speckled Titleist #1 golf ball and all I can think is “please don’t embarrass yourself.” I pull my hands back up behind my head, while systematically checking down a list of things I must do: “shift weight, smooth and balanced, keep club face closed, head down, extend through, and finish.” As I successfully slice through the ball my excited eye watches as my well struck orb flies high and straight though the light air. It seems to be on a collision course with the bright green landing pad that awaits on the other side.
“Did you see it land” I ask my caddie.
“Yo creo que estas bien (I think you’re alright)” he says with a bit of a smirk.
I walk up to the green expecting to see my ball laying proudly in the middle of the green. To my surprise, however, the ball was nowhere to be found. My golfer’s instinct sent my heart’s normally dull pace racing thinking I finally may have scored the ultimate golfers prize: not just a hole-in-one, but a whole in one on the world’s highest golf course.
Like a curious child I stood over the hole in lip-biting anxiety, but to my shame, it wasn’t to be. The reality set in, I cleared the ball well over the green nearly 200 yards in total. The ball’s final destination, it turned out, was not the hole but the gaping moon valley that sits behind green. I learned right then that golfing at 3319 meters above sea level will add a whole new element to this already frustrating sport of sometimes hopeless repetition.
The Bolivian capital of La Paz is a city of contrasts. Rickety cabs drive side by side with Land Rovers, and well built and colourful houses sit on the top of valleys while below sit run down self-made irregularly established houses of brick and mud. The city’s golf course is no different. The surrounding landscape is arid, if not desolate and the valley in which the course sits is jaggedly studded by towers of serrated gray rock. The course, on the other hand is bright green, and lined steadily with healthy pine trees. The course does, however, does an amazing job of blending the local environs and the traditional golf settings. One hole, named “Hoya de la Luna (hole of the moon)” has golfers teeing from green patch on one side of the region’s famous Moon Valley, and attempting to land their ball on a landing pad on the other side.
In a country where poverty is extremely high, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America based on many indexes, golf is an absolute luxury. This is a privilege reserved for the rich and powerful here in Bolivia. At first one almost feels guilty as they step on to the fairways for a wonderful day on the links while the majority of city’s population simply struggles to get by. However, as horrible as it may sound, the guilt quickly subsides as you take in the fresh calm air of the course, and send a ball into orbit through the thin high altitude air.
Playing the Golf Course.
The highest golf course in the world is located in the suburbs about 30 minutes outside of central La Paz; it’s about a 40 Boliviano taxi ride away (about 6 US dollars). The green fees vary depending on the day of the week. During the weekdays the course costs about 60 US dollars, but on the weekend the price for green fees jumps to nearly 100 US dollars. You will also be required to hire a caddy for your game; they will come in handy with your difficult club selection at this altitude. A caddy costs only about 11 USD, although once one sees how hard they work, and how pleasant they are, most end up leaving a much larger tip. Club rentals are also available, at a price of 11 US a round.