Dispatch #12: Annals of Investigative Golf : The Gavea Golf Club in Rio de Janeiro. 

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         I  called the club and asked to speak with the pro, whose name was Mario, and explained  that  I was writing an article on golf in Brazil for a prestigious American magazine, and asked if it would it be possible to play a round with some interesting and colorful members who could  show me a little about how golf is played in Brazil. 
        Mario said to come the next morning. The physical layout of Rio, if you’ve never been there, is one the most beautiful of any city in the world. There’s a series 
of beaches broken by rounded granite domes that come right down to the sea, and Gavea is in Sao Conrado, the next beach down the coast after Ipanema and Leblon. Copacabana, where I was staying, is  the next beach up.   Sao Conrado  is much less built up than Copacabana or Ipanema/Leblon. It’s like a little tropical paradise,  a world of its own.  Looming over it is a  four-thousand-foot-high anvil shaped mountain called the Pedra de Gavea from which hang-gliders and paragliders are constantly taking off and drifting down to the beach. Then there is a wall of other crags and domes,  whose slopes are frothing with rainforest  and home to some of the last golden-lion tamarins on the planet, so that Sao Conrado sits  in a bowl or valley, enclosed by mountains and the sea.
      The golf course was laid out on the valley floor in the twenties so that Rio’s then-sizeable British expatriate community could have a place to play.  A few days later I played with one of the last representatives of this scene, a gentleman or seventy or so who had grown up in Rio and was the oldest member. He had played at Gavea several times a week for decades. He wore a deerstalker hat and sat on a shooting stick when I was hitting my shot, and muttered bugger when he topped his drive and was completely British although only been to England a couple of times in his life.  
         Mario turned out to be a German Brazilian in his sixties, who had grown up in the south  of the country. In some southern cities German is the first language. Mario had invited the Brazilian woman’s champion to join us. Her name was Adriana and she was absolutely gorgeous-- a bronzed brunette of about  thirty,   wearing very short white shorts,  a pink blouse, and a broad-brimmed planter’s hat,   classy and athletic but still feminine and very sexy. She was a criollo, a white, European Brazilian like Mario; her father was French,  she herself was married to a Frenchman who had some very profitable business  in Rio, and they had a daughter as I recall. 

 I myself looked the part, like  a pro on the Latin American tour, with my huge black Calloway bag and the latest graphite clubs, which didn’t impress Adriana, because she had  the latest titanium Calloways, which she had just picked up on one of her frequent shopping trips to New York.  Clearly, she took the game very seriously. She took almost daily lessons from Mario, whom she called maestro, and as she walked  up to the first tee and set up and adjusted her grip she cast anxious glances at him. She pushed her drive off  into some jacaranda trees, she moaned Adriana, in heartbreaking anguish.  I chose a two-iron and smacked my drive 220 yards low and straight down the middle, just beyond the dogleg, leaving an easy 130 yards straight to the pin.  Bravo, Mario said.  He drove to just behind me, and we set out, Mario in a cart, Adriana and I on foot, our huge bags lugged by a small, barefoot moreno (a dark-skinned mestizo like most of the people in Brazil) who looked about fifty and was from Rocinha, a favela  that abuts the course on one side and has four hundred thousand residents; it’s the biggest slum in Latin America. The huge disparity between the rich and the poor in Brazil—according to the latest census, 23 million out of the population of 170 million have less than a dollar a day to live on— was hard to miss in Sao Conrado, even for the most out to lunch gringo. The course was surrounded by a high wall patrolled by guys with Uzis to protect the members from being assaulted by the nearby slumdwellers. Our caddy was stunted, toothless, and emaciated and was soon staggering under the combined weight of our two enormous bags. I wondered if he had had anything to eat  that day. He was inches shorter than the vibrant classy, beef-fed,  Adriana whose teeth were all there. 
             “Where are you staying ?” Adriana asked as we walked up the fairway to our shots. I didn’t realize it yet, but this was not a casual question. She was sizing me up. 
       “The Windsor Palace,” I said. 
        Puzzlement furrowed Adriana’s lovely face. The Windsor Palace ? What hotel is this ? I could hear her thinking. I have never heard of it.  
            “It’s a little pension in Copacabana that caters mainly to Argentine sex tourists, ” I explained. Copacabana ? I could almost hear her thinking. He’s staying in Copacabana ?
This was not a bairro, a part of town,  where anybody in Adriana’s world  would dream of staying, unless it was at the Copacabana Palace. It may have been chique fifty years ago, but now it was seedy and seething and seamy and almost Fellinian. I could feel that I had just fallen a notch in Adriana’s estimation. What’s the matter,  I thought to myself a little testily, The Windsor Palace isn’t good enough for you ? 
       I spanked a nine iron to ten feet and sank the putt for a bird, beating both Mario and Adriana, who punched out of the jacarandas and saved par with the sangfroid of someone who had practiced this shot for hours under the watchful gaze of the maestro.  Americans from the South call it a Texas knockdown.  I call it the Zimbabwe, because that’s exactly what it does,  if you hit it right :  a low, scooting Zim, that takes a big bounce, Ba, followed by a little one, Bwe, then dribbles  up to and right into the cup.
       I led the way to the second tee, brimming with self-satisfaction, and  proceeded to smack three drives that went straight out for a hundred yards then suddenly veered drastically to the left, flying over the wall and landing right in the busy road that ran along the beach. It was impossible to see whether any cars had been hit.  These were the type of shot that a golf buddy of mine calls an AMF, short for Adios Motherfucker.   My score for the  hole was a humbling eleven. Whatever momentum I had created on the first hole was more than canceled out.   I had hoped to be able keep up the illusion of being a pro taking a break from the PGA Tour with a little r and r in Rio  a little longer, but my game was not cooperating. And  it got worse. By the eleventh hole, a short par three with a green entirely surrounded by water, the wheels had come off  completely. I put six balls in the drink before  finally making the green. Adriana was keeping score for us. “And what did you get for that one ?” she asked with a shiver of distaste.
       “I think it was fourteen,” I said. This was really bad. Enough for  Mario to suddenly remember that he had  a lesson. He took off in his cart for the clubhouse, leaving   Adriana and me and the caddy to finish the back nine. 
       “So what are some Brazilian golf expressions ?” I asked Adriana. “Like what do you call an eight ? In the States we have all kinds of terms :  in Texas it’s called dog balls, in New England the Dreaded Snowman. “We call it a crab,” she said. “And when someone asks how your round went, you can say, eu nem embocei nemhuma,” which means that you didn’t drain a single drive or approach, so that it went right into the cup. 
       Finally, on the eighteenth hole, I recovered my game and nailed my drive from a very   elevated tee straight out 250 yards, leaving me with  135 to the pin. The green was on a mound, so let’s say we’re looking at  more like 145 here, I mumbled to myself.   I took out the eight. The ball popped way up in the air and came down right on the  tip of the flagstick,  slid down it shaft, and dropped  right into the cup. It was a shot you could stand there  for the rest of your life and never be able to repeat.  Nonchalantly, as if this sort of this happened every time I went out on a golf course, I said,   to the astonished Adriana, whose mouth had dropped open,   “Parece qu’eu  embocei uma, I seemed to have drained one. Adriana was beginning to wonder if she was being made fun of, if my atrocious second through the seventeenth holes had all been a setup, um gozaçâo.    
      Our caddy had cut one of his feet on some glass several holes ago and was bleeding pretty badly and was so weak and wobbly that he didn’t look like he was going to make it to the clubhouse. He was getting five hundred thousand new cruzeiros—the equivalent of two bucks, with the runaway inflation a lot less by the end of the day-- —for carrying our bags, and approaching Adriana he asked her meekly, implored her if the senhora (she) could possibly advance him five hundred thousand for the next round, because his wife was sick and he needed to buy her some medicine. Adriana looked at him as if he were an annoying  piece  of bellybutton lint, and said,  “Absolutely not, and if you ever dare to ask me for something like that again, I will see that you are fired.”
      Adriana and I sat down on the patio. I was uncustomarily silent. What a bitch !
Adriana ordered a glass of lemonade and when the waiter brought it she screamed at him, “You idiot ! I said no ice.”
       I can’t believe this, I thought.  It must be de rigeur  to abuse the help at this club, otherwise Adriana wouldn’t have dared to be so outrageous. This was a side of Brazil I had never seen before.   
      Down below us, one of the orange-uniformed maintenance crew  was mowing the grass, and a few minutes later, he deftly—so cunningly that there was no way you could have possibly accused him of doing it on purpose--  managed to direct the clippings that were flying up from the mower into a gust of wind that swept them up to the patio and landed all over Adriana’s blouse, in her hair, on her beautiful legs and her very short shorts. The help tittered, but quickly recovered before any of the members caught their amusement. Adriana fled to the ladies’ lockeroom. I saw her the next day, having a lesson with Mario, but she barely said hello. 
     The game with the brother-in-law who belonged to Gavea never materialized. It took a week before I was finally able to get him to invite me for a round,  and on the appointed morning, it was pouring rain.  And I was flying up to Brasilia that afternoon, so this was the last chance. I had to play with him, rain or no rain.  So I called the brother-in-law’s cellphone. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to play today,” he said.
        “What’s a little rain ?” I said.  “So we get a little wet. We can have a great time out there, anyway.”  
      I could feel the brother-in-law’s growing suspicion on the other end of the phone,  wondering, What’s this gringo’s game ? Why is he so desperate to play golf with me ?
then slowly realizing, Aha ! This must be about Fernando.  What these journalists won’t stoop to. 
      We left it that  we would take a raincheck until  I got back from Brasilia, but when I called his office a week later, his secretary said, Sorry, Senhor (I don’t remember his name) is busy all day.
      “What about tomorrow then ?” 
      “He’s busy then too. In fact he’s  booked solid for the rest of the week.” 
       “What about next week, then ?”
       “Next week--  even worse.” 
       So from the investigative golf point of view,  the trip to Brazil was a bust. I didn’t get any significant goods on Color from the golf courses of Rio and Brasilia, and the editor of Esquire never ran the column from Rio. Instead he suggested that I go to Little Rock and try to play golf with Clinton’s buddies, the FOB’s, as they were called. Clinton had just been  elected to his first term, and he was a big golfer, but he was not a Republican, so what kind of a message was he trying to send us ?
 
 
 
 
 

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