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

Click here for print friendly version                                                                                                                 Page 1 of 3

  This piece was  commissioned by TheSpook, a lively Web rag started by the multi-talented and multifaceted Anthony Sapienza, who subsequently changed the name to Metropole. Posting it  as a Dispatch is admittedly a bit of a stretch—what, after all,  does investigative golf have to do with the vanishing world ?—but  I’m  including it  because it’s always a good idea  to push the envelope of the mix, lest the writer and his readers become too set in their ways. To me, it evokes a period of my life that is no more, when Brazil, and later golf, were a  central part of it, and the Brazil that I first came to in l976 doesn’t exist any more either. This will be elaborated in a future Dispatch on Lapa, the old bohemian quarter of Rio. 

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

         Ten years ago, I was  obsessed with golf, and because my magazine assignments and book research  took me all over the world, I always tried to avail myself of the local facilities and  get in a round wherever I happened to be. I played in  Katmandu, New Delhi,  Bujumbura,   Harare,  Kinshasa, Kampala, Little Rock, Amarillo, Mexico City. I played the eight  postcolonial  courses in Uganda, most of which were reverting to savanna,  and all  45 ones in the Adirondacks, and  the native American courses of  New Mexico, with local tribal champions and chairmen.   These rounds never failed to provide insights into the local culture and gave me instant access to the local elete,  the movers and shakers,  who were less guarded about sharing their thoughts on what was happening than they would have been in a formal interview.   Not infrequently,  I would  pick up leads or inside information about the story I was working on. For instance, when I was sent by Vanity Fair to the Central Africa Republic to cover the trial of its ex-president, Jean-Bedel Bokassa (who was accused, among many other things, of clubbing schoolchildren to death  and eating a mathematician who had fallen into disfavor), one day I played hooky from the trial and repaired to the rudimentary (oiled-sand greens) course in Bangui, the capital, where I found myself paired with none other than the new minister of justice, who over nineteenth-hole hole beers  told me the verdict two weeks before it was officially reached  : namely, that Bokassa would be sentenced to death, which would be commuted to life. Which was exactly what happened.
     These and similar experiences made me realize that golf  is not just a stupid but incredibly difficult and highly addictive  game that I am spending far too much time playing, it’s professionally useful. This is something that every businessman knows, of course : deals,  not only little white balls, are struck on golf courses. But I was the first, and to my knowledge, am still the only writer who has realized what a journalistic and anthropological gold mine golf courses can be. Particularly in the Third world, the dividends are so great that I gradually made it a practice, whenever I arrived in some new country, to hit the local course sooner rather than later. It was also a great way of acclimating to the local landscape and climate and flora and fauna. 
      And so, to legitimize and capitalize on my addiction, as much as anything else,  I devised a new form of journalism—postgonzo, dada, participant-observer-- which I called Investigative Golf, and the editor of Esquire was so intrigued by it that he hired me to write a golf column. This was a few years ahead of the baby-boomer golf boom, which didn’t  take off until later in the nineties. Once again,  I was ahead of the curve.  
      No golf column is worth a damn unless the columnist is gets to review the latest equipment, I reasoned, so I had Taylor Made and Calloway  UPS me their latest  graphite clubs, which I took to my home course, Craig Wood in Lake Placid. I teed off in a warm, fine rain.  This was a round I will always remember.  On the fourth hole, a straightforward par three to a bunker-guarded green, I hit the Calloway eight-iron. The ball cleared the traps, landed ten feet from the pin, took a few bounces, and rolled in. Hey everybody ! Hole in one ! Hole in one ! I shouted, jumping up and down with excitement.  But  I was the only person on the course. No one  else had witnessed it, so  it didn’t count.   Then, two holes later,  I drained a thirty-footer for an eagle, but this, too, was unwitnessed.  But I took these two holes (don’t ask about the rest of the round; I still didn’t break eighty) as a good omen. The golf gods are smiling on my column, I told myself.  I was psyched. 
                   For my maiden outing, I decided to go to Brazil, whose president, Fernando Color de Mello, had just been caught with his fingers in the till to the tune of nineteen billion dollars. The Brazilians were extremely upset. Here they had elected him because he had promised to clean up the rampant, institutionalized  corruption in the government, and what had he done ? whisked off a  significant chunk of the national reserve into numbered banks accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.  The scandal was starting to resemble a Greek tragedy. Color had been busted by his brother, in revenge for sleeping with his  (the brother’s) wife, and their mother  so devastated by the revelations about Fernando and the hatred between her sons that she had had an aneurism and was in a coma. 
       So I thought I’d fly down to Rio and see what I could come up with by working  the golf angle. Brazil having been a Portuguese and not a British colony, it has very few golf courses. Golf is not a word that  the average Brazilian has even heard of (except that there is a popular domestically manufactured  Brazilian Volkswagen model  the Golf). When I registered at the Windsor Palace in Copacabana—a small hotel a block from the beach that caters to Argentinian sex tourists, where I usually stay when I’m in Rio—this time I didn’t put down  pesquisador, as I usually did where  the card asked for my profession. This means “researcher,” and gets you automatic respect in Brazil; everyone calls you Doctor (Dotor). I wrote golfista : golfer. The guy at the front desk read this and glanced nervously at the long black bag containing my golf bag and clubs.   I realized what he was thinking.  Golfista (golfer) was a word he had probably never heard of and therefore wasn’t computing,  so he thought I had written golpista, which means a fomenter of coups, a word which everybody in Latin America knows because coups (golpes) are happening all the time. He must be thinking  my bag is full of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. “Não rapaz, voce não esta pegando o negocio certinho, I explained¸ you’ve got me all wrong,  and unzipping the bag showed  him the Calloways.
        I soon learned that the minute fraternity of Brazilian golfers included two of Color’s brothers-in-law. These were  guys I obviously had to play with.   But not right away. First I had to ease  into the scene, which was  at Gavea Golf Club, the swankest club in Rio and in fact, the only one in the city proper. There was another course in the outskirts, but forget about it, my sources told me. One of the brothers-in-law belonged to Gavea. So Gavea was the scene to infiltrate. There are two problems with investigative golf, I mused : in the first place, having this hidden agenda of trying to coax information from the people you’re playing with is  contrary to the gentlemanly spirit of game. This was causing me a certain amount of angst, but the whole thing was such an interesting concept that I could live with it. Secondly, once they figure out what you’re up to, you’ll never  play at that club again.  This was even worse, but there are a lot of courses out there.  

Continue to Next Page

Back to the Home Page
Visit the Dispatches Discussion Room
Send Comments and Questions to AlexShoumatoff@Shoumatopia.Com