From The Fringe: Carry On Up The Jungle... Golfing
In the campy British "Carry On" movie of the 1960s, there was a scene where the explorers emerge from a jungle trail to the middle of civilization.
Little did Birmingham, England native and past Vancouver resident Mike Collis realize that he would write his own golfing version of this story when he decided to move to Peru.
"In 1998 I moved here to the Peruvian Amazon town of Iquitos," Collis recalled in an email.
"Iquitos was then a town without a golf course. Other expats like me missed our golf so much in January 2004 we decided to found our own."
One of those expat golfers was Leo Jones who remembers when Collis brought up the idea in a local bar.
“It can happen, Leo," the then 55-year old Mike Collis assured Leo at the time.
"We can have a golf course here in the jungle. It’ll be the most isolated golf course in the world and it’ll be famous."
Joners smilingly recalls how unsure he was about the idea,"Then I didn’t think it was possible, but I shouldn’t have doubted Mike... who has always believed that nothing is impossible.”
Actually, Collis had already proven that he could get things done.
In 1999 Mike was asked by the Director of Tourism in Iquitos if he had any ideas to promote tourism in the Amazon region.
Mike told him that for more than 25 years he had organized raft races in England and offered the idea of a rafting race down the Amazon River, an annual event that now attracts teams from around the world.
So the idea of putting a golf course in a community where far less than one percent of the over three hundred thousand population base had ever held a club might not have been as daunting as first thought.
The first investor who signed on was Bill Grimes, who although himself not a golfer saw the importance of having a golf course in Iquitos. Since he has become even more involved and is now the manager of the course. Mike himself then became member #2 but asserts that it would not have been possible without the support from a lot of different sources.
“This remarkable achievement would not have been possible were it not for the more than 60 Founder Members from 14 different countries worldwide who had bought shares and funded the construction."
A site near the airport was selected and the course design was undertaken by fellow Englishman Wally Lloyd. Work then started on the construction of the Amazon Golf Course in April 2004.
Volunteers and workers began carving the Amazon Golf Course out of 24 acres of second growth jungle taking every precaution possible to limit ecological disturbance.
As time went by greens were shaped, beautiful Amarillo Palm trees were planted along the fairways, with other palms, broadleaf trees, and shrubs used for landscaping. Also construction on a large two-story clubhouse was undertaken.
Then on May 1st, 2008, four long years after breaking ground, the first official golfer, Johan Ohrling of Sweden tee'd it up on a 2,500-yard, 9 hole layout that includes 4 par threes, four par-fours and 1 par-five.
These days they are starting to focus on other details.
They have built two rain / shade shelters on the back side of the layout, the farthest point from the clubhouse and there are even future plans for a tennis court.
Keeping a golf course in the middle of the Amazon does require necessity being the mother of invention on occasion.
A new heavy duty green roller was made locally... welded to specification. This allowed the previous roller to have spikes welded on to it turning it into a thatcher. Needing fertilizer for the greens, trees and flowering bushes, they came up with an even more unique solution.
They purchased 48 large bags of old rotten sawdust, 50 bags of old rotten chicken guano, 35 bags of finished compost, and 30 kilos of lime.
The greens crew then mixed them to the following recipe; 5 sacks of sawdust, 1 sack of chicken guano, 1 sack of black dirt finished compost, and two hand fulls of lime.
They are confident that the application of this to the very acidic soil of the rain forest will result in some spectacular growth.
Still you should remember this is not your mother's golf course.
The Amazon Golf Course should be considered as a difficult nine hole adventure. It's not so much birdies and eagles; more like boas in the rough, caiman (mini gators) sunning in the sand traps, and piranhas lurking in the water holes.
Players are actually warned about the piranhas and red tailed boas. It is the only course in the world where each golfer is provided with a machete before he or she tees off.
Mike Collis is adamant about making visitors to be aware of the local fauna, “We always, always tell golfers NOT to retrieve balls from the water traps unless they really are intent on feeding the local wildlife!”
One golfer, David Parry from Cardiff, Wales and a Director of the Celtic Manor Golf Resort, home of the Welsh Open, who did not heed this advice, will have a constant reminder of his indiscretion for the rest of his life.
In 2008, the seven handicapper tried to retrieve a ball from the pond near to the 2nd green.
He said, “I could see my ball lying in about 6″ of water and decided to lift it out rather than lose a ball. As I put my left hand in to grab the ball in an instant a pirahña came out of the shadows and bit off the tip of my little finger. It didn’t hurt at first but it did later, and as blood dripped into the water a whole shoal of the blighters appeared."
The doctor at the Regional Hospital said, “The wound needed 3 stitches but it was a cleaner cut than I could have done with a scalpel, I’m sure his finger nail will grow back in time but a bit smaller.”
David Parry was fairly sanguine about his loss, “I’m going to dine on this forever, what other golfer can claim to have lost a finger tip to a pirahña while playing golf?. I reckon I could have gone round your beautiful little course with a score of 2 or more under par. I will now have to come back and do it.”
Collis drily observed,“Mr Parry was very lucky. The fish could have easily taken the whole finger or more."
This is not the only time that a tourist has had a run-in with a Amazon sized animal. On his website, Collis recounts the story of an American tourist, Ron Shores, who, while fording a small creek, was attacked by a 420 lbs, 22 foot Anaconda. Luckily he was strong enough to remain standing while his companions came to his aid. His experienced jungle guide wanted to shoot the snake but Ron insisted it be released.
One group of people who would not need to be given advice about the dangers of the jungle would be the locals... and getting local Peruvians to play is also a major goal for the course.
They have advertised in the local Spanish newspaper and have offered free lessons.
There are special discount for Peruvian players age 25 and younger that starts with 3 free days on the practice putting green, followed by 3 free days hitting balls on the driving range and then 3 free rounds of golf. After that they pay half-price.
Green fees for others are $25 for 18 holes and that includes 12 balls, clubs, and machete. Additional balls $1 each.
They ask that when you come, you bring extra balls to leave as they are hard to come by not to mention expensive.
Still coming to the middle of the Peruvian jungle might be a little too far to go just to play golf.
So they have put together great 6 to 9 day packages where they arrange everything from flights from Lima to accommodation to golf at the course to a 3-day river tour down the Amazon.
Prices start at a very reasonable $900 USD for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As Mike Collis puts it in an understated english way, "Perhaps one day you might 'nip' over for a round of jungle golf."
They have a very entertaining blog on their website where you keep up with developments at the course. Visit www.amazongolfcourse.com to find out more.
For other information contact Mike Collis at firstname.lastname@example.org