After 25 years of running corporate golf events from my home base in Pittsburgh, PA, FAIRWAYS GOLF SERVICES I now live just outside Bucaramanga, Colombia with my wife Sandra and her daughter, Catalina.
Golf has been a passion of mine all of my life, and my new surroundings do not change that. In fact, I have a new-found passion that I hope you will share with me.
Bucaramanga, Colombia and its neighboring cities of Floridablanca and Piedecuesta (which is where the golf course is located) have a population of approximately 1.5 million people. The area has two private golf clubs within the city limits but no public golf course of any kind.
What we have done is built a 9-hole par 3 course. The holes range from 75-120 yards. The greens are made of the same grass as the fairways and we maintain the course with one small lawnmower and one weed whacker. Our Foundation, El Derecho A Jugar, is certified by the Colombian Government although we do not qualify as a 501C3 in The United States. The goal of the Foundation is to bring golf to the children, families and people of Colombia. We offer free lessons and golf for kids under 14 four days a week. We charge our paying customers the equivalent of $2.50 for 9 holes and $4.50 for 18 holes. It is a a FirstTee concept with a twist, WE ARE INTRODUCING THE GAME TO ALL PEOPLE, not just the underprivileged.
To underestimate the potential draw of golf in Colombia would be to ignore global golf statistics, even in soccer-crazed countries. Golf is flourishing and will continue to grow globally. In some instances, it needs nurturing and cared for. Colombia is one of those instances.
The average income in this area is approximately $400 per month. We need private and public support to exist. Our donations have slowed since the global downturn, however, we are existing and more people are coming to learn and play.
Bucaramanga is the country’s 5th largest city, the capital of the State of Santander, and has never been afflicted with the past issues of notorious cities like Bogota, Cali, or Medillin. Bucaramanga carries the moniker, “the Pretty City” and is known for its many city parks. Sandra and I are now living in a house adjacent to the course and we are intimately involved with the day to day operations.We have spent nearly all of our lives savings on buying the 12 acres of land. With the help of a few generous donors, we were able to raise $30,000 to transform a fruit and vegetable farm into Tierra Del Sol Golf Course.
The sport that we love and take for granted is out of reach for the common citizen due to land costs and average income. Help us continue our project. We are breaking social barriers and teaching the world that golf truly can be… A GAME FOR ALL.
Thank you Tony Ciabattoni & Sandra Gonzalez