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Training ground for Filipino golf champs

By Lawrence Casiraya

As a sport, golf is largely defined not only by its players but the environment where they play. To a certain degree, golf courses — like Augusta, the site for the US Masters tournament — are as famous as the legends that have played on its greens.

Locally, the Calatagan Golf Club, which bears the name of the sleepy coastline village where it is located, carries a certain character and is often cited by players — enthusiasts and professional players alike — as among the best courses in the country.

The course is famous for its many varieties of flowering trees (notably, Kalachuchi trees) and shrubs that dot the entire property.

But at the same time, the beautiful foliage and the topography combine to make it among the most challenging courses in the Philippines.

The Pinoy Golfer Blog describes it as a “shotmaker’s course”, its tree-lined fairways challenging players to keep the ball from going astray all the way to the greens. The longer, par-5 holes measure no more than 7,000-yards and rewards long hitters.

On a recent visit, I chanced upon a veteran Singaporean golfer and quickly asked him (after hitting a tee shot) if he’s played in other courses in the Philippines aside from Calatagan.

He told me he has played in a total of 10 courses in the country and said he finds it one of, if not the most challenging, courses he has ever played. On the downside, though, it’s not as accessible as the newer courses that have sprouted in nearby Tagaytay that are easier to get to from Manila.

If there’s a good thing to being a challenging course, it makes for an excellent breeding ground for Filipino golf champs. Mark Fernando, the country’s reigning amateur champ, is a product of the National Caddies Open Program that trains promising caddies full-time at the Calatagan Golf Club.

In his column, Tommy Manotoc, a respected figure in the local golf scene and himself former general manager of the Calatagan Golf Club, also took note of former caddies like Frankie Minoza (arguably one of the best Filipino golfers in history) and past champions like Juvic Pagunsan and Jay Bayron who worked the course before taking up the sport themselves.

With this caddie program still in full swing, Calatagan can pride itself in being a training ground for future Filipino golf champs.