Play is underway in the third Latin America Amateur Championship and early scoring is excellent. Fergus Bisset gives us the latest from Panama both on course and off.

TAGS:

I’ve been out on course this morning at Club de Golf de Panama taking in some of the early action in the Latin America Amateur Championship. Here’s some of the things I’ve learned so far:

The early lead
Julian Perico of Peru is out in front as I type. He played his front nine – the back nine at Golf Club de Panama – in a superb 29. Talk about a fast start! He stumbled with a double bogey at the 2nd but has bounced back with birdies on the next two holes. He’s currently on six-under-par.

Julian Perico

Julian Perico

The standard of play
In general, it is very high and noticeably improved since this championship was first held at Buenos Aires in 2015. The margin between the top guys in this event and professional golfers is pretty small. There’s some powerful ball striking to be seen from these youngsters – 450-yard par-4s reduced to driver and wedge is the norm. I saw defending champion Paul Chaplet hit one over 350 yards on the 5th. He left himself just a flick to the green, but it did him no good as he couldn’t get any spin and the ball ran through the back… Still a little to learn, but he is only 17.

There’s a significant amount of natural talent to admire though and not all these youngsters have everything provided to them. I saw one player who was wearing an old rain glove with no Velcro on it. His caddy was hauling a tatty old bag filled with a rag-tag assortment of clubs. I watched him consider a tricky spot in the trees while smoking a cigarette, he stubbed it out and then played a tremendous escape and saved par. I was reminded of Denunzio from Caddyshack. He’s currently level par through 16 and I’m rooting for him.

Short game skills are superb and they play flops and pitches without fear. Miguel Ordonez of Panama got up and down every time I saw him and he’s just posted a 67. Impressive.

The experience
This event provides great experience for these young players. It’s like nothing else they could be part of as amateur golfers. There are big-screen scoreboards, referees with each game, scorers, press conferences, free food and more. It’s just great preparation for the future. When it comes to a first pro event, they won’t be daunted. Unless it’s on the PGA or European Tour it’ll be nothing compared to the scale of this superbly run tournament.

The wildlife
The course is right on the edge of the jungle and the wildlife to be seen out there is fantastic. Behind the 4th green, the jungle looms so ominously that I didn’t want to stand too close in case a jaguar pulled me in. If one did there would be a decent fight for the scraps. Buzzards circle overhead and small alligators live in the water hazards. As Mike Woodcock of the R&A suggested to me: having buzzards circling when you are playing golf could be rather disconcerting for the less strong minded. I’m glad I’m just watching.

The buzzards are circling

The buzzards are circling

There are wading birds in the hazards too and song birds in the trees producing a variety of calls, some prettier than others. One down by the 3rd green sounded like a dog’s squeaky toy – I wondered if it was taking the mickey out of me.

Crickets chirrup in the long grass and dragonflies buzz the fairways. While standing in the rough alongside the 4th tee I looked down to see ants swarming over my feet. One of the problems with suede brogues (aside from the fact they are wholly inappropriate footwear for tropical climes) is that the wee holes provide excellent access points for ants.

The heat
I’m not prepared for weather like this. I had my suspicions yesterday afternoon when I took a stroll out from my hotel and wandered (quite slowly) down the seafront for half a mile or so. By the time I got back I had lost about a stone through outrageous sweating. I stopped in a little bar where the staff looked at me with some concern as I stumbled through the door. I managed to utter the word cerveza and I’d downed it before the chap had even finished pouring.

Next stop Chile
The fourth Latin America Amateur Championship will be held at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile from Jan 18-21 2018. Prince of Wales Country Club has hosted many national and international championships, including the 1998 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship and the Chile Classic on the Web.com Tour from 2012-2014. It’s the home course of inaugural Latin America Amateur Champion Matias Dominguez.

The history of Panama City
OK, I learned this last night at the opening ceremony. Hosted in a ruined church, there was an educational performance explaining something about the place and how it came into being. Panama City has a gritty history. Founded by the Spanish in 1519, it acted as a crucial hub for their conquest of the Incas in Peru. It was also important as a trading post and for the transfer of gold and silver back to Europe. In 1671, the city was sacked and burned by the privateer, Henry Morgan – a Welshman. The Spanish were less than chuffed and, to appease them Morgan was arrested and taken to London. But, rather than being punished, he was welcomed as a hero, was made a Knight Bachelor and later Governor of Jamaica.