It was in 1957 that a group of young Colombian men with heady golfing ambitions purchased a modest plot of land in Cajicá, to the north of Bogotá, and laid out an elementary 9-hole course.
Within the space of six years, the new club – named El Rincon – acquired more land and hired none other than Robert Trent Jones to fulfill the golfing dreams of its founders by designing a world class 18-hole layout, aided by the construction skills of Argentinean Alberto Serra.
Bounded on the eastern side of the property by the Bogotá river, El Rincon’s tree-lined fairways are routed over a pleasantly undulating landscape in two returning loops, each of which feature a number of small water hazards (holes 6 to 9 on the front nine and holes 13, 14 and 16 on the back nine).
The architect factored in the elevation of the course at over 8,000 feet above sea level when he laid out the holes. To compensate for a 10% increase in ball flight, he extended the overall length to 7,542 yards from the championship tees – only one of the ten par fours (the left doglegged 4th) plays to less than 400 yards from the medal tees.
The par three 7th is the signature hole on the course. A lake lies between the tee and a stone fronted green which is circled by sand so there’s no little margin for error here at all. Tee shots that are too short will end up wet whilst over hit or wayward efforts will almost certainly find one of the three surrounding bunkers.
According to George Peper and the editors of GOLF magazine, “El Rincon’s 7th is a respectable 179 yards in length. This short hole is the only major revision Jones made to the course he designed in 1963. Prior to the 1980 World Cup, Jones redesigned the hole to mirror changes he had made to Baltusrol’s 4th in 1954.
A small lake completely separates the teeing ground from the putting green. A stone wall protects the front of the green, adds a crisp line, and accentuates the severity of the hazard. Anything played too long will find one of the three sand-faced bunkers clearly visible from the tee.
Recovery from the sand must contemplate too long a shot finishing in the water. Finally, the diagonal positioning of the green disguises the length of the hole. This is a captivating short hole that demands good judgement and distracts with great beauty.”
The World Cup was played over the El Rincón course in 1980 when the Canadian team of Dan Halldorsan and Jim Nelford held off a strong challenge by the Scottish pairing of Sandy Lyle and Sam Torrance to win the tournament.
Sandy at least had the consolation that year of picking up the International trophy for the golfer with the best 72-hole score. Sam however was destined to never triumph in the World Cup team event, finishing in the runner-up pairing four times in all – with Sandy as his partner in 1979, 1980 and 1987 and with Gordon Brand Jnr in 1984.
This 1957 Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout played host to the 1980 World Cup won by a pair of talented Canadian golfers. This was my first ever visit to South America, and let me tell you that private golf in Colombia takes privacy to a new level.
My delightful Colombian host for the visit drove us 90 minutes north of the bustling city Bogota to the peaceful countryside of Cajica. We were driving along the motorway when he suddenly slowed down to a small gap in the fence with no sign and we turned into farmland. After driving just over a mile down a small non-descript narrow road, we were stopped at a guardhouse and were asked for our passports. This is not the type of experience you want after the sun goes down and you can’t speak Spanish. Thankfully all went well, the sun was shining and we were ushered up to the clubhouse.
Golf in Colombia is not popular, in fact, I think just under 40,000 of the 45 million people play the sport. That explains why we were the only twosome on the course. As I’ve previously commented in other reviews, I was immediately immersed in the Colombian golf culture with the local citizens. The club president could speak English and couldn’t have been nicer to me as he proudly described the history of this old traditional club enjoyed by a couple of hundred players. A devastating flood in 2011 from a nearby river required a few holes at the end of the course to be modified, but the integrity of the original layout is beautifully preserved.
El Rincon is a walking course with a very good caddy program. It’s well documented that RTJ Senior courses are capable of severe use of huge bunkers, ponds, creeks, and undulating greens in order to defend his layouts from attack, not just by the world’s greatest players during the US Open, but also from the evolution of modern golf equipment and the golf ball. El Rincon exactly follows that model and is a golf course that follows the natural flow of the land with gentle change in elevation where every hole is “a hard par but an easy bogey”.
El Rincon has noticeably long tee boxes which gives players the flexibility to have a chance to hit a tee shot to allow you to reach greens in regulation. There is fairness to the man’s near-sadistic approach to designing a course. Furthermore, at El Rincon, there is a very good chance to reach each par 5s to make birdies given how far the ball flies at altitude which is a nice balance with the peril that awaits you around every corner. There’s no surprise why the best players in the country and the world relish the challenge and outstanding conditions of El Rincon, and off the course they will enter an elegant modest clubhouse that worships its history of more than six decades.
It was a wonderful introduction to how the game is presented, preserved and experienced in South America.