The Ellerstina polo estate is located halfway between General Rodrigues and Pilar, around an hour’s drive west of downtown Buenos Aires. Founded by the Pieres family – which is internationally famous in polo circles – and the late Kerry Packer, this equine facility extends to nine polo fields, two of which were converted into a rather unique 32-acre golf course in 2015.
Like Ellerston, its Australian sister property which also comprises a large polo estate with a Greg Norman-designed layout, Ellerstina was created for the personal use of the owners and their friends and family. A local architect originally envisioned a 9-hole course with mostly par three holes for the site until Matt Dusenberry stepped in with a radically different proposal.
The architect takes up the story:
“My focus was on providing an alternative concept that I had in mind for many years and just needed to find the right property and client. The property is nearly flat, which is a characteristic of the Buenos Aires delta region and of existing polo fields, and it’s surrounded on three sides by mature London Plane trees, so the site parameters are linear and geometric.
“I looked at other private/personal estate golf course concepts – 18-hole layouts, 9-holes layouts, 3-hole layouts and Par Three courses – evaluating their pros and cons. They had the same characteristic “traditional” golf concept, where holes were structured and put in front of players by the architect. The owners were then limited to playing these structured holes.
“I put myself in the owner’s position and asked ‘why would I want to be limited to the same structured golf holes day after day?’ As the owner, if revenue was not a consideration, I would want to create my own golf experience within an open golf framework and draw from design characteristics of my favorite golf courses, like the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“Variety and fun are keys to any great course design. These attributes keep players interested and wanting to come back out to play the course again and again. The concept is to provide an “open format” golf experience – the ultimate in private golf – rather than a single structured 18-hole golf course that is played day after day.
“You can play nearly any direction to any green/hole location so golfers have an almost infinite variety of holes to play. Players are not shackled to the traditional 18-hole golf course. It is our intention that this is a match play experience and less about keeping score for 18 holes. However, when a structured 18 holes of golf with a par and course rating are desired, that format is also available.”
Read more about Ellerstina Golf by Matthew Dusenberry
I knew the course existed but never made a big deal of it. I had the chance of making a call and go play it but really never got to read anything about it. Until my colleague David confirmed his trip to Argentina and was very keen to play it so had to read some past news about the course. And when I read how it was created and a local friend told me the story of how it was built, its original plans and how Matt Dusenberry made a jewel in this piece of land it was then that I realized a drive there and a round to play the course was necessary to learn more about how private courses are and how a great architect can do something really special even in small pieces of land. Because this “36 holes course” sits in a very small piece of land with just 9 greens and can really give you as many real golf holes as you want. And this is what makes it really special: being able to play decent golf and having played many of the top 100 shows you many different courses and this small piece of land you can imagine as many golf holes as you like, in any direction, short as 120yds or long as 620yds, whatever you imagine is possible. And the real fact is that this course is the most enjoyable golf you can play: no OBs, you can play in any direction so wind will be a factor, almost no trees to get unplayable lies and just the fun to create your own adventure. It was a 14 holes round, as we had to leave to another course but I hope to be back soon and play all 18 or even the other 18 layout. And one more thing: as nobody plays there, 18 holes will take no longer than 3 hours in a 4 players game so no wife complains for long time away from home!
The day started being received by the owner Gonzalo Pieres, one of the greatest polo players in history, plus his son Facundo (a current 10 hcp player), Pablo Erbin (former international soccer player and Ellerstina Trainer) and the maintenance team of the course for a short brief about it, how it is played and maintained and then off to the course. During the round Gonzalo Jr, another current top player, walked with us a couple of holes but couldn’t play as they had a Hurlingham Championship Game that afternoon. It was very enjoyable to listen to him about how high competition is in an everyday basis, how they used golf to relax and how they played the course in many different ways. As it is said, there is not a fixed layout and you can play in any direction you want holes from 120yds to 600yds long.
As almost all private estates with very little play, the course was more than perfect as it looked brand new: no divots, no pitch marks on the greens, no traces of carts or trolleys, just grass as pure as it can be in a beautiful setting. The Course is surrounded by oak trees and as we imagined when fall arrives in early April and these trees start to change colors the place turns stunning.
When play started we got a cart, a cooler with drinks, a yardage book with the 18 holes layout and each cart had a range finder in order to have exact distances at each shot. No other GPS system will work (watch, Arccos Golf, etc) as the course is not mapped. So extra features as inbound OBs were added to have a little more challenge when playing it, as Mr Pieres 3 sons are excellent golfers close to scratch handicap. He plays off a 12 and can really compete, hitting low stingers with his tee shots as he is very used to play in the wind.
At last, a little consideration about design: there are no fairways, just one single big one. Greens in the 4 corners are huge with more than one hole and with infinite pin positions. The ones in the center of the course are smaller, with only one flag. Bent grass greens, very good speed and tough to read as if you are not in the same platform where the hole is it will be like some courses in Scotland, just very tough!
A wonderful experience, even more when playing with the mentor and the person who introduced Matt Dusenberry to Mr Pieres was a perfect combo to listen to course history, how it was created and how it is used in a daily basis. Hope to be back, it was extremely fun and in early fall the pictures that you can get there will be just amazing!
With extensive golf travel you start to realize that it’s pretty rare to run into courses or projects that are truly unique. Often concepts are repeated, some of these are great but others less so. Cookie cutter templates often serve to keep design costs down. Every once in a long while I am fortunate enough to visit something completely new and exciting and this is exactly what happened on my recent trip to Argentina.
My colleague and I had the extremely unique opportunity to visit Ellerstina which is essentially a huge polo club, in fact 8 polo fields and clubhouses with stables (and a few family homes) which are used for training the world’s best polo horses. They also have their own world-class polo team with the same name, which is one of the best and has won the Argentinean Championships several times.
Our host for the day was none other than one of the all-time great polo players Gonzalo Pieres. Mr. Pieres owns the club and partners with the Packer family (from Australia) with regards to the team and perhaps the breeding of the horses. Kerry and his son James Packer were also huge fans of golf as well having built an amazing course called Ellerston (click to read my review), which is located about 4 hours Northwest of Sydney. Traveling often to Argentina because of the partnership with Mr. Pieres the Packers missed having the golf on hand and convinced him to let them use the space of two polo fields to build a unique golf facility. They initially started this project with an Argentinean contractor but discovered serious issues with the work being done and through a close friend were put in touch with Matt Dusenberry, who came was briefed and accepted this challenge.
What Dusenberry created there is to say the least magnificent – magnificent in terms of land usage – and extremely unique. What Pieres and Packer wanted was not an executive pitch and putt course, they wanted a course that could be versatile and challenging but they only had 13 hectares to work with. To my knowledge a similar project had not before been done.
The final product resulted in 9 huge greens spread out in various corners of the property that allow for play from many different angles across the property, each having a couple of different pin locations with flags on any given day. There are 36 excellent holes and as much as 72 different variations. The property is characterized by fantastic bunkering ranging from extremely deep bunkers to their own versions of bunkers like the “Devils Asshole” at Pine Valley. Most of the bunkers are of a scale that requires ladders to get into.
The property also has a pond that is wonderfully utilized on a few holes. Given they started with polo fields they had a perfectly flat and blank canvas to begin. They created a highly undulated property full of short grass everywhere making the game incredibly fun and all about finding the proper angles for approaches into the greens based on the pin positions.
The spectrum of holes is also quite a surprise going from short par 3’s to 600-yard par 5’s. It’s definitely not what I initially expected!
On our day, we were also joined at various times by Gonzalo (Jr) and his brother Facundo, both among the world best polo players with +10 goal hcps. Incidentally, they are both excellent golfers as well sporting low single digit hcps, Mr. Pieres is also still an excellent golfer so the apple does not fall far from the tree in terms of sports talent in this family. This helps to explain why the Ellerstina Golf Course ended up as it did. They needed to have a challenging course to keep it interesting. They have also added their own OB rules on various holes. The initial course set up didn’t have OB and of course it can be played still in anyway given the abundance of short grass.
In terms of new and creative golf course projects this one is a refreshing change and a huge success in my eyes. The one challenge would be in playing the course with multiple 4 balls at the same time, it was actually designed with the intent of never having more than 2 four balls play at any one time. Given the nature of the property it’s essential to crisscross the field on various holes and this could be a challenge if the course was crowded.
While it’s definitely comparing apples to oranges this project would represent the best golf course I have seen in Argentina which is quite interesting given it’s not a traditional course.