Little I knew about Santapazienza until maybe 2 years ago when I was mentioned the course and how good it was. Since then I tried to inform myself as best as possible in order to have an answer when people asked about it.
And some time like 5 months ago my good friend DD told me there was an invite to play the course and that I had to be ready to fly from Buenos Aires for a couple of days. Finally the dates came in Late March this year but as some of the guys were heading to Buenos Aires after this visit and I was taking care of them, it was a flash visit I did to this Holy Place. Flew on a Wednesday early morning arriving to Sao Paulo 10am and after a 1.5hrs drive directly into the heart of the jungle and something really special was about to be experienced. It was three 18 holes rounds and one extra 9 holes (front loop) in 30 hours. But it is not tough or slow when you have the entire course for yourself and friends.
I was treated so well from beginning to end that I could not be more thankful of the owners and their entire crew who made me fell at home and very comfortable. Arrival and dropping my stuff at my room was the first step, at a very charming room in this big house facing from way up the 16th green and from where you could create a 250yds par 3 to that green, which I hope to try to hit next visit! An excellent home made meal, nothing extravagant but extremely tasteful with my good friends and then directly to the course for a 18 holes round from the blue tees (6700yds aprox). After we finished, DD and me went for an extra 9 on the front from the white tee boxes (6300).
Dinner was shared with the owners and the rest of the team, 8 of us enjoying fabulous pasta, salad, great wine and even better desert. And of course, golf was the central part of the talk from beginning to end. It was a continued chat way after dinner where we all shared our previous experiences and first impressions on this Gem by Tom Fazio.
The following morning breakfast was served at the Club House (description to come later) before another 18 from the Blues. Quick lunch, another 18 from the Black with DD (painful loss 1 down to tie the series here 1-1-1), quick shower, 2hr drive to Airport and fly back home. It was that fast and intense, playing a lot of golf but trying to see every corner of the course and the property, which has another nice house at the back of 10th green (which plays very much the same as 11th at ANGC).
First of all lets describe the Club House, wide open overlooking 9th green and 1st hole in a caribbean sort of design, with a nice bar, some tables inside and others outside, a lot of books (about golf of course) and some very nice memorabilia including a framed pin of the 2000 US Open won by this big guy named Tiger and with an original signature of every previous US Open winner including my local Hero Angel “El Pato” Cabrera, simply magical! The locker room and showers are something alike the US Private Courses, special, not too big but with extreme good taste, some nice pics and paintings, a couple of golf sets beside the Manager’s desk and the Carts house and storage.
There are 2 religious stories on this course:
The Jesus Bridge: car paths going 10cms below water level. How about this? Yes, it was the owner’s idea after Fazio said he wanted no car paths on sight and the idea came from the guy who called the Carts company to make sure there was no potential damage to the carts and then it was made real. If you are far from the water, it looks like carts are literally riding over water like Jesus 2000 years back!
The Church on the back on 2nd green and 3rd tees. It had to be purchased to the Vatican in order to build the back tee of the third hole and restored when Fazio made the plans and now remains a very special place in the property.
As for the Course, DD gave a great detail in his review of each of them so will try to tell how I saw them and their difference from each tee:
Hole 1: a great starter, dogleg left with high “Caña de Azucar” on the left and a tricky green. The different tees will allow a different approach shot, the longer you go off the tee the safest second shot from the fairway without needing to go over the cañas. A great starter. Better be on the right side of the fairway!
Hole 2: a long straight 4 with another tricky green, the different tees just allow you a shorter iron, hole doesn’t change much apart from yardage.
Hole 3: the first special feature with a VERY long green (3-4 clubs distance) and together with using different tees, I hit from 9 iron to 4 iron. And the first “Path of Christ”, the car path beneath the water aparenting you are riding on water.
Hole 4: a middle lenght par5 with a small green where again distance was the difference between a 3 shots hole and a dangerous go for it one.
Hole 5: the first special one, a short 4 over the lake with the chance to go for it. From the back I have no chance but driving it to 40yds, from blue it was a high cut with the driver over the green and from the white the same with the 3 wood. But … it is not easy, if you miss short is wet, and on both sides and over just needing your best short game magic to another slopy green. Even the lay up is not easy, narrow and with bunkers, a true example where difficulty doesn’t come together with lenght.
First rest for a nice little half way and drink a cocout juice directly from the Coconut!
Hole 6: lake on the left side to a small green with water short, left and long. It played into the strong wind both dayss and the back tee made it driver/4-iron! A nice green divided in 2 sides where if in the wrong one it would be an uphill/downhill putt. One of the most creative holes where a big bunch of white birds come to rest every afternoon to make it a very nice picture.
Hole 7: another “path of Christ”, longer about 200yds to get to the tee with the “Suggestions Mailbox” in the middle of the lake. A short 5 with a 2 platforms green reachable even from the back tees starting a stretch of 3 good chances of birdie.
Hole 8: a short downhill 4, where avoiding fairway bunkers is the clue. Another tough green to read and execute.
Hole 9: This is ANGC 6th hole reflected on a side mirror, having the high little platform on the left end. From 7 to 9 iron, another good birdie chance before a stop at the Club House for fruit, drinks and a snack.
Hole 10: ANGC’s 11th but instead of a small pond by the green, it is all along the left side. The tee shot from the black tee is frightening! A green breaking from right to left, huge and where something longer than 30 feet is in the 3 putts range.
Hole 11: my nemesis, it killed me. There is almost no difference between the 3 different tees, you go over water which is not really in play but jungle on the left, water all over the right, a second uphill long shot to the toughest green on the course … too much! The first day I was putting uphill from 30 feet short of the hole and the ball ended 20 yards pass me shorter!! Just a couple more inches would have been a great par, it was just a good bogey after all!
Hole 12: another amazing one, shallow and wide green with tee box elevated 30mts from the green. Anything not in the green will battle a bogey to this demanding putting surface. Just 200yds which really play maybe 25% shorter due to the drop from the tee box.
Hole 13: a great 4 starts flying 180yds to carry the jungle to an elevated green. Anything long is death penalty.
Hole 14: a reachable 5 which played into the wind so not really this time to a huge and long green where DD holed from 120yds for birdie and stealing me a sure win hole! A massive cross bunker on the right side with a very high edge, if you go there it is a ly up and long third shot.
Hole 15: due to modern technology “long” par 5s had to be extended and this went a lot further with 680yds although from the tee box to the fairway the drop is again 30-40mts at least. A very nice 3 shots one with the toughest part on the second shot where the fairway gets narrow with bunkers on the left and water on the right, big big green where the pin position sets an extra challenge.
And now the final 3, where you can have birdies or double digits depending on pins and your strategy.
Hole 16: a short 3 if the pin is in the front, 2-3 more clubs if it is back. A sort of opposite Redan green breaking from front left to back right, with water and 2 big bunkers in front. It is one of those greens where you can land an iron 10mts short and let her roll to the hole. One of the ones where shot making hability will give you a better chance.
Hole 17: from the back it is a 420 monster uphill to a severe green with a huge bunker on the right side. The first 10mts of the green are false, everything will roll back 30yds (it happened twice!) and then a back portion of the green over the bunker that gives you some fun pin positions as well. My favourite designed one, by far.
Hole 18: a Cypress Point feeling, where they say 18th is the weakest hole, although I love it. I believe this is too unfair as it is what the piece of land allows. An elevated tee to a small landing area with bunkers on left and water on the right and in front of the green. You can go for it from blue or whites, not from back for sure! For match play it is an amazing final hole, I had everything from birdie to double.
A very nice touch from the owner to allow us experiencing the course in its full dimension was having different pin positions at each round. With some huge greens and anothers with different platforms, it definitely has a lot different to offer from the course set up point of view.
Greens of tifway grass with grain and against the grain efect were extremely tough to read but it was the best part of my game as I have played in that grass for the last 20 years at my home course Golf Club Argentino. All the same they were so fast! Downhill you can think of only nightmares, the highest challenge I have faced on greens beside Pine Valley, Winged Foot and Cypress Point.
Fairways tifeagle bermuda kept as carpets. Of course, there is little play but all the same it was as pure as maybe a US Open or The Masters can give you in terms of quality grass.
And bunkers with sand of the highest quality, just as good as you can expect as a challenge because you needed sometimes to spin the ball and others to make it run, so a very fun detail about playing it.
Finally, the truest Gem of this place is the Garage. I am not a great knower of race and collection cars but I understand quite a bit and what I saw there is just amazing. Many cars which had been famous in the past parked there for you to get marvelled to see them. There is one guy in charge of cleaning, taking care and riding them every now and then. For guys who love old fashioned cars, this is even nicer than a visit to Augusta National, trust me!
It was a great experience, not just playing golf but also learning from the story from the owners about how Santapazienza became what it is including the name, which comes from the family father Paulo Sr who used to say “Santapazienza!!”. This place is unique, a well deserved Top 100 golf course who every years hosts the Faldo Series in Brazil, maybe top 15 in maintenance and hosted by 2 guys who are as devoted as you can imagine for golf and its heritage.
Date: April 23, 2019